Coming home from our house Christmas Eve . . .
Well, we’re halfway through December 21, 2012 and the world is still intact. Yay, Earth! Looks like we may have dodged another wonky doomsday prediction. The Mayans have just gone the way of Jim Jones—turns out that old prophecy just meant today was the day to carve another calendar and make a new blood sacrifice after all!
I must admit to a quiet fascination with the End of the World. Some tiny little part of me secretly wants to wipe it all out and start all over again (a fraction the sane, rational ruler of my brain keeps firmly under control, don’t worry!). I’m not sure where that destructive impulse comes from. It might be the question of whether I’d be able to survive the challenges of a disaster or a post-apocalyptic world. (One of my favorite books as a child was Swiss Family Robinson. I read the lists of things they took off the ship over and over and imagined what I might need to survive on a desert island.) Or it might be a messianic zeal to heal the earth or build a new utopian society on the ashes of our current greedy, self-centered culture when I’m stuck in traffic.
But if you, like me, are feeling a little, well, let down by today’s humdrum lack of apocalyptic excitement, you can always turn to Hollywood for a vision of doomsday. From the ridiculous to the sublime, these films will take you all the way to The End.
2012. (2009) Directed by Roland Emmerich and starring John Cusack, Thandi Newton, Amanda Peet and a host of others, this blockbuster from a few years ago has the best special effects and the worst science of any of the doomsday films reviewed here. Something about the Earth’s core, blah, blah, blah, I can’t remember. But who cares when stuff gets destroyed with amazing abandon? The best part of this movie was the tagline, used in theater previews: “How would the governments of our planet prepare 6 billion people for the end of the world? They wouldn’t.” That’s been worrying me a lot as the “official denials” of the apocalypse have gone out this week.
THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. (2004) Roland Emmerich directs (again!) Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal in this epic of global warming/superstorm disaster movies. In this case the science is better than 2012 and the effects are just as good, making for pleasure without the guilt. The acting is even decent, with a young Jake Gyllenhaal getting the false bravery thing just right. Dennis Quaid as his prickly scientist dad provides a cheer-able combination of maverick intelligence and gritty physical courage. Love this movie!
KNOWING. (2009) Well, these are movies about the end of the world, aren’t they. So—SPOILER ALERT!!—they can’t all end well. This outing, directed by Alex Proyas and starring Nicholas Cage and Rose Byrne (of TV’s DAMAGES) is in a different category from our two previous films in that it’s all about figuring out the mystery hinted at in a series of numbers left in a time capsule buried in a schoolyard in 1959. Nick Cage is a mathematician, and what he finds in this “code”, written by a little girl so long ago and unearthed at his son’s school, sends him on a quest for survival. Dark and suspenseful, but ultimately futile.
THE ROAD. (2009) What was it about 2009? As a movie-going public we were obsessed with the End of the World, though the ticket sales on this particular film probably didn’t show it. Like the novel by Cormac McCarthy on which it is based, this film, directed by John Hillcoat and starring Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron and Kodi Smit-McPhee, is relentlessly grim and dark. It is set in a post-apocalyptic world, but I include it in this list because the world is actually in a process of slow death throughout the film. We don’t know why, and we don’t know if the world, and the people in it, will ultimately survive or not. Fun times! Not even an extended shot of Viggo’s naked backside can save this film. Watch it when you think life couldn’t possibly get worse for you. You’ll change that outlook in a hurry!
THE LAST WAVE. (1977) Peter Weir (MASTER AND COMMANDER; THE TRUMAN SHOW) directed this little gem of a film starring Richard Chamberlain early on in his career. I think I might have seen it on television years ago and I’ve never forgotten it. Like KNOWING, the focus in this film is on a central mystery, gradually revealed as Chamberlain’s character, a lawyer in Sydney, Australia, prepares to defend a group of Aborigine men on a murder charge. Meanwhile the rain is falling and a prophecy foretold in the dreamtime is about to be fulfilled . . . I have recurring dreams of tidal waves; the final scene still plays in my head.
What the hell,
No killer asteroid today?
No zombie fun?
Don't have to run
From the undead, I'm not prey!
On the other hand, it is the holiday season. If the rest of today goes well, you could fall back on tried and true favorites like IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE or MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET. Or maybe a little disaster mixed with Christmas like CHRISTMAS VACATION or HOME ALONE. Hollywood always has something for everyone!
I’ll be with family next Friday, so I won’t be blogging. Here’s wishing everyone a Happy Holiday season and a Joyous New Year! See you in 2013.
A MORE SERIOUS NOTE
This irreverent look at the possibility of “apocalypse” is by no means meant to diminish the suffering of the victims of the very real disasters of Hurricane Sandy and the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. For those families and individuals, to an extent those of us on the outside cannot fathom, the world as they know it truly has ended. We can only pray that they find the strength to rebuild and regain a sense of peace, security and love in a new world of their own making as the New Year dawns.