It's the End of the World, and We Love It
By Tricia Romano Posted Nov 10th 2009 10:50AM
We at PopEater love our scenes of mass destruction. So, it seems, do moviegoers and TV addicts. 'Lost' started out with a plane crash. 'V' unfurled with an alien invasion. And 'Flash Forward''s simultaneous blackouts caused ships to sink and planes to fall out of the sky. Coming out this week is the long-awaited film '2012,' which deals with -- what else -- the end of the world. Directed by Roland Emmerich, the same mind behind 'Independence Day' and 'The Day After Tomorrow,' about alien invasions and enviro-disasters, respectively.
How over is over? Well, Variety says those previous flicks, "were mere appetizers for the lip-smacking smorgasbord of global annihilation laid out here" in '2012.' The trailer shows Los Angeles drowning in the sea, various landmarks (including the White House) merely crumbling into bits, and meteors destroying roads that are buckling and breaking from some sort of massive earthquake. ('2012' Clips @ Moviefone)
What is it about scenes of mass destruction, and the human psyche, anyway? Is there something wrong with us? No, says writer Frank Owen. "There's nothing wrong with us. It's human nature. People are dissatisfied with the way things are and want to see the world come to an end. (Except the elect few will survive, of course, because of their superior knowledge. It's just everybody else who will die). That's as old as human history. End of the world myths tend to be popular during times of social and economic crisis. Call it the amock-apocalypse. Let the end times roll."
Says Owen, who penned a story for Playboy about real-life citizens who are preparing for the perceived apocalypse: "People have been talking about the end of the world since time immemorial. It's older than the story of Noah and the Flood. It's essentially a religious impulse. All our sins will be washed away and replaced by a new world. Just as nearly every religion has a genesis myth, every religion has a 'how-the-world-will-end' myth". There's something about human nature that wants to revel in our own destruction. Call it religious masochism."
Village Voice's Michael Musto adds that, "Rollercoasters and other thrill rides have always been popular because human nature loves a scare as long as there's no real danger involved. The same principle applies to doomsday movies. Our worst nightmare can easily be turned into a paranoid fantasy for masochists and become our most fun escapist entertainment."
You would think that people's appetite for doom and destruction would have tempered a bit after seeing the real-life explosion of the Twin Towers on 9-11, and the very real and scary images off that terrifying day. But says Musto, this actually only makes us want end-of-the-world scenes more.
"It's still technically the terror age, and in that kind of climate, people love nothing more than sitting back and watching fake destruction. It makes us feel comfy and privileged and safe by comparison. For the same reason, we delight in "reality shows" in which people grovel and have breakdowns and eat worms. The fact that THEY'RE fake too only adds to our smug superiority."
Still, not all destruction scenes are created equal. Owen cites his favorite end-of-the-world moment when Cillian Murphy wanders around "plague-stricken London in Danny Boyle's '28 Days Later.'
Meanwhile Musto has a so-bad-it's good favorite of his own: "My favorite -- only because it's so hilariously awful -- is towards the end of The Happening, when a report comes in that the weird behavior of people mumbling and walking backwards, fueled on by some kind of ecological meltdown, is spreading around the world. Foliage has never BEEN so horrifying!"
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