With the end of the world just around the corner, let’s remember some of the wonderfully horrific ways that the world has already come to a violent end, courtesy of Hollywood. Lars von Trier’s ‘Melancholia’ is one of the most proper apocalypse films to be released in years, since at the thrilling end (and I’m really not spoiling anything here) the planet is completely obliterated, with no person or beast spared the pathos of perfect destruction.
Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg play two sisters—one depressed, the other anxious—grappling with the truth that a newly discovered planet is on a collision course with the earth. Filmed in dense greens and grays, this is the ultimate end-of-the-world drama; there’s nowhere to run, and humankind has only flimsy bodies and souls for shields against the last fiery blast.
It’s fair to say that ‘2012,‘ which posits that the earth’s core is heating and causing the continents to sink, pretty much sucked. But the fact that it cast John Cusack as an action hero who saves his children from molten-lava death by driving a series of limos, vans and Russian military jets really, really fast makes this movie worth its weight in stale $3 movie-theater popcorn. In the end, there’s nothing left but water, water everywhere and one “ark” slowly floating toward the Drakensberg Mountains.
For those who yearn for an apocalypse with a Biblical tinge, look no further than ‘The Rapture.‘ In this 1991 sleeper, Mimi Rogers plays a swinger who embraces born-again Christianity after she hears the ominous sounds of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse clop-clop-clopping toward the earth. When her husband is murdered, she loses her faith and shoots her daughter in the desert, and only then does God take the show on the road by smiting down humanity in a hail of white light and brimstone. Sinners in the hands of an angry god, indeed.
Truthfully, most apocalypse films should be labeled “post-apocalyptic.” Just look at ‘The Road’ and ‘Tank Girl.‘ The earth never gets completely destroyed, although water and sunshine do become mighty scarce. Or how about ‘Night of the Comet,‘ the 1984 flick about two Valley Girls left to fend for themselves after a comet turns pretty much everyone else into dust or zombies? This leads to one of the best shopping-frenzy montages ever committed to celluloid, set, naturally, to “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Hell, if the world’s going to end, you might as well wear a cute fedora to the going-away party.