When it comes to the way film portrays nature, there is an inherent disconnect between reality and artistic representation. This stems from the limitations of film as a medium. However, this disconnect is not necessarily a negative thing.

Using movies to make statements about the natural world helps us come to a deeper understanding of reality, even though portrayals that differ from life in various ways. In fact, I would make the argument that movies, (and all forms of fiction, for that matter), best illuminates reality when they are set in contrast to each other.

When film realistically depicts forces of nature, I do not find it nearly as interesting or striking as when nature is set against things like technology. This is especially effective within science fiction, where the juxtaposition of futuristic technology is especially powerful against the natural world. For great examples, look at three of the best, (and vastly different), science fiction films since 2009, Star Trek, Looper, and Interstellar, and how they all use this idea similarly.

I went into J.J. Abrams' 2009 film reboot of Star Trek with minimal, if any, expectations. I grew up enjoying various iterations of the Star Trek, but hadn't felt very connected to that universe since Voyager ended in 2001. Sitting in the theater, however, something drew me in almost immediately to the universe of this new version, and it wasn't any of the things I normally think of with Star Trek like teleporters, phasers, or Redshirts.

It was the shot of (not yet Captain) James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) on his motorcycle, staring at The USS Enterprise being built at a rural Iowa shipyard.

This image gave Star Trek a physicality I had not seen before in its previous versions. This was so powerful to me because it created a more complete and fully realized universe where there is no contrived divide between futuristic (to the audience, at least) technology and everyday life. Just as, in our world, there is manufacturing and industry set directly against rural environments, space travel, and Starfleet are similarly ingrained into the world of the film. In the film, the image of The Enterprise towering over rural fields is striking and off-putting, but it serves as a powerful connection to the real world and how humanity and its technology serves to interrupt nature.

In both Looper and Interstellar, we also see the contrast of urban technology and rural environments used in interesting ways. In Looper, farmland is used as a place to secretly commit specific acts of violence away from the nearby urban environment of Kansas City that is already filled entirely with violence. Eventually, this escalated violence moves from the city to the rural environment. Through this movement, Looper's director, Rian Johnson, is showing the effects that mankind and its violence has on its natural surroundings. It says that, with time, the poisonous violence of man will always spread, impacting even our natural world.

By contrast, Interstellar shows the power that nature holds over mankind. Nature no longer cooperates with humanity, even in its most base instinct for survival. Despite the Now, for the survival of the human race, it is necessary to follow the words of poet Dylan Thomas quoted in the film by Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and "rage against the dying of the light" by going where they have even less understanding or power over the natural universe. By giving the natural world this kind of power, Christopher Nolan is challenging the audience to consider that nature's power is much larger than us.

Simulated perception of nature doesn't only impact the general population, but is even becoming an important aspect of academic viewpoints. Arizona State University Online is now using games as part of its environmental science coursework to simulate environmental issues and test how their students respond to them. Movies may not be interactive in this same way, but looking at the ways in which we, as an audience, respond to the ways in which they portray and use nature is also incredibly important. This is one of our best tools coming to a better understanding of not only how we watch and appreciate film, but also our place and roles within the universe around us.

In order to further explore our role within nature, we should continue looking to film to better illuminate our understanding.