A new flood of apocalyptic cinema, where art imitates life

From an unexpectedly meaty piece published by — of all sources — NBC, on the current upsurge of apocalyptic cinema and its real-world meanings and implications:

Ready for the end of the world as we know it? The popular culture certainly is. When “Defiance” arrives Monday night on the SyFy channel and “Oblivion” hits theaters Friday, they’ll land on an already busy post-apocolypse-obsessed [sic] entertainment landscape that’s about to become even more crowded.

. . . For Brock Wilbur, author of Filmpocalypse! 52 cinematic Visions of the End of the World, the genre is universal. “It transforms as we do. The apocalyptic cinema serves as sort of a gateway to talk about bigger issues in an exaggerated way and in different time periods.”

. . . “Ever since the finish of the second world war when we got the glimpse of the atomic bomb there’s been this sense that the world could end in the blink of an eye,” said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “One of the reasons it may be so resonant now is that there are so many things we hear on a daily basis that seem to say to us that the possibility of massive planetary annihilation is within the realm of think-ability.” It’s real life informs reel life and vice versa.

. . . For Thompson, the images we witnessed over and over again in the weeks following the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings trumped every disaster movie ever made. “How do you make something seem big and shocking after that. A lot of people said, ‘Oh we’re not going to be seeing exploding buildings now, it’s going to be too soon.’ They were absolutely wrong. What we instead saw was a ratcheting up of the scope, to be bad enough now you had to be taking out whole cities. Back in the day we could be shocked by Hitchcock terrorizing a little seaside village with birds. Now we have seen and heard so much that our expectations are so extreme that we have to take out the entire world to make it seem like it matters.”

. . . [Wilbur says] “The way that we live now in 2013 has a real disconnect with what we are as a species, and post-apocalypse films get back to that idea of wanting to roam around and hunt and gather and scavenge and live in a tent and not have to answer my cell phone or worry about Facebook. It’s a chance to reset and go back to what our biology tells us we should be doing. That can make the bleakest film actually uplifting. It’s the same reason that post-apocalypse themed video games are such a hit.”

More: “The Appeal of Apocalypse

About Matt Cardin

Teeming Brain founder and editor Matt Cardin is the author of DARK AWAKENINGS, DIVINATIONS OF THE DEEP, A COURSE IN DEMONIC CREATIVITY: A WRITER'S GUIDE TO THE INNER GENIUS, and the forthcoming TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN. He is also the editor of BORN TO FEAR: INTERVIEWS WITH THOMAS LIGOTTI and the academic encyclopedias MUMMIES AROUND THE WORLD, GHOSTS, SPIRITS, AND PSYCHICS: THE PARANORMAL FROM ALCHEMY TO ZOMBIES, and HORROR LITERATURE THROUGH HISTORY.

Posted on April 13, 2013, in Arts & Entertainment, Society & Culture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Just an observation- This current spate of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic films (and tv series) posit a man-made global destruction, nuclear war and mutant viruses, both of which are real possibilities. For a while, it seemed that there was a more religious tone to apocalyptic cinema in the tradition of the “Left Behind” books. The anti-christ would be reborn and bring about hell on Earth, from which would follow the Tribulation, the Rapture, and somewhere in that mix a final battle between Christ and his armies and the Horned One at Meggido. There was also surge in satanic possession films for a while beginning with “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”,films which are the battle for one soul at a time. Now Hollywood is promoting a more realistic demise for the planet. Is it just box-office dollars or is the likes of Kim-Jong-un and his nuclear missile rant fueling the latest apocalyptic fears? (Sorry if I rambled a bit…)

    • I think the move from theological/religious to realistic – if that distinction is real – is interesting. But the basic issue – the possibility that our world is not safe and that there are forces – whether political, technological or spiritual – that seek our demise… I think that is the real issue. People are slowly waking up to the fact that we’re pretty much adrift in a sea of danger and threat. To me, at least, that’s the interesting thing.

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