A Doomsday Watchlist

As talk of the world coming to an end reaches a fever pitch, this having nothing to do with the fact every single person on earth is less than a week away from their imminent death, I can think of nothing more logical to do in this quickly deteriorating world other than watch a few movies. Not just any movies though, but the ones where we may be able to pick out what could happen and what we hope is in store for us. Every year there are plenty of post apocalyptic flicks that come through the megaplexes and offer their version on what they think the world will be like after everything goes to hell. I'm here to investigate who I hope got it right. There is such a range of films that could fall into this category but lets face it, Roland Emmerich pretty much has us covered no matter if we take the option of aliens, crazy ass weather or as next weeks prediction foretells, ancient myth. If you are unaware of the reasons for these end times or what all the fuss is about it all goes back to those darn Mayans and their blasted ability to develop the very first written language, some of which was apparently applied to a calender. These 5125-year-long cycle calendars supposedly have an end date of December 21, 2012 aka next Friday. This has led many people to believe that the Mayans (An ancient civilization noted for the only known fully developed written language of the pre-Columbian Americas, as well as for their art, architecture, and mathematical and astronomical systems. Initially established during 2000 BC to AD 250.) were also into predicting the end of the world. On top of that various astronomical alignments and numerological formulae have been applied to this date to create even more panic. Also, the calendar could be interpreted to mean the 21st or 23rd so we may or may not have an extra day or so.

All of that being said, it will probably come down to nothing more than an asteroid hitting the earth and wiping us all out. That is why I'd like to start with a film fresh in my mind that is right up our end of the world alley. In fact, it even uses the phrase in its title. Seeking A Friend for the End of the World was a box office bomb this past summer despite starring everyman funny guy Steve Carell. I will pretty much see anything Carell decides is worth his time. Here though, the comedic actor played down his persona and becomes Dodge, a man who has played it safe in life and so, when the end of the world is imminent and he has nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no aspirations to fulfill he feels more lost than ever. He by chance meets Penny (Kiera Knightley) his roommate who has never even noticed him. Dodge's wife runs out when she knows there is only a limited time left on earth and in a turn of events Dodge learns the one that got away sent him a letter a few months back professing her true love for him. He and Penny decide to road trip it and locate this mystery woman, Penny agreeing on the promise that Dodge can get her back to her family in England before they die. Naturally, things happen on their trip and dynamics change. It was odd to see Knightley and Carell "together" but they each bring such a sweetness to their characters as well as giving the overall film a more profound feeling than I might have ever expected from such a small, seemingly light-hearted movie. I truly enjoyed the moving magic of the film even if, in its unavoidable conclusion, I felt a little short changed in hoping there might be something bigger to discover. This is a simple film, but it says a lot in a very subtle way. Seriously, if you missed this and it wasn't hard to, pick it up for a rental and HURRY!

Why is it that humans want to know when they are going to die? Didn't this happen last year? Twice? It was two different times right when the world was supposed to end? Right? That is correct. And Y2K, everyone remember that? I was so afraid I wasn't going to make it to the ripe old age of 13. Still, all is very much intact and that will likely be the case on December 22 but if not the infamous man of destruction was sure to cash in on the fears of those believing we will see the end of days in our lifetime and just in time to ruin Christmas. Roland Emmerich has made Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and of course, 2012. Naturally these films have become more ridiculous and less entertaining as time goes on, but you still can't deny that great, star-making performance from Will Smith in Independence Day all the way back in 1996 (Welcome to Earth!) but we can look down upon the horrible spectacle of a cash grab that was 2012. I didn't feel any rush to go see it when it hit theaters in 2009 and with good reason. When I eventually caught it on blu-ray it of course looked great but was so lifeless we might as well have already been dead. Don;t waste your time on this one, just re-watch Independence Day, your life will have been all the better for that decision.

Lars Von Trier's Melancholia.
Within the past few years though we have seen some credible "end of days" films and no, that is not a subtle reference to the 1999 Schwarzenegger movie. Mainly because I've never seen it but also because I hear it sucks and was intended for the purposes of cashing in on the approaching millennium (sounds like someone else we know). Some of the more credible ones include the  film adaptation of Corman McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Road that starred Viggo Mortensen and a young Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In, Paranorman). The performances of these two make the slow moving indie film a tough watch but a meaningful one. It is a beautiful film that documents the ugliness of the human kind when driven to the brink. If the end really is near let's hope McCarthy was totally wrong. Adding to the list another artsy flick is last years Lars von Trier epic Melancholia. Starring Kirsten Dunst as new bride Justine and her quick descent into psychological meltdown at the same time a planet is heading straight for earth the film is way out there but way engaging if you;re up for the kind of thing where lightning coming out of a woman's fingertips is commonplace. This one is a real doozy and one you have to be prepared for it, but if you are it can be a true experience. It is a complex, yet simply paced film that takes us on a much bigger journey than it's surface implies. Also, it is gorgeous.

