Whereas disaster films such as Roland Emmerich’s ADD exercise in visual frenzy, 2012, are about immediate survival and in-progress destruction (with thrills coming from the destruction itself), post-apocalypse tales tend to explore in a more reflective manner the aftermath of universal catastrophe. Generally speaking, they examine society and how we relate to it by destroying it and making the survivors struggle to find a way to live in what remains of it, either by rebuilding society, finding new ways of sustaining life and human interaction, or by finally giving in to the realisation that the end is inevitable.
Recently John Hillcoat’s bleak post-apocalytic film, The Road (2009) — based on the even bleaker, Pulitzer-Prize winning novel by Cormac McCarthy — showed just how dramatically effective post-apocalyptic stories can be, though of course they have been around since before the 20th century “invention” of Science Fiction as a genre. For example, Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, published in 1722, is not post-apocalyptic in the scifi sense as it takes place in the past, but its fictional depiction of one man’s experience during the year 1655 — the year in which the Great Plague hit London — has a definite fin de siècle end-of-the-world feel about it. Frankenstein author Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826) is set in a post-apocalyptic future — a future in which the sole survivor of a plague that has wiped humanity from the planet struggles to survive alone. Another is After London by Richard Jefferies, published in 1885 — though here the author sees the destruction of most of the population as a good thing, allowing humanity to revert to an idyllic rural lifestyle based on proper Christian principles, renouncing the evil, corrupting influences of city life.
I also recently read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Poison Belt (1913), which has Earth pass through a stretch of poison “ether” in space, with the result that every living thing on the planet dies, only Professor Challenger (of the earlier The Lost World fame) and friends lasting longer than most thanks to his foresight. The story is a metaphor for the cosmic fragility of Man, and the fact that once the Earth passes through the Belt the “death”-effect also passes merely adds to the sense of cautionary warning.
This Weekend Fright Film Festival features a number of short post-apocalyptic films that you may not have come across before. Most involve some sort of plague — uncontrollable disease being a particular obsession of the contemporary world, whether man-made or “natural”.
Netherworld (UK-2009; short [7:26]; dir. Steven King)
Netherworld reflects the decade’s related cinematic obsession, zombie apocalypse, though it is not actually about the carnivorous dead as such — in the post-Night of the Living Dead sense. It was made as part of the director’s Higher National Diploma film course.
Connected (Denmark-2009; short [7:32]; dir. Jens Raunkjær Christensen and Jonas Drotner Mouritsen)
Set in the distant future, Connected is a story about survival and greed with a post apocalyptic wasteland as its backdrop. Survivors of an unknown disaster shuffle through a desolate landscape, as it quickly becomes clear that not everybody has the strength to survive.
- Produced with support from Danish Film Institute / Film Workshop and consultant Camilla Ebling
- Official website
3. Dead Weight
Dead Weight (US-2009; short [12:12 min]; dir. John Velasco)
In the harsh post-apocalyptic world, Drew must struggle with the balance between survival and responsibility to others as he journeys south to find what he is looking for.
- Made as part of a moviemaking course at Marist College, NY.
4. In the End
In the End (2009; short [2:28 min.]; dir. Ahmed Ghani)
A short, surreal piece described by the director as “The Apocalypse and The Rebirth”. What does it mean? You decide…
5. The Last Man in Brooklyn
The Last Man in Brooklyn (US-2006; short [9:10 min]; dir. Roberto Bentivegna)
A post-apocalyptic romantic tragi-comedy? Warning: Contains sexual references.
The world has torn itself apart with nuclear weapons. The remaining vestiges of human life cling to survival like a scared child to mother’s hand. In what’s left of Brooklyn, New York, two men live a lonely coexistence. One is scarred by the searing radiation of atomic bombs, the other a miraculously unscathed drifter bent on cruelty for his own foul pleasure.Then… SHE came along.The bitter love triangle that ensued is as timeless as a stopped watch, and as tragic as a dead puppy.
6. Peace on Earth
And finally an MGM animation from 1939 in which cartoon animals inherit the post-apocalyptic world. Warning: Contains didactic lessons.
Peace on Earth (US-1939; animation, short [8:27 min.]; dir. Hugh Harman)
- Thanks, Avery , for supplying the theme for this Fright Flick Festival and the initial entry.