Jul 1 2010

Article XXVIII – Wherein Not Even a Submarine Can Save Humanity

Don't know what he's looking at...it's not the beach.

Last night, I watched one of the more depressing movies I’ve ever seen.  It was about this old guy who tells a story to a female resident of this nursing home.  He tells the story of a couple who had fallen in love, and there were some plot twists and things, and at the end…YOU REALIZE THAT THE MAN AND THE WOMAN WERE THE PEOPLE IN THE STORY BUT THEY JUST HAD ALZHEIMER’S.  Then they die, and there are swans flying as the credits roll.  The tears were just flying out of my eyes, it was terrible.

So anyways, I didn’t actually watch The Notebook, but my writing skills are just so good, that I totally had you going, didn’t I?  Hah!  The movie I actually watched last night was On the Beach, a 1959 film about the end of the civilized world.  It was directed by Stanley Kramer and starred Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Anthony Perkins, and Fred Astaire.  Being born in good ol’ 1985, I have no idea who any of those people are, but apparently they’re some big movie stars?

I’ve begun a trend of choosing movies that I have to defend as science fiction.  Mad Max, Night of the Creeps, and like half of the other films I’ve reviewed – none of them give outward signs of being anything close to science fiction.  I’m hard pressed to justify myself.  This week’s movie is no different.  It’s in black and white.  There are no dinosaurs.  There are no robots.  They don’t even go to space.  But it does have something I’m (apparently) quite fond of:  the apocalypse.  Yes, looking back, almost a full third of the films I’ve reviewed are about the end of the world somehow.  These kinds of movies don’t make interesting science fiction because of how humanity and the world die.  If anything, these are facts that are usually glossed over in the first few minutes of a film.  Unless it’s a disaster epic, where the end of everything we’ve ever known is mostly just spectacle.  No, most post-apocalyptic and apocalyptic films are interesting because of their portrayal of how people cope with the fact that life has gotten so hard, or changed to a point where it’s virtually unrecognizable to the audience.

How characters interact with each other and their own philosophical musings are at the heart of On the Beach.   The film takes place in Melbourne, Australia, with the nuclear fallout from the apocalyptic war creeping ever closer to wiping out the last few people on the face of the Earth.  We follow the lives of a few of the survivors: a couple with a newborn child, a submarine captain, and two drunks – a socialite and a scientist.  Presumably, these are the perfect characters for this sort of thing, because all people in the world can be put into one of those main groups.  I’m the submarine captain, if you’re wondering.  Which one would you be?

My Zeppelin is just out of frame

A lot of the themes the characters are dealing with are pretty heavy.  I mean, at the beginning of the film, it’s stated pretty explicitly that no one is going to survive the coming fallout.  The few glimmers of hope in the film are an automated radio signal coming from the coast of San Diego, and a farfetched idea that the colder weather at Point Barrow, Alaska might slow down the radiation enough to build a habitable life.  Naturally, anyone who knows anything about radiation knows that that’s highly unlikely.

And the radio signal turns out to be a bust too.

To be honest, this is a pretty depressing film.  Anthony Perkins has to deal with his wife’s denial of the coming events, eventually getting to the point where she is delusional about their chances of survival.  He also has to wrestle with the idea of feeding a suicide pill to his child to prevent the long, slow, painful radiation death that would take her otherwise.

Yeah.  Depressing.

Most of the film is dedicated to the relationship between the sub captain and a woman who, until now, has been a drunk, unable to cope with her coming doom.  Of course, drinking yourself into a stupor is a perfectly reasonable course of action given the circumstances.  If I wasn’t busy commanding a submarine zeppelin, I would probably do the same thing.  Gregory Peck is still tortured over the fact that his family was killed because they were living on the East Coast when the bombs hit, and this makes it hard for him to strike up a romance with another woman.  Of course, knowing that they only have five short months until the end of the world, is it really worth it to start something?  Does anything even matter?

Lets synchronize watches....now!

As a side note, and a way to keep myself from being depressed, I’ve just realized that Australia seems to be the place where most people assume the world is going to end last.  It’s where Max goes mad, the Earth goes Quiet (2 reviews from now), and people play on the beach, waiting for silent, deathly radiation to kill them.  Can someone tell me why Australia is so preoccupied with the end of the world?  Are you guys planning something?  It must be a thematic thing.  Australia must represent mankind’s eventual resting place.  DOOM, if you will.

The film is shot beautifully.  There are sweeping vistas of empty cities and ice flows, not to mention the incredible landscapes of beautiful Australia.  At times, the angles skew slightly to unnerve the viewers, usually when the characters are talking about a desired future, or making plans for the future.  It shows the futility of everything.  Some haunting dialogue accompanies these images…saying that the cities are deserted because “dogs go somewhere to be alone when they die, maybe people do the same?”

I mean, what else is there to say?  The film is fantastic.  It generates these terrible feelings of hopelessness and despair.  The only thing I wasn’t too sure about is the score.  There are points where the visuals are accompanied by a tense, almost grandiose score that seems to want to emphasize the fact that the world is dead.  This is just about the only misstep in the film.  Scenes like these need a mournful, or haunting score to accompany the depressing images.  It’s almost trying to scare you into thinking about the end of the world.  We really should be depressed by it, saddened by the passing of the human race, and the futility of life.

Other than that, the movie hits every emotional beat it aims for, and really depicts how depressing and sad the end of the world is eventually going to be.  I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to feel the cold, icy grasp of nihilism creeping into your heart.

Proving this movie is sad: do you want this to be the last thing you see?

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to get back to my men on my Zeppelin, the Spirit of the Paleozoic.


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