A major problem with being the dominant movie exporter in the world is that every paranoia and fear that is explored in your fictional output is exported around the world as well. America has a reputation for projecting an explosive and powerful exterior – something that features heavily in the comic book/action hero explosion of the last few decades. This is also present in its real-life military industrial complex and fictional intelligence agencies of its action-adventure TV series (X-Files / 24 / Homeland etc.)
The apocalypse genre shows the cracks in this exterior. It shows the inherent fear that Americans feel towards nuclear / chemical / biological warfare; immigration and loss of identity; environmental apocalypse and religious eschatology… so many threats. Unsurprisingly in the years after 9/11 there was a wave of films showing cities and landmarks exploding, yet this trend seems to have slowed slightly.
The more interesting films for me are the more realistic ‘slow apocalypse’ films that show a dying earth fading out with a whimper as opposed to an explosive bang. These films show the fragility of the human race and the inevitable decline of our genetic global empire… these are my favourites:
The sun is fading out so a crew is sent up to launch a city-sized nuclear device into the star to regenerate it. Whilst aboard the mission there is a philosophical and aggressive debate (resolved through action and not words) about whether the human race deserves to be saved.
Children of Men
Set in London in the near future, all of the world’s (human) female population has unexpectedly become infertile. This has led to extreme nationalism and fascist border controls as people try to live the rest of their lives in as much luxury as they can. An interesting subplot is the world has deified the youngest person alive and as he dies a new youngest person is raised to global fame – an interesting satire on what we would cling to in our final days: reality TV and racism.
Not so much an anthropological apocalypse but a cultural apocalypse – as in, the earth does not die but our relationship with it does. An intelligent young woman aspiring to go to M.I.T is driving home listening to the radio announce the discovery of a new local planet. Distracted by this she crashes her car and kills someone, ending up in jail. As she is released the planet has grown to be visible to the naked eye in daylight. Humans make contact with the planet and discover that there is intelligent life – the world has to slowly adapt to this radical information.
A young depressed bride-to-be decides during her wedding party that she is not in love with her partner and has to stay with her rich older sister. In the days after the wedding there is a rare celestial event where a planet is circling the Earth much to the enjoyment of the older sister’s husband and son who want to witness the event. It becomes clear that the world’s scientists have miscalculated the trajectory and the planets are going to collide. The inevitability of the astronomical tragedy allows the characters to prepare for the end of their worlds.
An unidentified catastrophe has led to an environmental apocalypse in North America leaving only a handful of humans left to live their final days as hunter-gatherers. The film follows a father and son as they navigate the bleak, post-urban landscape as they head west in search of… something.
For more from Ollie visit his blog Crispy Sharp Film