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Apocalypse nowadays: the new wave of films about the end of the world

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Which movies saved you entertained over the vacations? Was it Silent Night, the sweary festive Britcom starring Keira Knightley? The courtroom drama Naked Singularity, with John Boyega as a crusading lawyer? Or did you watch Leonardo DiCaprio as a dorky astronomer in Don’t Look Up, a slapstick political satire? Whichever it was, I hope you poured your self a big one, as a result of none of these movies are fairly as gentle as they appear. All happen within the shadow of imminent Armageddon.

That’s proper: the top of the world is nigh, and it’s not the protect of megabudget catastrophe motion pictures or bleak survivalist thrillers. Lately the looming obliteration of our species can simply as readily kind the backdrop to some governmental mockery or a boozy country-house drama.

Running from McCarthy … The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Operating from McCarthy … The Invasion of the Physique Snatchers. {Photograph}: SNAP/Rex

Why the sudden change? In any case, existential disaster is hardly a brand new topic for Hollywood, which has been churning out such tales for the perfect a part of a century. Traditionally, although, they’ve largely come within the type of razzle-dazzle showstoppers, be it in the course of the unique disaster-movie growth, with titles like When Worlds Collide, or newer CGI-fuelled fare resembling The Day After Tomorrow. The extra muted end-times movies have been usually been left to much less popcorn-hungry international locations like Russia (The Sacrifice), France (Time of the Wolf, Delicatessen) and Canada (Last Night).

However the mainstream film trade has nonetheless made certain that even probably the most informal filmgoer shall be properly used to witnessing humanity’s spectacular destruction. We’ve seen it carried out by deranged scientists and comic-book villains, by robotic rebellion and cosmic collision, by viral outbreak and biblical flood, by dragons, birds and talking monkeys. And unsurprisingly, a style predicated on the final word worst-case state of affairs has tended to mirror the anxieties of the time. Invasion of the Physique Snatchers offered an allegory for McCarthyism; Steven Spielberg’s Struggle of the Worlds, with its nightmarish city devastation, was the primary actually post-9/11 blockbuster; Wall-E sounded the alarm about mass consumerism. The style itself initially mushroomed in the course of the chilly battle, when “mutually assured destruction” grew to become a family phrase.

Now it’s exploding once more. In accordance with the Wikipedia web page itemizing “apocalyptic movies”, there have been extra additions to the style previously decade than the earlier two mixed. Within the final yr alone the destruction of our planet has been both realised or threatened in sci-fi extravaganzas, family tearjerkers and chirpy animated romps. Subsequent yr will deliver extra of the identical: slated for TV are two cheerless visions of post-viral dystopia, The Final of Us and Station Eleven, in addition to the Ronseal-titled Extinction. On the cinema, we’ll get the big-screen pageantry of Moonfall from catastrophe impresario Roland Emmerich, and a Noah Baumbach adaptation of Don DeLillo’s eco-fiasco novel White Noise.

Daytime doom … Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence in Don’t Look Up.
Daytime doom … Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence in Don’t Look Up. {Photograph}: Niko Tavernise/Netflix

However earlier than all that, deal with your self to the perfect movie of the festive season: The Humans, an understated chamber piece wherein a dysfunctional household collect for Thanksgiving underneath a definite ambiance of – you guessed it! – creeping existential dread. The true drama, although, lies within the bickering of rival siblings, senile grandparents and sozzled patriarchs. It’s extra proof that end-times anxiousness can now be handled as mundane, off-screen, secondary to the home fallout: name it kitchen-sink nihilism.

We’re toast … Silent Night.
We’re toast … Silent Night time. {Photograph}: Robert Viglaski

It’s a great distance from the cigar-chomping triumphalism of Armageddon and Independence Day – each licensed artefacts of Clinton-era America – however perhaps this development for quietly apocalypse-adjacent storytelling is to be anticipated in an period when the real-world headlines inform of survival bunkers, fire tornadoes and doomsday glaciers. Dr Strangelove’s breakneck bomb-ride was the response to a world the place nuclear decimation might arrive at any second; perhaps this new mode of restraint displays a actuality the place the unthinkable appears to be unfolding little by little, a matter of glum inevitability. Adam McKay’s climate-change satire Don’t Look Up takes its lead from Kubrick’s film, invoking the apocalypse as an act of ridicule in the direction of a complacent political class. However six many years on, the tone has shifted from anarchic glee to resigned exasperation. “Perhaps the destruction of the complete planet isn’t speculated to be enjoyable,” says Jennifer Lawrence’s scientist. “Perhaps it’s speculated to be unsettling.”

It’s a credo that unites this present crop of movies, which all provoke angst quite than pleasure, defeatism quite than hope. That is the way in which the world ends: not with a bang, however a shrug. Or as Arnold Schwarzenegger grumbles in Finish of Days, whereas the state of affairs of the title closes in: “We have now some actual critical issues right here – and we’re not fixing any of them!” And on the subject of the annihilation of humankind, there’s a person who is aware of what he’s speaking about.

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