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