There’s a paywall up on the Newsday site, but Lewis Beale has written a piece about apocalyptic movies called “2012 and The Road lead doom boom on screen.” And the only thing wrong with it is that — huh? — Beale and his editors chose to ignore the real-life gloom-and-doom doc that film cognoscenti are all over right now — i.e., Chris Smith‘s Collapse.
Beale says he hasn’t seen Collapse and that it was never mentioned in conversations with his editors, but if it had been the dialogue would have probably sounded something like this:
Beale: “Uhh, there’s this other thing, this doc called Collapse that…uhhm, pretty much explains how we’re all fucked and the whole system is doomed to stop functioning due to oil shortages.”
Editor: “Is this one of those wake-up, love-the-earth movies? Don’t they show enough of those on PBS and the Nature Channel?”
Beale: “No, it’s not one of those. It’s an intellectual, cold-facts horror film…kind of a thinking man’s 2012.”
Editor: “Well, we don’t want to get into that. Too real. We’re selling newspapers to mom and pop and Uncle Freddy. People who just want to eat popcorn and watch movies that…whatever, make ’em laugh and show stuff getting blown up.”
Here’s Beale’s piece, in any event:
“The Road opens with the sound of explosions and the vision of a fire that obliterates the sky. Is it a nuclear holocaust? Planet-wide environmental disaster? Rogue comet?
“The thing about the post-apocalyptic wasteland in the film, which opens Nov. 25th, is that whatever turned Earth into a pestilential wasteland is never really specified. So as a father and son (played by Viggo Mortensen and newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee) make their way across a bombed-out landscape, trying to avoid cannibals, thieves and other sub-human life forms, The Road mirrors the concerns of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Cormac McCarthy novel on which it is based: what is important isn’t why things happened, but what happens afterward. And how the bond between a father and son can triumph over adversity.
“An extreme environment like the one in the movie ‘is a projection of our worst fears,’ says The Road director John Hillcoat. ‘In a way, as individuals we face that day when we have to leave this world, and it’s a projection of that fear on a global scale. It also brings out the best and worst in humans. How do you hang onto humanity?’
“The Road is not the only film to ask this question. In fact, apocalyptic fantasies seem to be all the rage these days. The animated feature 9, released last summer, is about a group of automatons dealing with an Earth in which humans have died off. 2012, opening Friday, is a cosmic disaster flick based on Mayan prophecy which alleges the world will end on Dec. 21, 2012. And The Book of Eli, opening in January, stars Denzel Washington as a hero who carries a book that could save a post-apocalyptic society.
“This fascination with total destruction is because ‘we’re all prophets of doom,’ says James Berger, author of After The End: Representations of Post-Apocalypse. ‘In part, it has to do with our relation to our mortality,’ he adds. ‘There is also this total critique of the world as it is, the corruption of society is so tremendous, it can’t be reformed. There is the perverse pleasure of seeing it go down. It’s done, it’s cooked, stick a fork in it.’
“These films are about ‘our lack of control over our own destiny — our fear that larger forces are at work that we know nothing about or that we have no say in,’ adds critic Marshall Fine of HollywoodandFine.com. ‘It’s the issue of control — that we want it and, for whatever reason, suddenly find out we don’t have it.’
“Not that this is anything new. The concept of the apocalypse has been with us since Biblical times — the Book of Revelations, anyone? — but really picked up speed beginning in the late 19th century, when writers like H.G. Wells began to explore the negative consequences of the industrial revolution. Then World War I, with its mass slaughter, only made these fears more palpable.
“‘The advent of new military technologies [during the conflict] made war brutal and grotesque in new and overwhelming ways,’ says Berger. ‘It was hugely destabilizing.’
“But then came the nuclear age, and the idea of total global destruction became a reality. Add in environmental, biological and terrorism-related concerns, and you get the perfect cocktail of paranoid, or maybe not so paranoid, fears.
“‘You don’t have to be a scientist to know that if we don’t change our ways, the end of the world is here,’ says Harald Kloser, co-writer and producer of 2012. ‘The end of the world is not a fiction if we don’t change real soon. And the question is, have we passed the point of no return.’
“Hollywood, never afraid to plug into the zeitgeist, picked up on the End Times mentality pretty quickly. The 1936 film
“‘There’s always something that’s scaring people, which can be used as an overlay on movies with a disaster or threat at their center,’ says Fine. “Communism, nuclear war, terrorism, global warming — there are plenty of things that have or will make us worry about the world coming to an end that movies can exploit to make a buck.’
“If anything, The Road takes this genre and gives it a new twist, since it is so intimate and character driven.
“In fact, Hillcoat says two non-apocalyptic movies served as a sort of template for the film: the 1948 Italian film Bicycle Thieves, about a desperate father searching for the stolen bike that is his source of income, because ‘[the father and son lead characters] are starving and trying to survive, and the father’s morals start to slide’; and the 1940 feature The Grapes of Wrath, in which farmers are driven from Oklahoma by drought, since it involves ‘a complete sort of breakdown, and the people are on the road, and there are apocalyptic overtones.’
“No matter what the source material they refer to, however, it seems apocalyptic films are not going away. And that’s because the fears they plug into will always be with us — especially in a post-9/11 world.”
“There is an undercurrent of the possibility of an apocalypse happening that makes these movies go deep emotionally,” says Kloser. “That’s why people are drawn to destruction. It connects them with their deepest inner fear.”