Saturday, 14 November 2009
I don’t usually do film reviews on here unless they’re retrospective ones for old films which need to be reconsidered, but I was taken to see 2012 the other day, and at the time of writing I’m sitting on a train with nothing better to do than drawing Mandelbrot sets onto the seats, so here goes.
2012 is an apocalyptic movie, one of those things where five or six characters are given a string of interweaving stories as a backdrop so that the film to stage its special effects extravaganza and we can all enjoy watching big buildings being blow to cinders. In this case the stories belong, in order, to the following folks. #1. The black guy of the day (there’s always a black guy in these films, you could set it in Nazi Germany and there would still be a black guy), who also happens to be the young idealistic scientist who first finds out about the immanent apocalypse. Two clichés in one character, there must have been a special offer or something. Oh yeah, and there’s some government guy who is fat (and therefore bad) who acts cynical and serves as a counterpoint to the idealism of our young hero, yadda yadda yadda. #2. The President of the USA, also black (how original). Then there’s his daughter, who is there so we can give a romance to the young scientist. The US President ends up being one of only two world leaders who refrains from fleeing and decides to die with his people. The other one is the Italian prime minister (LLLLLOOOOOOLLLLL!!!!!) while the Queen of England is shown to abandon her people and bring her insufferable little dogs with her. Good to see that American screenwriters still have as much understanding of foreign political realities as I have knowledge on fucking sheep (and no, my knowledge on the subject has not gone up since the last time I made that joke).
I’m going to go down by a paragraph here, not because there’s any reason to do so, but because I like the idea.
#3. This guy is in EVERY disaster movie, every single one without exception – the white male who neglected his family to write his book and now finds himself connecting with them again through the catastrophe. His family: boy, girl, beautiful middle-aged wife, and the poor jock who married his wife after the divorce – the impostor, basically, whom we shall refer to as the Loser because that’s all he does throughout the movie – he acts as a loser. 4.) A Russian magnate (and therefore bad) with the funniest accent since someone asked someone else if the CIA ‘add yew pooshing too meny penzils’ (LINK), busy trying to save his sons.
This is the film in a nutshell. As you can imagine, all of these people undergo a number of adventures and journeys in their efforts to reach the ‘arks’ that will save them, a few of them die (most predictably, the Loser), and eventually ‘new hope’ is promised. All good? Weeeellll, not really, and this for reasons beyond the fact that this film is basically the photocopy of the five-hundred disaster movies that preceded it (seen one, seen them all, really). I’m sure you’ll be able to pick up on that at first glance – much like you’ll be able to pick up on the scientific loops of logic, the racist / nationalistic political agenda, and all the other stuff that makes this film so bland and generic. So I won’t go into that, but I will instead point out what I thought to be the major flaw with this film, the thing that makes the whole edifice fall down (forgive the irony about edifices falling down). And I think it’s important because it shares this problem with the gazillion other apocalyptic films that have been made so far.
You see, disaster movies couch their special effects’ cabaret in stories of ordinary people trying to escape the disaster. In this, they stage the typical (male) fantasy, here found in the guy who returns to single-handedly save his family and thus reconquers them (also, less emphatically, in the young scientist who bangs the ‘inaccessible’ president’s daughter).
The problem is that these films portray a world in which it is unnecessary for people to take responsibility for their actions. The film goes to great extents to show how the Loser is such a loser and why the writer is in fact the perfect pater familias (eventually the film kills the Loser off, so nobody has to take responsibility even for abandoning him). But the Loser is in fact central to the most moving part of the film. This is a scene in the pre-Apocalypse bit of the movie when the Loser is trying to speak to his wife and keep the relationship together – by care, patience and effort. Alongside the nurturing and attention that he offers to children who are not even his own, this stands in gigantic contrast to the more obvious, pyrotechnic heroics of the real father, who drives a car through explosions or fixes engines in underwater darkness. The film implies that by means of these ‘heroics’ the father is somehow exempted from his real duties as a father, or from paying for his mistakes at the time – the fact that he neglected them in favour of his book is no longer an issue. He is saved by the apocalypse. He gets his family back. Similarly the young scientist gets the girl – enacting the fantasy of someone who has no social skills but gets laid anyway thanks to exterior circumstances, vis, the Armageddon.
A film like this is depressing, of course, in light of the fact that this planet really is dying. It may not do so with the narrative pathos of these movies, but as long as we keep warming up the atmosphere or building nukes, the prospect of some disaster someday taking place on a global scale is very real – simply because we have the power to bring it along. If there’s ever going to be any way of preventing a disaster at home, then it’s going to be by taking responsibility for our actions – and what’s saddening is that the films which are supposed to warn us about these disasters are telling us exactly the opposite of that. They’re encouraging us to forgo our own responsibility and withdraw into our fantasy of apocalypse. Much like the father who failed in his relationship with his family, these films got it wrong. After all, this is how the world ends – not with a bang, but with a whimper.