It’d be a stretch to call Ishu Patel’s Bead Game an optimistic film. Its depiction of nature is one of constant struggle of life against life, following the arms race of evolution from the earliest life to the dawn of humanity. That dawning isn’t a break, though, so much as an amplification, and war and violence are seen as an inevitable consequence of life’s aggressive nature.
But the last image is a hopeful one, or at least one that holds a hopeful possibility. After showing the culmination of humanity’s military ingenuity in a burst of atomic bombs, the scene is echoed with trees in place of mushroom clouds, with a central character ultimately placing the atom in the middle of a cat’s cradle. It’s a peaceful image, but a fragile one, too, without the inevitability of the earlier apocalypse.
So maybe it isn’t utopian, but it isn’t nihilistic either, and when you’re looking at the span of human history, that’s its own sort of optimism.