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City Club LA: Reflections on the World Premiere of ATLAS

City Club LA: Reflections on the World Premiere of ATLAS

The Alumni Society Members Join the World Premiere of ATLAS in Los Angeles

By Yovany Jerez (Brown, Dartmouth)

I started Monday, May 20, 2024 at the office, and at lunchtime, I had to rush home to take my 4-years kiddo to the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA)… we have been battling pediatric cancer (Neuroblastoma) for the past 14 months.  It was a stressful day yet, we made it home in time to change clothes and take my 40-week pregnant wife on a date before sweet baby James joined us on Wednesday, May 22.

I am glad we pushed through and kept our commitment to join friends from The Alumni Society (TAS) at the movie premier of Atlas, the latest action-packed sci-fi starring Jennifer Lopez and Simu Liu.  It was worth it!  It is always super fun to catch up with friends, and it was a bonus that we all enjoyed the film.  Atlas is a gripping roller coaster infused with deep layers of soul-searching clarity.  It is a highly entertaining movie with a thought-provoking storyline that ties modern topics with universal truths.

I cannot recall the last time a movie triggered such various levels of deep introspection, and it compelled me to write these reflections.  In fact, these thoughts/observations will likely enhance your experience once you see the Netflix launch on Saturday, 5/25.  I plan to see it again to listen more carefully to the nuanced dialogue.  The script was well written!

I will start with a quote from Jennifer Lopez at the premiere: “To me, this movie is about how two things can integrate to yield something greater.” And YES, that theme is highlighted in bold.  The first 5 minutes of the film speed through a familiar Hollywood backstory: humans create technology (robots and AI), which leads to significant societal advantages until a singularity takes place, and now humanity is fighting for its existence.  But the cool twist is that even though there were 3 million deaths, humanity was able to successfully combat Harlan (the nemesis played by Simy Liu) and force him to flee for his survival to a hidden planet in the galaxy (note: intergalactic wormhole traveling is treated as a regular aspect of humanity… in fact, there were various technological advances that played second fiddle to the AI-focus).

And don’t worry, I won’t unveil the plot twists.

Atlas (the name of Jennifer Lopez’s character) is forced into an exoskeleton war machine equipped with a close-circuit AI to synchronize with his human pilot.  Given Atlas’ traumatic past with Harlan (the evil AI), she is profoundly distrusting of this AI suit, which is called “Smith” (the benevolent AI).  Thus, Atlas is deeply resistant to Smith even though Smith amplifies her survival probabilities.  The audience is flabbergasted by Atlas’ resistance; her situation is dire yet, she seems frozen and incapable of making the most logical decision for her survival.

I felt angry at Atlas for not fully embracing Smith, but the story pulled me into deeper reflection.  After getting her trauma’s context, I sympathized with Atlas.  More importantly, it was a sharp reminder of the modern mental crisis epidemic.  We all struggle with various life challenges and negotiate (or stumble) through that complexity with inadequate preparation.  Thus, it is imperative that we consciously lead with kindness and extend compassion.  My grandfather often reminded me, “We have three hearts: one we carry in our mouths and display to the world; another in our chest that we share with family and loved ones; and a third one that only your Creator knows.”

Although it is not stated explicitly by any of the characters, the movie’s theme is 100% counter to nihilism. In fact, several of the characters were presented with an indomitable spirit!  Atlas, Colonel Elias (Sterling Brown), and General Boothe (Mark Strong) are great examples of strong-willed humans unshaken by life’s complexity and curve balls.  They kept striving for clarity, held boldly to their humanity, and forged their willpower toward advancing the best version of themselves.

The film plot also crucifies the famous quote: “The end justifies the means.”  The evil AI (Harlan) perfectly exemplified the attitude held by many dictators and utopian-thinkers: “I can envision a more perfect world but, we must do a little bit of pruning (aka killing) to achieve an everlasting utopia under my guidance” (paraphrasing).  This warning continues to echo through the analogs of history yet, we are so susceptible to the superficial attractiveness of utopian ideology, and we are quick to ignore the psychotic, narcissistic underbelly of weak men who would eagerly use the heads of others as cobblestones for their “perfect society” or to “save us from self-destruction”.  I was delighted that this film reminds us of this ever-present dangerous ideology that continues to live in various aspects of our world.

