Mostly whimsical reflections on life
Alien invasions. Suffocating dust storms. Zombies. Nuclear annihilation. Giant insects. A menacing lizard. Unleashed zoo animals. Angry apes. Why are we so fascinated by pictures of apocalypse?
As a youth, I remember sermons about the apocalypse depicted in the Book of Revelation with scary creatures, violence, famine, war, earthquakes and plagues. The book was the inspiration for fire and brimstone preaching. I don’t recall enjoying all that death and destruction.
Now laying waste to our planet is seen as entertainment.
Apocalypse perhaps serves as some kind of psychological relief valve. Viewing a dystopian society in the wake of apocalyptic disaster makes our current dystopia seem more bearable.
Or maybe it is the reprieve at the end of apocalyptic thrillers that holds the secret of their appeal. Life as we know it ends, but something new emerges. Hope is dashed, but not completely extinguished. Life wobbles on.
In Interstellar, the seeds of salvation come cryptically through a wormhole. In Snowpiercer, hope clings by a fingernail as two children born on a train keep riding into the sunset across a decimated landscape. As hope is evaporating, Godzilla is somehow thwarted, Mad Max continues to rumble and a Terminator shows a flicker of humanity.
We are surrounded by comfort, which often results in boredom. Mass annihilation may be awful, but it is exhilarating. Apocalypse transports us out of our collective comfort zone. The horrors are terrible, but the heroism is superhuman. It is a bargain we like.
The horrors predicted in the Book of Revelation lead to a final accounting with Jesus returning on a horse with a sword to cleanse the vile of the earth and rule it with a rod of iron. It is a breathtaking turnaround. And that may be the source of modern-day apocalypse mania.
While the agents of apocalypse alarm us, the heroes that face down their danger reassure us. Mankind can overcome. We are ingenuous and resilient. We won’t be liquidated by alien forces or our own hand. Only something divine can do that.
But it is more than mere survival. Apocalyptic tales offer an opportunity to rejoice in rebirth. Life is different, maybe cruder, but humanity persists.
Apocalypse is a Greek word that means to reveal. In that sense, contemporary moviegoers endure the apocalypse to catch a glimpse of the post-apocalypse. We know we will stand someday at death’s door and we want a sneak peek at what’s on the other side. Post-apocalyptic fantasies provide a phantasmic window into imagined regions of beyond.
In a secret place in all of us, we want life to live on. But apocalyptic movies feed a more vicarious need – the celluloid proof that “The End” isn’t really the end. We will still be around when the next apocalypse arrives on our DVR. The end never comes.