Archive for February, 2010

After the Apocalypse

Coincidentally, I saw the movies The Road and The Book of Eli just a few days apart. They are two different and yet oddly similar visions of what the world will look like after civilization collapses. Men will be predators. Women will suffer. Roads will be left covered with cars. Cannibalism will rise. People will dress in mismatched clothing and gather canned food.

The Road is a far better movie. It is also very sad, which seems a not inappropriate response to the fall of civilization. The Book of Eli has a couple of major story flaws. It also has a character who is obviously under the care of a skilled post-civilization beauty salon that they somehow omitted to mention in the story, a jarring presence in the otherwise apocalyptic landscape. Still, I enjoyed both films.

The zombie film has become a way of metaphorically imagining our fears, which is also what we see in a film like 2012: this is the way the world could end. That doesn’t describe these post apocalypse films, in which the collapse of civilization is only alluded to very briefly and is not shown at all. What are these films about? They both seem to be trying to say something rather than just be a generic action movie.

Both films wind up being about faith. The Road is about faith in humanity, a faith which the protagonist has lost. The Book of Eli, as the name suggests, is about faith in God, a faith which the protagonist has but everybody else has lost. The films are about what you can believe in, who you can trust, after society has fallen apart.

Tying this idea back to my own bête noire, perhaps these films are trying to investigate faith without society because we are lacking faith in society. When you don’t believe in civilization, it seems reasonable to write a story in which there is no civilization, and you explore what you actually do believe in. Of course I’m overthinking this, driven by the coincidence of two such similar movies arriving in the theaters at close to the same time. I doubt there will be another serious post-apocalypse films for several years.

The metaphorical nature of these films is clear when you consider what a collapse of civilization would really be like. It would be nothing like what these films portray. We’ve seen Dark Ages before, and we may again. People didn’t wear mismatched clothing.

I can’t close a post about The Book of Eli without mentioning that it clearly draws on the beginning of The Canticle of Liebowitz, a still-excellent post-apocalypse SF novel.

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