In her excerpt “Seeing Things”, Anand Pandian discusses how humanity uses cinema as a medium through which we can broadcast and urge our own perspectives. To Pandian, if we examine the perspectives shown to us in cinema, we will be able to “find new ways of reconciling human aims and intentions with the precarious vitality of this globe,” resulting in a change or expansion of perspective. This claim works well in our class’s focus on apocalyptic movies, as these movies tend to deal heavily with changing our perspectives and behaviors so that (X) event does not happen (in the way that the past influences the present).
Why are we so fascinated with the end, and how do we imagine it?
According to Pandian, this has to do with our “utopian vision” of wonder and promise that we put into our films. Like the child reaching out for the moon as if it were a ball, humanity stands at the foothills of a barren mountain, longing to reach its peak and cross over to the other side in search of the green, rolling hills of Utopia. We like to imagine that the end will be paradisiacal — a lush reward after the long, arduous struggle of life.
However, the creators of apocalypse movies, specifically, put a twist on this vision in that instead of automatically placing Utopia in the vision of our end, they dangle its promise above life’s harsh reality that we have not yet overcome, like a mother promising dessert to her child if the child eats all of its vegetables first. Apocalypse film creators warn us to not get complacent, that we are in charge of whether Utopia comes around or not — in other words, our poor choices today will affect if we remain at the foothills or not.
We’ve seen this message in our class’s selection of films, stated both subtly and outright.
For example, recall how Lars von Trier implies how a stagnant fixation on rigid societal customs results in inner turmoil and implosion with his focus on personal apocalypses in Melancholia; this is similar to Stanley Kubrick’s portrayal of human formality in Dr. Strangelove. Or when Andrew Stanton illustrates humanity’s downfall in affluence and consumption due to their previous poor actions of apathy towards their home planet in Wall-E, with Don Hertzfeldt achieving a similar depiction concerning humanity’s favor and obsession of life over love (and other human emotions) in his World of Tomorrow.
In this way, it seems apocalypse film creators implore their audience to reconsider their held perspectives on what the world’s end will be like and how it will come about. Along with Pandian, these movies’ creators appear to be aware that “at stake here, in other words, is something profound: the reconstitution of what is real,” as one’s perception will often translate to his reality with enough time and justification.
Should, then, we fear our apocalypse cinema’s decrees?