why i love [post]apocalyptic movies
there is a scene in the new zealand sci-fi flick the quiet earth
 when the three characters, who each thought they were the last person on earth, discover each other, break down in laughter and deeply embrace. before that moment of meeting they were complete strangers. at that moment of meeting they became great intimates. a deeply moving scene about our need for human warmth and contact. for in the better [post]apocalyptic movies the characters, and we the viewers, must examine the question, how should we live. some of these films enact the needs of survival so bleakly the characters resort to murder, duplicity, hatred, fear and paranoia. but there are other end-of-the-world movies where the characters come together in love and friendship.
i know of two movies, last night
 and seeking a friend for the end of the world
, where the characters are faced with a quickly approaching doomsday and who embody the question: how should we live. rather than resort to barbarism the characters in both of these films struggle in their fear of death and the end of all things. but they remain good people.
the sci-fi and horror genres are rife with all kinds of tales of madness and butchery when the story is about the end of the world. and yet there are many of us -- i think -- who will band together and cooperate. cormac mccarthy's book, and movie, the road
was about just that, how to live and be a good person in a world gone mad. take for example the sandra oh character in the canadian film last night
. the end of the world was known for a few months. on the last day oh is having trouble getting home to her husband. oh and her husband, who remained at his job at the power company so the city can have power all the way to the last minute, made a suicide pact. at a specific time the couple planned on shooting each other. things don't work out that way. instead, oh meets another character who tries to help her get home, unsuccessfully. but these two strangers bond, become intimate friends, and face the end together.
steve carrell's wife in seeking a friend for the end of the world
bolts in panic and leaves carrell as soon as news of an incoming asteroid that will destroy the planet in three weeks. society has gone, of course, topsy-turvy. keira knightley is a young neighbor woman who promises to help carrell seek out an old high school sweethart. knightley's family is in england so she has no one to turn to. the movie is a road trip of crazies, goonies, and sweetly insane people. of course knightley and carrell fall in love. we get that and we get the fact that if the world wasn't going to end tomorrow they would never have exchanged but a few words together. and that is the point, faced with death how do you want to live?
and that is why i love these kinds of movies. because we are dying every day. when faced with our mortality we soon -- i hope -- shall know what matters the most to us. if i had six months to live i would do exactly what i do now: high dive into the OED, read, write, watch crazy movies, love my family and be a good friend. if the world was going to end in six months i would do the same.
there is a tender scene in seeking a friend for the end of the world
when carrell and knightley almost run over a line of beach-side pilgrims. these pilgrims are getting baptized beside the sea. these people are families and folk of all stripes. our friends watch the ceremony and stay for the picnic. they laugh and play with these people because it is near the end and they have become all friends. and why not. the Other is not the Other when it becomes your friend.
and just the thing for fear because even when we study our lives and face our deaths i am reminded of FDR's great quote in another time of great peril and uncertainty: the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. fear is what makes us commit violence. fear is what makes the Other a stranger. fear is a stunted emotion. it retards our thinking and impedes good works. when we confront our doom, our finiteness of mind, body and also of our home the earth, for it too is a finite place, we ask ourselves how do we want to live? do we want to be good people or become violent creatures? sometimes we are both.
these are not easy questions and cannot be answered in a few glib sentences. so we have literature -- and movies i think are literature -- to explore, test and enact -- our fears so we can ask, when you know you are going to die, how do you want to live?