I was trying to work out what film had disturbed me most in recent years, and in a fit of lip biting deliberation, I concluded it was Roland Emmerich’s apocalypse thriller 2012.
There I said it.
Now, don’t fear. I am not about to launch into a rant against the mindless Emmerich blockbuster or it’s lack of character development, for that is surely the point of such things, instead I am launching into a rant against a tonally mis sold film.
The terrifying masquerade of the seemingly lightweight film, which at its heart, contains a dark bitter centre.
Roland Emmerich’s 2012 was a throwaway action blockbuster, something for the whole family to see and enjoy with popcorn and thrills and John Cusack presumably paying off a large tax bill, but contemplate its central premise. Everyone in the world dies.
It doesn’t show a few hundred perishing, like the inevitable victims of an evil henchmen’s attack on New York or the fallout from an alien strike against all the major cities. It shows the majority of the human population dying. That’s a lot of people. Tonnes. More people dying then in Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day and Babe 2: Pig in the City combined.
I know it’s a throwaway stupid film, a flight of fantasy, but something about watching everyone in the world dying in a sensationalist way in the very near future made me feel a bit sick. It wasn’t aliens or mystical properties that killed everyone, no; it was hot topics like climate control and our crappy treatment of mother earth.
If I am going to learn about the ramifications of global warming and our way of living I would rather Pete Postlethwaite or Al Gore tell me about it in a documentary, for the purposes of education and information rather than sensationalism or taking advantage of a real and terrifying danger. Or Ridley Scott demonstrated it to me with flickering images of a dystopian future where everyone sleeps in small white rooms with cupboards built into the walls.
I don’t want to laugh at everyone dying if I can’t contemplate its layered message over a glass of Chablis at my local art house cinema afterwards. I wonder if morbid curiosity finally got the better of us, and our urge to stick the knife in the toaster means watching EVERYONE die is now regarded as family entertainment.
I’m not getting all Michael Haneke on you, but if you watch Saw or Hostel or Ichi the Killer you know what will unfold.
Gruesome torture porn.
But if you watch a popcorn thriller with a tone of light hearted, goofy dad (John Cusack) trying to make good with his kids in the midst of an apocalypse, then you expect there to be less flippancy or fetishised enjoyment in showing EVERYONE IN THE WORLD DYING.
At least in War of the Worlds some people lived, plus it was well-executed, perilous, interesting and about aliens. It seems there should have been some kind of social responsibility there.
“Hey Dad, I’m ten and highly sensitive, so I want to ask, this film set three years from now could never happen right? I know there is a lot of fear mongering in the media, and are inexplicably drawn to it, but this film isn’t taken advantage of that? Is it? I mean didn’t these films use to serve as a distraction from fears about the economy, everything going to shit, fights with loved ones and the inevitable death of my beloved scotty dog Mr. Fluffyballs? I am upset now Dad, and the end of days being played out in front of my eyes is not helping. I don’t wanna live in a world where John Cusack is a bad father!”
What disturbs you cinematically is a personal thing, but having stakes this high in a family film and not dealing with them adequately is lazy filmmaking. The apocalyptic inciting incident is not resolved adequately in the third act, rather forgotten about whilst the survivors watch a sunset so the filmmakers can claim a happy ending, offering inadequate hope and balance after the death of most of the population.
Either I take a film seriously, and it deals with it’s themes and tones in a clear yet subtle and well played way (or sensitive way), or it takes on more then it can handle, a theme that is perhaps a bit too relevant or too much of a nightmare for those who find it hard to sleep, and it tries to make it funny.
When it isn’t funny.