Post-Apocalyptic Films: Every (Mushroom) Cloud Has A Silver Lining
They are coming for you. You cannot escape them. Everyone is aware of them. They may have even taken hold of your loved ones already.
We Love the Apocalypse! (But, Why?)
I’m talking of course about post-apocalyptic movies. Previous years have seen a plague descending upon our theaters, and 2013 was no different. Blowing up the box office this time, leaving mushroom clouds of indifference from critics were World War Z, After Earth, and Oblivion (although honorable mention must be given to Man of Steel for terminating all of those buildings with such extreme prejudice).
International box office returns (if not the reviews) show that we, and the Hollywood moguls green-lighting this stuff, can’t get enough of that feel-good Summer end-of-the-world flick. You know, something light and breezy, for the family. But why are we so excited to see our cities crumble and fall at the behest of some ineffable terror?
The common theory suggests that this trend is reflective of our society’s psyche. The needlessly divisive twenty-four hour news cycle fills our heads with terrorism, economic disaster, murders, the misanthropy and lack of accountability on the internet – is it only natural that we see the worst?
We are living in a pessimistic time, Dennis Overbye posited last month in the New York Times, “If movies are a reflection of the national psyche — at least as interpreted by Hollywood — we’re all expecting a hideous future.” Contemporary events can make one feel powerless to unseen forces both domestic and international, and apocalyptic themes can reinforce values that we already hold.
But I would argue against this. Or at least, partially. While it is true that we have grown jaded and fearful for our futures (I’m a recent university graduate, so this is all too apparent), our need for this content goes deeper than just having Hollywood showing us how we feel.
The popularity of the post-apocalypse has more to do with our desire to start again, to press a “reset” button on our lives – and it is our lives which we are focused on, not our (personal) deaths.
Because the fact is: Nobody expects to not survive the apocalypse.
When we watch a disaster movie, we are the ones in the plane racing to take-off as the tarmac cracks and crumbles beneath us. We are the ones having a tearful reunion with loved ones at the military base. We’re not waiting to die, we’re waiting for the status quo to be upended so we can, unshackled, pick ourselves up and become whatever we want to be.
People that embrace this form of media don’t have a problem with all life, but with their situation. If tomorrow you had a blank slate: all of your debts were erased, your job was no longer what defined you, and your social status was reset, don’t you think a lot of people would opt in? Apocalyptic themes only betray an outward pessimism about society; and the hopes for personal regeneration within the chaos, perversely, shows hope