Well, so far we’re all still here on this crisp, cool, apocalypse-free day. That could just be a way to lull us all into a false sense of security though, so the universe can then sucker-punch us with a last-minute Mayan surprise. So while you’re waiting for the end to fall, you might as well entertain yourself. Thankfully, science fiction is chock full of movies about the apocalypse, or preventing the apocalypse. or the aftermath of the apocalypse. We’ve chosen five thematically appropriate flicks to usher us all into infinity, and we’ve even helpfully keyed them to the Five Stages of Grief. Two birds with one stone, baby! Let’s get this group therapy session rolling…
Denial: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Combining comedy and science fiction is tricky in the best of cases, but even more so when you’re mashing up road-trip sort-of-rom-com with the apocalyptic demise of all mankind. Nevertheless, this charming little flick does just that. As Dodge (Steve Carell) and his neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley), set off on a road trip in search of his “girl that got away,” we see the various ways people are trying to distract themselves from or ignore their impending doom, from turning a neighborhood restaurant into a drug-fueled rave, to Dodge’s maid simply continuing to do her job like nothing had changed. Even though Dodge and Penny constantly have their diminishing timetable on the brain, it doesn’t become “real” to them until near the end of the movie. Then they discover that the end of the world isn’t so bad, so long as you’ve got someone to share it with.
Anger: Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Say some scruffy dude shows up and saves you from an unkillable robot assassin, and your savior then tells you that you’re destined to give birth to the man who will save humanity from a war against vicious killing machines. That’s a lot to take in, especially if you’re just an average waitress like Sarah Connor. When she’s at the end of her rope and on her own, with Reese dead, she finally does the one thing she needs to do to save herself: she gets angry. That singular act of termination puts her on the path toward the no-nonsense badass she becomes in Judgment Day. But after years of running to keep her son safe, Sarah eventually gets pissed and decides on a more proactive approach: destroying Skynet before it’s even created. Arnie and the T-1000 may be more efficient killing machines, but if given the choice between having them or Sarah Connor coming to kill me, I think I’d stick with the machines. Sarah’s a lot scarier.
Bargaining: Twelve Monkeys
For James Cole, the end of the world is something that happened a long time ago. A convict in a future where the world has been ravaged by a pandemic, Cole is offered a pardon if he will travel back in time to gather information about the deadly virus so the scientists of his era can study it. That’s a no-brainer for Cole, but after he is mistakenly sent back to the wrong year, Cole discovers a pair of wholly unexpected possibilities. First, what if he could do more than gather info, what if he could stop the virus’ release and prevent the apocalypse? As his journey becomes even more confusing, Cole seizes onto an even more radical idea: what if his “future” and his mission are all just the products of a deranged brain? After all, it would be so much more comforting if he was simply crazy, because then his actions don’t matter. As much as Cole would love to cling to that possibility, the future isn’t finished with him, and his path inevitably wraps back onto itself, putting him right back where he started.
Depression: Children of Men
Even within the inherently depressing genre of post-apocalyptic fiction, Children of Men is, for most of its length, a master class in making your audience want to swallow a gun barrel. By removing our species’ ability to have offspring, Children of Men delivers a death blow to civilization in a particularly cruel way. It doesn’t matter how comfortable the survivors can make themselves, it’s still all for naught. One day, eventually, the last human will draw his last breath, and that will be it for us. Unsurprisingly, this leads most of humanity to embrace its worst aspects. The worst part is that it’s all too easy to believe that this is exactly how it would all go down in this situation. Even though small acts of kindness would still survive, they would become a concept just as endangered as the species providing them. (Thankfully Children of Men closes on a note of hope, which is why there are surviving viewers of the movie who didn’t kill themselves immediately upon leaving the theater.)
Acceptance: The Cabin in the Woods
If you still haven’t seen The Cabin in the Woods, I’m not going to spoil anything by explaining how it does or does not fit in with the other films on this list. But, for one thing, it’s bloody hysterical, the perfect remedy to drag you up out of the pit Children of Men left you in. And secondly, it has a definite opinion when it comes to the subject of the apocalypse, and that opinion is best summarized as a giant, extended middle finger. Cabin is one of the best movies of 2012, indeed one of the best movies of the new century, and if you have managed to make it this long without seeing it, I can’t think of a better flick with which to ride out the end of days. And for those of us who have seen it, it’s sure as hell time to watch it again. Vaya con Dios, you crazy bastards!