Metro in Focus: movies that play on our end-of-the-world anxieties

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 2.18.07 PMBy Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

Los Angeles is a sun-dappled utopia with a Mediterranean climate, palm trees as far as the eye can see and only 35 days of precipitation annually. It’s a sprawling Garden of Eden, with pockets of paradise connected by an interweaving series of freeways. Think year-round sun tans, flip-flops and driving the convertible with the top down.

So why, when such natural beauty surrounds it, does Hollywood seem obsessed with stories about the end of the world? Could it be it’s because they live above the San Andreas Fault, an inner earth rupture that issues occasional rumblings that threaten to drop much of Southern California into the Pacific Ocean? Perhaps it’s because it’s the home of Kim, Kourtney and Khloé, an alliterative television family who seem to be a harbinger for the dissolution of society.

Whatever the reason, in movie after movie Hollywood hands us terrifying visions of what the world will look like when the Kardashians are done with it.

This weekend 10 Cloverfield Lane, which producer J.J. Abrams calls a “blood relative” but not a sequel to his 2008 monster flick Cloverfield, sees Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) trapped in an underground bunker with a sinister survivalist played by John Goodman. Outside, he says, an attack is about to leave the world uninhabitable. “Something’s coming,” he hisses.

What exactly is happening outside the bunker’s walls is unclear. Whether it’s nuclear fallout, an unexpected ice age or a zombie holocaust that brings about the end, the post apocalyptic feel of 10 Cloverfield Lane is just the latest attempt by the film biz to tap into the world’s general feeling of unease.

In 1959 bright and sunshiny Hollywood offered up a scary story that set the date for the end of the world just after World War III in 1964. In On the Beach, nuclear war has destroyed all life on the planet save for a small enclave in Australia, but even they will succumb once the radiation clouds drift by. As doomsday dramas go this one is particularly depressing — for example people gobble up “suicide pills”— but its Cold War commentary led one writer to label it “the most important film of our time.”

Not all end-of-the-world scenarios are as grim as that, however. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World’s set up sounds bleak but it’s actually amusing and inventive.

Three weeks before a giant asteroid is scheduled to collide with earth, Dodge (Steve Carell) and his flaky downstairs neighbour (Keira Knightley) head out of town, looking for meaning in a world that soon won’t exist. It’s a low-key movie that could have been a broad comedy, but instead chooses for a more modest, heartfelt approach.

Sometimes the end of the world is appealing; cute even. WALL-E, the story of a lonely, but adorable, robot who inadvertently gives humankind a second chance, is aimed at kids but doesn’t look like any other kid’s movie you’ve seen. Don’t expect the same old from Pixar. It’s ambitious and beautiful like 2001: A Space Odyssey for children.

With such a range of dystopian stories to mine it seems sunny Hollywood just might produce dark visions of our planet until the end of the world comes for real.


seeking1What happens when the end of the world is just days away and you meet the person of your dreams? Are you a hopeless romantic or is your romance hopeless?

Three weeks before a giant asteroid is scheduled to collide with earth, killing everyone on the planet, Dodge (Steve Carell) finds himself suddenly single wondering if you can find meaning in a world that soon won’t exist. When a riot breaks out on his Manhattan street he and his flaky downstairs neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) escape the mayhem and head out of town, toward their destiny. He wants to reconnect with his high school sweet heart, she wants to fly home to England to see her family.

“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is a keenly observed—if somewhat speculative—look at what might happen when the end is near… or here. The movie begins with a darkly comedic take on civilization’s last moments. “Nobody is anyone’s anything anymore,” says the despondent wife of Dodge’s best friend. The looming apocalypse has leveled the playing field, giving usually staid insurance salespersons in Dodge’s life permission to behave how they’ve always wanted—sleeping around, doing heroin and generally letting their hair down.

It’s amusing and inventive, but the film really begins when Dodge and Penny hit the road. The movie takes a serious turn, turning the camera on the characters and not the jokey predicaments of the first half-hour.

On the big screen Carell leaves the trademarks of his best-known character—Michael Scott from “The Office”—behind. He can still hit a punch line, but he can also drum up empathy for a character without resorting to melodrama. He’s a likeable everyman, and as such the viewer wants the best for him, no matter what the situation.

Knightley is a good foil for Carell. The camera loves her, and soon, despite her character’s self concern, she wins over the audience as well. A scene over spaghetti with a Herb Alpert soundtrack seals the deal. It’s a wonderfully romantic scene about true love, vinyl and getting to know someone better.

It’s a movie that requires the viewer to get caught up in the romance of the story, and accept some far fetched twists. If you’re prepared to accept them, bring some Kleenex. If not, go see “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” instead.

“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is a low-key movie that could have been a broad comedy, but instead chooses for a more modest, heartfelt approach.