Loving the Apocalypse


For as long as I can remember, I've been obsessed with the end of the world. My interests run to the dystopian as well (think The Handmaid's Tale or Blade Runner), but stories about the apocalypse really get me going. And it's not about the gore, or even about terror at the idea of my own inevitable demise. In fact, I actually find some perverse, selfish comfort in the idea of it all ending at once. I won't miss anything, and I won't have to feel bad about the people I leave behind.

No, I think what fascinates me most is wondering: how will it happen, and---more importantly---how will people react?

Movie after movie has been inspired by this question, and, lately, they seem to be everywhere. I'm not sure if it's a subconscious (or deliberate) reaction to the chatter about the Mayan predictions for 2012, or just one of those moments of cultural synchronicity that come along every so often, but it's for real. Last year there was Melancholia, this year we're getting Seeking A Friend for the End of the World, and next year, The End of the World.

The typical film depiction of the apocalypse goes something like this:

1) Government discovers world-ending event (often a comet or an asteroid headed straight for Earth). 2) Government tries awfully hard---and fails even harder---to keep said event a secret. 3) Public freaks the eff out. 4) Super smart members of said public figure out awesome way to beat the world-ending event at its own game. 5) Event is eventually beaten in a show of human (or, let's face it, American) ability to triumph over all, but not without major casualties. Most central characters are spared, but a few are sacrificed on the altar of a two-hanky moment.

I like these movies, movies like Deep Impact, Armageddon, or Independence Day. I gobble them up like candy. And they do a decent job of showing the humanity in the midst of the set piece explosions. But, I have to say, the movie that's most satisfied my dual needs to a) see it all come crashing to a halt, and b) see how people might react to it is the aforementioned Melancholia.

There's no doubt at the beginning of the film that the world is going to end. He shows it to you right there in the dreamy opening sequence, alongside our heroine (played by Kirsten Dunst) aping Ophelia, birds falling from the sky, and a bush catching fire---all set to Wagner. (Manohla Dargis' rundown of the sequence is well worth a read.). A planet--- Melancholia---collides directly with Earth, destroying them both on impact. There's no escaping this end. (Spoiler alert, I guess?)

And I think that's why the movie has stuck with me. Yes, there's the incredible moment right at the end, when Melancholia bears down so hard on our cast that their hair blows sideways in its celestial breeze, and there's the breathtakingly gorgeous setting (an estate with incredible grounds in some unnamed European location)---not to mention the Wagner crashing in all over the place, chords hanging out. But watching a small group of people deal quietly with the end of the world? Talk dirty to me, von Trier.

Which is not to say that I'm not planning to see the next couple of world-ending-sky-falling movies. I am. But I know I'll be a little disappointed if Steve Carell and Keira Knightley both make it through.

(photo by mockstar on flickr)