Going back a little further you can't go wrong with standards like Terminator 2, The Matrix, and Planet of the Apes (1968) but those concern themselves with other main stories. There central idea or plot device is not that the world is ending and we must try to save it, but instead this is an archetype the screenwriter uses to set up certain plot points or devices. Here we are talking about movies that directly deal with or are the result of some catastrophic event. That is why, if you have not seen it, please seek out Oscar winning director Danny Boyle's pre-Slumdog film, Sunshine (He also directed 28 Days Later which, if I didn't consider it more a horror film would certainly classify here). This 2007 film stars The Scarecrow, Captain America, Dr. Monica MacTaggert or Helen from Bridesmaids if you prefer, and Mr. Bad Guy himself Mark Strong (Septimus, Archy, Blackwood, Frank D'Amico, Godfrey, Sinestro, AND Matai Shang). They make up part of a crew given a nuclear device designed to literally reignite the sun as it is dying and scientists are looking for any way to buy the earth some time. Naturally everything begins to fall apart and in the farthest reaches of the galaxy, the men and women who hold the only key to survival find themselves struggling for their lives and their sanity. It is truly an engaging film for any fan of sci-fi and a movie I wish I could have caught on the big screen. The plot offers some weird turns but it is a grand film that was sadly overlooked and deserves justice especially if you only have such little time to catch up on such things.

Though I have mainly mentioned films released within the past decade or so I only do that because they are so fresh on my mind. There are plenty more that you can reach into the past and take a look at if your heart so desires. One of the more common classics being the Stanley Kubrick film Dr. Strangelove. Though thought of more as a comedy and featuring a fantastic Peter Sellars in the "first comedy of the nuclear age" the film certainly doesn't have a shortage of end of the world discussions. Considered by most to be another masterpiece in the Kubrick canon this black comedy/satire is certain to lift your spirits as your unavoidable death draws ever closer, plus if you haven't seen Kubrick's catalogue you may want to get on that anyway. Then there are such films as the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Steven Spielberg's fantastic 2005 film War of the Worlds that you could check out for good ole monster movie scares that show our precious planet falling apart, but it is always more interesting to see the impact on humanity that these events might have. That is why there is another film that came out a year after War of the Worlds that deserves mentioning a little more and that would be the Alfonso CuarĂ³n's (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) thriller Children of Men. A movie I could literally watch over and over again it tells of a futuristic society where humans are no longer able to procreate. When the youngest inhabitant on the planet dies at 18 the world immediately descends into chaos. It is a gripping look at the future that doesn't paint a sleek portrait but instead is a lowdown gritty take on high concept. Starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, and Chiwetel Ejiofor please seek out this film if you do not already own it. You will not regret, I promise Seriously, I'm dead serious on this one. Seriously.

Finally, in doing a little research for this article I have come across a fair amount of lists that include a number of the same films. Some of which you have read about above and others I had never heard of before deciding to write this article. One that I haven't personally seen but plan to add to my own end of days watch list is one that I have seen over and over again on almost every list I've skimmed. The Rapture, a 1991 film starring Mimi Rogers, David Duchovney, and Will Patton is one of the few I've found that touches on the subject of faith in relation to the end of the world. The ideas and thoughts pertaining to religion have always been fascinating no matter if you believe or not. The mythology of such a thing is so vast and grand it is impossible to fully ignore. Rogers plays a born again Christian in anticipation of the end of days and the film seems to be based in a very real world that accepts its main characters beliefs without scoffing at them. To hear of a film that presents the unbelievable (and unthinkable) at face value, making it seem oddly plausible in the process is something I find extremely interesting and worth checking out. In the process of compiling a list of suggestions for end of the world viewing I found a film to put on my own list. Whaddya know?!?! I really need to get on it and find this flick though, could be tough seeing as it's only available on videocasette and laserdisc. Happy final days to all of you and to all a good night!

1 comment:

  1. Mayans had to stop somewhere, right ? 21st Dec will be just another day, I'm sure. This may become an excuse for people who want to party like there is going to be no tomorrow ! And when they have to face the winter exams as in Kerala the next coming days, they'll know how foolish they had been. Chennaiites , I'm sure will keep praying in Kapaleeswarar Temple, which will be crowded I'm sure to find themselves facing an ordinary uneventful Dec 22. lolz. Happy Dec22, folks.