In one of the many comedic relief moments, the benevolent AI (Smith) argues for having a soul: “You are not qualified to say that I don’t have a soul. My code operates in various sequences, like the genetic and brain sequences in your body… yet, if you cannot find the soul in humans, then you are not capable of finding my soul” (paraphrasing).  At first, it seems like a compelling argument…. but, where in the body can you find any of the 34,000 emotions: love, sadness, pride, envy, anger, surprise, anxiety, happiness, fear, joy, etc… can we reduce emotions/feelings to “stimulus” and “sequential mapping”?!  This topic demands more significant thought and introspection than a cute quote that squeezes a chuckle.  Don’t settle for the soundbite but take the invitation to learn and reflect on the various propositions for the human soul (search Plato, Augustine, and Aquinas).

My grandfather would often remind me that “It takes us 50 years to become conscious of what happened in the first 18 years; and many of us won’t even have the opportunity to comprehend and understand how those early experiences tend to slave us and sabotage our present and blur our future.” With time, I have understood that even fewer of us will have the opportunity to exercise our free will and pivot into a healthier, more wholesome, better version of ourselves.

The film masterfully visualizes this conundrum.  Atlas (JLo) childhood wounds made her a reclusive genius without friends and little allies.  She was obsessive with work and addicted to coffee (a bit too relatable!).  Her obsession with Harlan made her void of lovers and any plans for a family.  Her past dominated her present and dictated her future.  How many of us are stuck in the past?

The film outlines a solution: a total, unbiased, unfiltered, courageous confrontation with the past.  Ideally, you have an expert attentively listening to your story so that he can point to the facts and help separate our indictive, self-flagellating thoughts vs. the factual reality.  Smith did that for Atlas.

The benevolent AI (Smith) kept behaving like The Perfect Gentleman: never imposing Himself but, always inviting Atlas into a deeper, authentic, trusting friendship. Smith would often articulate (and demonstrate!) the benefits of opening to a more profound friendship: having full access to weapons, medical treatment, flavored sustenance, greater mobile agility, and instant access to all sorts of monitoring tools and sensors.  The perfect example is when Atlas breaks her femur, and Smith is fully prepared to treat her medically but, needs Atla’s permission and collaboration.  Smith relentlessly pursues a more profound friendship with Atlas, and Atlas constant stonewalling and fickle excuses reminded me of the poem “The Hound of Heaven”.

As Atlas confesses out loud her hunting past, she is liberated from the suffocating grip of her PTSD.  Her vulnerability sets her free and launches her into a new dimension of possibilities.  At the zenith of the action, Atlas and Smith are 100% in sync and thus, start accomplishing tasks with impossible odds!  This accelerates Atlas’ transformation into the best version of herself.

The film has a subtle Messianic layer because Smith ends up sacrificing himself for Atlas… and the dialogue reminded me of this Bible quote in John 15:13: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

This film triggered me back to some of the golden nuggets of wisdom shared by Viktor Frankl:

  • In life, you can either make a victory from your experiences or ignore the challenges and fade away.
  • Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning.
  • When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

I conclude with a confession: I jumped at every opportunity to share these observations, and thus, I might have inadvertently become a fanatic for Atlas.  I hope that organizing my reflections provides me with some freedom.  You will enjoy the film, the acting, the action, the tech, and the various infusions of meanings.  And PLEASE share with me your meaningful introspection on LinkedIn.  What did I miss?

The Alumni Society City Club LA invited a select group of members to attend the World Premiere of Jennifer Lopez’s new movie “ATLAS” in Los Angeles, hosted by Netflix Community.

Yovany Jerez is the senior director marketing, B2B small and mid-size businesses at AT&T. He is The Alumni Society’s City Club LA co-leader. 

Yovany has worked in several industries, including telecom, SaaS, manufacturing, packaging, logistics, external affairs, banking, and consulting. His business impact includes: leading 11,000+ people through 42 territories, generating $10B in EBITDA, evaluating 338 startups and producing $7.3B in revenue, producing $6.5B through 450 omnichannel campaigns with 370M+ customer touchpoints, and helping elevate over 5,000+ corporate managers.

Recognized as one of the 50 Most Influential Latinos and part of Atlanta’s 40 Under 40, Yovany is an impactful influencer.  He founded the Hispanic Corporate Council of Atlanta (HCCA), facilitating the collaboration and partnership of 43 corporations.  He helped organize purpose-driven treks that raised funds for approximately 450 orphans in some of the world’s most remote and iconic locations, including Mouth Everest in Nepal, Mount Cotopaxi in Ecuador, and the Inca Trail in Peru.