The End of the World or How to Get Back with Your Ex-Wife

I have always been fascinated with the End of the World, also known as the Apocalypse. The latter term was originally associated with Christianity, but nowadays it has a much broader, secular meaning. The word ‘apocalypse’ comes from the ancient Greek word Ἀποκάλυψις (apokalupsis), which means ‘revelation’.

I like this idea of revelation, because the (secular) apocalypse tend to unveil the ‘true’ nature of humans. This is especially true of stories that consider life after the end: the post-apocalypse. Opinions about humanity in the face of the end of the world vary greatly in both time and between authors. Neville Shute, for instance, portrays the Australian nation dying with true dignity in On the Beach (1957), whereas the 2006 film version hints at a state of uncivilised anarchy. John Wyndham, in The Day of the Triffids (1951), shows that about half the people were fall into barbarism, while the other half will uphold civilisation with only a few minor adjustments (more babies, especially). More recently, Cormac McCarthy is more pessimistic in The Road (2006), where only a few lone people do not succumb to cannibalism and cruelty.

So much about the apocalypse and the post-apocalypse in literature. Hollywood has taken an entirely different approach to the subject. There, the end of the world seems to be a means for undervalued scientists to finally get some credit AND to get back with their ex-wives. The standard Hollywoodian (post-)apocalyptic film will follow this scheme:

  • Introduction: a male scientist with unorthodox views is scorned by everyone, including his ex-wife whom he still loves.
  • Omens: bad omens start appearing: unexplained illnesses, meteorites, peculair weather… First only in a faraway Asian or African country.
  • The rejection: only our hero-scientist connects the dots and tries to warn the president or general (in both cases usually Morgan Freeman) about an impending disaster. He is scorned some more, also by his ex-wife, again.
  • Escalation: now thousands of people are sick, meteors rain down and the weather has turned murdersome… also in the USA! The president/general panicks and finally our hero-scientist is heard. The president/general’s right hand man keeps saying it will be alright.
  • Saving the world: with panic abound, our hero-scientist comes up with a brilliant plan to save the planet (or at least a nice, American part of its population)
  • All’s well that ends well: the plan works and our hero-scientist is reunited with his ex-wife, who now loves him once again (if there was a new boyfriend, he has been killed by now). The president/general may well have sacrificed himself to save his people.

So, which films follow this scheme? Here’s a nice selection of films that I have found to adhere to this scheme, bar some small differences:

The Day after Tomorrow (2004)
Solar Attack (2006)
2012 (2009)
Outbreak (1995)
Independence Day (1996)
Armageddon (1998)
Volcano (1997)
Dante’s Peak (1997)
Twister (1996)
War of the Worlds (2005)

Do you agree with my Hollywood framework? Do you like these end of the world films? Do you feel there is a trend towards darker stories in the past 10 years?

In Conclusion

The wet asphalt below my feet glinted. It was raining a little, but not enough that I was getting very wet. I walked from tree to tree, using their bald branches as a make-shift umbrella. This street wasn’t exactly a fairy tale surroundings. My whole life wasn’t exactly a fairytale. Like I had predicted when I had just found my prince on a white horse, I wasn’t cut out to be a Disney princess. The current situation in the asylum had proven that. Apparently the universe felt that a full-blown apocalypse was a sufficiently subtle way to tell me that. Reese wasn’t for me. Well, he wasn’t unless this was that bit in fairytales when the princess loses her prince and all hope seems lost, but after some struggling they find each other again for a happily ever after. I considered that for a second, then I rejected it. A happily ever definitely wasn’t for me.

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