13 November 2009

2012 and the Eschatological Impulse

Perhaps I should write this on my movie blog, but Roland Emmerich's latest disaster film, 2012, opens around the country today. The film's story seems to be tied only tangentially to the Mayan calendar prophecy that so intrigues many non-Mayan people lately, but those entranced by the Mayans' supposed prediction of an end of the world will see what they want here: cataclysm, the toppling of symbols of civilization and the near extinction of human life. I only mention this as an introduction to a comment by Hearst reviewer Mick Lasalle, who seems to misread the national mood, regardless of what he thinks of the movie. Here are his relevant remarks:

"2012" is a light film, with very little introspection and an upbeat tone that's undiminished by the implied slaughter of about 7 billion people. This is ludicrous, and yet it's interesting, in that it may signal a shift within the culture at large. For seven years following 9/11, we had a series of films depicting civic chaos and destruction, and these films were invariably downbeat or at least cautionary. (Even "The Day After Tomorrow" was about the threat of global warming.) In those years, within the context of a brainless action movie, you simply could not show an American landmark getting annihilated. People wouldn't stand for it. Only an audience that feels invulnerable can enjoy watching on screen the wholesale destruction of its civilization and not take it as a threat. A cloud has lifted. It's safe to be happy and brainless again. "2012" may be Hollywood's first post-post-9/11 movie.

Looking around me, I see very few people feeling invulnerable. That doesn't mean anyone will feel threatened by the ridiculous computer effects of Emmerich's movie, since few if any viewers will take it as a prediction of events to come three years from now. But Lasalle may be right that people are ready to watch American landmarks getting annihilated again (The White House gets hit by a tsunami wave that carries an aircraft carrier onto Pennsylvania Avenue for overkill effect). If so, the fact has little to do with anyone's optimism. But it probably has a lot to do with the folk fascination with the Mayan "prophecy." My unhappy hunch is that a lot of Americans are ready, and some may like, to see the world, or at least civilization, end -- if that means an end to all the institutions and other entities that seem to hold them back or hold them down, and a purge of all the surplus people, enemies, human parasites, freeloaders, bureaucrats, welfare recipients, etc. who might be blamed for the nation or the world's present troubles. I'm not saying that Roland Emmerich feels this way, but the feeling I get from what I've seen, what I've heard, and what I've read this year is that many people, whether they dare say it or not or consciously admit it or not, feel a need for a purge, a shaking out of the weak, the unworthy or just the uncompetitive, so that the good people can rebuild unburdened and the new world will be "free." Delve into the dregs of the Internet and you can find people saying it outright; they'd be happy if whole hosts, whole categories of their fellow humans would just die.

Roland Emmerich has been typecast as a director of disaster films (Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow). In theory, there's nothing new about his latest bout of CGI mayhem, except maybe in the eyes of specialists, and it sounds like there's definitely nothing new about 2012's typical disaster-movie scenario of disparate characters banding together to survive adversity and resolve personal issues. If it proves popular on the opening weekend, that'll leave me wondering whether some people just never get tired of special effects or whether 2012 satisfies a renewed appetite for destruction on the part of many Americans.


Anonymous said...

Just how many times must the world NOT end before these idiots finally get the message?

Samuel Wilson said...

A $65 million opening weekend isn't a good sign unless you're willing to write it all off to idiots who never get tired of special effects. In any event, what I worry about isn't people who want the world to end but those who would be happy to see what we call civilization collapse so that what they consider the natural order can reassert itself.

Anonymous said...

Of course they say that until their power goes out, they have to get their cold water in buckets from a local stream, heat it up on a wood burning stove (the fuel for which they'll have to collect themselves), and when their guns run out of ammo (with civilization gone, I highly doubt that there will be gun shops around to sell them ammunition) they'll have to defend themselves with axes, hatchets, clubs, etc. And beating off a hungry bear or pack of wolves with an axe isn't exactly easy.