I saw the movie 2012 Sunday. No better way to get your mind off your own problems than to watch a big, messy Hollywood disaster flick where pretty much everybody’s fate is worse than yours.
2012 is exactly like every movie catastrophe you’ve ever seen: an estranged family fights for survival and the meaning of “family”; do-gooders shriek justice and compassion while everybody else panics and stabs each other in the back; heroic rescues give the audience – and the characters stuck in the mess – something to cheer. Bad guys get called-for comeuppance and sacred institutions (religious and secular) are reduced to richly deserved rubble.
Oh, and of course L.A. is destroyed. Again. Poor L.A.; no other city comes close to suffering as much cinematically as the womb of the entertainment industry. Kinda makes you wonder about the folks who run it…
There’s a lie in 2012’s marketing though, and I’m not talking about the bogus science. The movie isn’t really about the end of the world. It’s about the earth – more to the point us, humans – getting a chance at a makeover.
Sure, a good three-fourths of us are knocked off. “Civilization As We Know It” ends. Continents realign, the poles shift (to Wisconsin?), tsunamis scour half the land mass, and on. But by film’s end Things Stabilize and A New Dawn arrives – literally.
In other words, the earth – remaining humans included – gets an upgrade: a chance at a reboot to version 2.0.
And isn’t that exactly what all of us really want?
Our planet’s a mess. We’ve overpopulated it like rats on a sinking ship. We’re running out of resources, we’re only still eating because of hideous meat factories and genetic tricks made to our crops. To keep folks from thinking about all this education’s been turned into pop-culture quizzes and we’ve made a religion out of shopping.
But way down in our limbic brains we all know we’ve fucked up and hell’s to pay. Doesn’t matter who we blame – ourselves, our neighbors, those people over there, the rich, our gods or saints or sinners or politicians or just the roll of the dice – we know we all contributed and we’re all screwed.
Probably the biggest laugh in all the buzz around 2012 is the guilt some critics mention of rooting for John Cuzak et al while 6 billion other earthlings are being offed. Get real, critics! No one laments those people. Too bad about them, we tell ourselves, but when the apocalypse comes we know we’re with the elect. We will survive. This certainty isn’t just in our religions; it’s in our DNA.
What are movies like 2012 really about? What do we really want?
Another chance. And that’s what we want.
What we want is to toss away everything we’ve screwed up – in this case the whole damn world and everybody (else) in it – toss it all out like last year’s iPod and upgrade to the next version. Something newer, something trendier. More intelligent. Something like Earth, 2.0.
And we want more: we want something to force us to act, to do the right thing. Something like the realignment of the earth’s crust in 2012, say. Heaven knows we can’t do it on our own initiative: we can’t even agree whether Arctic ice is melting or if we should choose paper over plastic. Somebody – mommy? Are you there, mommy? – has to make us.
What a movie like 2012 offers is something to force us to act.
There’s another post-disaster movie out right now, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I haven’t seen it yet but I’ve read the book. Bleak, gray, filled with cannibals and hopelessness, strewn with wreckage, it offers no beginning to the catastrophe and no end. There are no shiny arks of salvation, no secret cooperation among nations. Just forage, disease and death.
The Road’s apocalypse is much more likely than 2012’s.
Which is why 2012 is packing the theatres and The Road will disappear in a week.
Who wants to fix problems when you can just upgrade and reboot?