The Post Apocalyptic Future of 2010? Part One

As the holidays drew to a close and television programming returned to normal, I noticed a strange trend about the film releases of January 2010; nearly every week contains a movie set in a post-apocalyptic future. It started with the Road and ends with the release of Legion. Since December 12 2012 is almost a year away, I’ve taken it upon myself to determine what we should know about our post-apocalyptic future.

I’m going to review the Road, written by Cormac McCarthy, adapted by Joe Penhall, and directed by John Hillcoat.

The Road

The film is based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel, the same author who wrote Old Country for Old Men, which was adapted into the very successful Coen Brothers film. The Road, the novel, won McCarthy the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1997, and was conceived after visit to El Paso Texas with his son.

The Road author Cormac McCarthy

The Road is a simple story about a father and son trying to survive after a global catastrophe. Neither the book nor the movie provide any sort of explanation of the catastrophe. the large amount of ash and charred vegetation that the father and son trek through seem to suggest an environmental catastrophe or a large scale military conflict. There are no animals no vegetation, just a scorched earth and roving bands of humans, most of whom have turned to cannibalism in order to survive.

The Man, Boy and their shopping cart

The father, known to the audience only as Man, played by Viggo Mortensen and his son, (Boy) is played by Kodi Smit-McPhee are traveling south in order to escape the winter. They are trying to make it to the coast, the last symbol of hope left in this charred America. The Man and the Boy have taken their last moral stand, refusing to eat other humans even if that means starvation. They have a shopping cart with their last scraps of supplies: a couple of blankets, some scraps of food, and one revolver with two bullets left, which they may have to use on themselves.

Forced to use one of their last two bullets

After dispatching a cannibal who literally caught them sleeping and reducing their bullets to one, the Man faces his toughest dilemma yet. If the occasion arrives where they can not escape, the Man must either convince the Boy to kill himself or kill the boy before they are captured. It slowly erodes the last of the Man’s empathy as the Boy’s continues to grow. This chiasmatic character change combined with the Man’s cough that seems to signal his oncoming death keeps the last third of the movie from becoming repeated scenes of them looking for food. This conflict is captured in a scene where the Man and the Boy are robbed by another survivor, get their things back, and the Man forces the survivor to strip naked. The Boy forces the Man to return the clothes and leave him with a can of food.

The question of this film: will humanity survive the apocalypse?

The film written by Joe Penhall and directed by John Hillcoat hit the emotional core of McCarthy’s work. The Man and the Boy have to become as ruthless and paranoid as the cannibals around them. The Man and the Boy are forced to leave a group of captured humans, can not help a mother and her son, and abandon an old man in order to save themselves. The Boy continues to force the Man to continue to give away food. The Boy is the only thing in that the Man loves. In turn, the Boy has internalized that love and attempts to show that love to others. Love survives through the boy and in turn humanity survives through the boy.

Best Best Picture: 90s Debate

The Best Best Picture of the 1990s

The idea is simple: pit each best winning film from a decade against each other and see which one comes out on top.

The first Best Best Picture debate is from the 90s. Here are the players:

Dances with Wolves (1990)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Unforgiven (1992)
Schindler’s List (1993)
Forrest Gump (1994)
Braveheart (1995)
The English Patient (1996)
Titanic (1997)
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
American Beauty (1999)

Harrison: American Beauty

When I look at the contenders for this Best Best Picture debate, I can’t help but think, “None of these are the best pictures from their respective years.” In fact, some years, none of the nominees are the best picture. Conversely, years like 94 and 98 nominated the best picture, but for whatever reason it lost (Pulp Fiction and Saving Private Ryan, respectively).

Aside: I was curious as to how a film like Shakespeare in Love won over Saving Private Ryan, so I decided to do a little research into how these films get nominated. Unfortunately for me, there was no conspiracy as to why a particular film was chosen, but this article is interesting enough in explaining the process.

My distaste in the Academy’s choices for the 1990s aside, the parameters of this debate are simple enough, and I’ll abide by them.

There were many factors to deal with in choosing the best best picture, but in the end my decision led me to choose American Beauty.

American Beauty is the story of a disheartened suburban man (Kevin Spacey) and his rebirth over the course of a year. He rejects his cookie-cutter suburban lifestyle for a life that is uniquely his.

Nearly all of the other Best Picture winners (save Silence of the Lambs) were sprawling epics that showcased some primordial emotion from the human conditions (The English Patient, love; Forrest Gump, endurance; Braveheart, freedom). In short, these movies are idealized realities that the people can latch onto.

But as we came closer to the new millennium, we realized that this was not the world of flying cars and food in pill form. This was a world that led a depressed existence. The movie held a mirror up to our collective selves. The film’s protagonist, however, gave us hope that we could reject the lives we were forced into for something that makes us happy. Instead of extraordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances, American Beauty’s hero was one of us.

Technically speaking, American Beauty also succeeds because of it’s sense of control and restraint. Unlike big, boldness of Titanic or Braveheart, American Beauty is a low-key, subtle film. It seems like it’s easier to create characters during explosive action and events — characters who wear their hearts on their sleeves, than to restrain them in an intimate setting.

American Beauty is the best best picture winner of the 90s because it’s the most honest. It told us, yes, this world sucks, but if you let go and start following what makes you happy, you’ll get through it…or get shot in the head by a former soldier/repressed homosexual.

Silence of the Lambs

In a recent guide published online by Silence of the Lambs was listed 22 in the Best of the Best pictures. The only two Best Pictures from the 1990s to beat Silence of the Lambs were Schindler’s List and Unforgiven respectively. All three films are rated at 96% ripe. If I were to have to pick the best of the 1990s I would pick one of these three movies. I’ve been racking my brain but I can’t pick one over the other.
What do I do now? I’ve decided to take Silence of the Lambs for because it defies convention in two ways. The first is by genre; the list of best picture winners contains few films from horror genre. The horror genre represented a handful of times on the list of nominees and represented once as a winner category. The second reason is it’s interesting statement about the power of women. For this reason I pick Silence of the Lambs for the best Best Picture of the 1990s.
The film is a masterpiece of the horror/suspense genre about Clarice Starling, a young FBI agent who is assigned to get a psychological profile from Hannibal Lecter, a psychologist, serial killer, and cannibal held in a maximum-security prison. The film receives its dramatic power from these interactions between Lecter and Starling as he prods her darkest memories in exchange for information about the killer. It contains terrific performances from both Hopkins and Foster as Lecter and Starling.
Many would think that the Best Best Picture of the 1990s should say something about the 1990s which would make American Beauty an obvious pick for it’s statement about suburban life and the emasculation of the American Male. I would argue that Silence of the Lambs too says something about the 1990s. The story is about Clarice Starling overcoming a vicious male antagonist in order to stop Buffalo Bill (an icon of Americanism) who skins women. The film is a statement of female power that is only increasing in the 1990s, and is one of multiple films in the 90s to have strong female lead characters. This film along with Thelma and Louise and GI Jane show that women can not only be men’s equals, they can show strength, courage, wit and still retain their femininity.

All of the films that won or were nominated for the Best Picture are excellent films. Silence of the Lambs is superior to the others because it is such a unique best picture winner. Not only is it in a genre that is unrepresented at Oscar time, but has such a provacative plot related to the agency of women in the United States.