Apocalypse Now: Our Love Affair with the End
2013 is definitely the year to take stock of your supplies, support NPR to get that emergency survival pack and gird your loins in preparation for the end of the world. If movies are any sign of what’s to come, it’s the real year of the apocalypse. With This is the End (June 12) and World War Z (June 21) opening just around the corner, After Earth and Oblivion in the rearview, and a bunch of stuff still waiting for us, we might just be heading towards the end. I know we had sad/funny Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, the slowest movie on earth Melancholia and super silly Nazis on the moon in Iron Sky last year, but that was soft stuff. Of course, the end of the world might not really be coming, but it’s starting to look like we are really ready, and maybe even looking forward to it.
For some research, I looked up how Wikipedia defines ‘apocalypse’, I was quickly lost in a sea of religious lists of how the world was presumed to end. It gets awfully specific: the world will end when this guy dies, or when you stop listening to what this guy says, etc. Religions are pretty self-serving after all, so it makes sense to claim yours is the only one to follow that will keep molten lava from burning your legs off in a myth of impending doom. One thing was certain in my half-attempt at researching the apocalypse for you; almost every culture believed or believes in it, including ancient Greece, the Vikings and surprisingly, Buddhists. And though the Mayans were proved wrong last year, looking to the secular channel of science reveals that even Isaac Newton said we are all probably going to die in 2060. So, we can look forward to another round of cult leader-sponsored billboards like in 2012, and then if we do make it, maybe a revival of an embarrassed Baptist term for the non-apocalypse in 1843, “The Big Disappointment”, muttered by anyone in the future who was hoping their next door neighbors would die.
But what does our contemporary cinematic fascination with the end even mean? Could it be that even as we become more and more ambivalent about religion around the globe, we kind of long for an end to things anyway? Or is it actually, deep down inside, a fascination with a concept instilled in humanity — a superiority complex that assumes whomever we are, we’d be the ones to make it out alive? Picture any movie where bad things are happening; aren’t we always along for the ride with the survivors? Apocalypse movies are basically assurances in our own indestructibility and an insurance policy that as long as we have a relatable hero in the frame, we’ll be OK, too.
Alright, I know, it’s just a movie. I know that when you watch Night of the Living Dead, you don’t actually believe it’s happening for real. But the reason we watch movies is to be taken on a journey, to be told a story, and to live in a more exciting plot than the ones we find ourselves in daily. Perhaps the apocalypse is not as fantastic as The Wizard of Oz type of movies we watched as kids, but those of us with darker souls can still revel in hugely varied end-of-times calamities for a two-hour fantasy ride. Want to get caught up in the reality of global warming but turn off the movie and pretend it’s all OK? Watch The Day After Tomorrow. Get tired of everything, even taking a bath, and just wish a meteor would wipe out everything including you? Melancholia will work. Want to live through pretty accurate social commentary on how everyone sucks, even when there’s fewer of you, and press on in hopes of living off-the-grid in a socialist fantasy? Children of Men, 28 Days Later, or The Road will do the trick. The options are endless! You still have aliens vs. patriotism, sexy ‘you’re-the-last-one-on-earth-and-you’re-hot’ romance, and fantasy-in-a-fantasy Matrix scenarios, to name a few.
Even if it’s not very cultured to admit, the truth is that I get way more excited about apocalypse movies than any other film genre. I’d rather be scared of the undead than thinking about my fractured relationship with my parents or watching Ashton Kutcher somehow get progressively more annoying. Plus, I am a totally cheap bastard and I refuse to pay what amounts to the price of a decent bottle of wine to see a movie with other loud people when I could see it on Netflix alone a year later, so I don’t go to the movies unless A) it’s scary and hopefully violent and explosive, or B) has Ryan Gosling covered in crappy tattoos.
Being that the previews promise explosions, severed limbs, and panic-stricken mobs, I am 100% excited to see both This is the End and World War Z in the actual theater. Both movies use either hilarious comedians (Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson) or serious actors (Brad Pitt and the ginger in The Killing) in silly action roles. Both promise bad dialogue and mega summer-movie-style action to play up the wink-wink tropes of the legacy of cult classics, and to scare the piss out of you. I also can’t get enough bromance stuff from guys like Seth Rogen or dark things about zombies, which World War Z (hopefully smartly?) plays down in their description of a mysterious “pandemic.” WWZ is also compared to the addictive TV show The Walking Dead because of planned sequels. I can’t imagine them all being great, but I have my sweaty cash in hand (what is it these days, like $14, $15??) and I am ready to go into survival mode.