Archive for the ‘apocalypse films’ Category

Crazy Family Values at the End of the World

March 7, 2010

The 2010 remake of George A. Romero’s 1973 The Crazies employs a recurring trope in apocalyptic scenario films: the figure of the pregnant protagonist. This theme is also central to the plot of Legion (2010), in which the survival of the human race hinges upon whether a pregnant truck stop waitress can overcome her wanton ways and commit to her role as progenitor of the future population. The 2004 remake of Romero’sDawn of the Dead also features a pregnant character. The band of human survivors in this film are holed-up at the ominously named Crossroads Shopping Centre, and the birth of the child becomes a symbol in line with Yeat’s image in “The Second Coming” about the foul beast who’s hour is come at last. In The Crazies, female lead Radha Mitchell’s character is also pregnant, and her pregnancy related high temperature causes the government doctors to mistake her as being infected with a virus that has beset the population of the small Pennsylvania farming town.

"Wanting ice cream and pickles doesn't make me crazy!"

Recent films like Legion and The Crazies invert the formula of the demonic or even satanic child utilized in the Dawn of the Dead remake or Rosemary’s Baby (1968). The inclusion of the unborn child heightens the sense of apocalyptic tension, and provides the regenerative kernel from which a new humanity will sprout in the post-apocalyptic world. The survival of a baby is also a plot device in Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977), where saving Doug and Lynn Wood’s child from being eaten by cannibals serves as the pretext for the climatic violence of the film.

"l told you we shold have gone to Disneyland instead!"

What all these film’s have in common is a sense of human society crossing a threshold which requires that it learn to survive in a more violent, desolate and frightening world. The Hills Have Eyes brings a nice, suburban family into a military testing sight in the California desert where, in their struggle with a family of mutated cannibals, the differences between the Carter family and the retrograde primitives becomes blurred. The ending of The Crazies remake alternates between ground-level shots of the chaotic aftermath of a zombie-type incident in a mid-west farming town and topographical satellite images, presumably being collected and monitored by a government agency, thus providing a juxtaposition of everyday life and the techno military-industrial complex that echoes the setting of Craven’s film, and insinuating a systemic violence that lurks behind the seemingly benign technological and government structures that regulate civilian life.

These fantasies of social breakdown and regeneration can also be seen as the haunting of modern domestic post-industrial consumer culture by the inaugural American frontier myth. In The Dawn of the Dead remake, the scene that reveals the horrific zombie progeny (the child of a black couple) is couched in references to the showdown scenes from Hollywood Westerns. Both The Hills Have Eyes and The Crazies likewise chronicle encounters with vigilante/survivalist enclaves who provide a metaphor for the mercenary competitiveness that underpins modern capitalist culture.

To return, however, to the unborn and newborn children who, more than simply augmenting the dramatic tension of these films, can be seen as the bearers of their whole symbolic and ideological burden–the utopian impulse around which society is reconstituted once the apocalyptic storm has been weathered–it seems odd that the end of the world should be represented as such a relief! In Legion, the protagonists and their newborn are shown driving into the desert, the back of their truck loaded with firearms, the new mother musing on the received theology of a God who “just got tired of all the bullshit”. In the final scene of The Crazies remake, David Dutton holds his pregnant wife’s hand as the couple contemplate the skyline of the city while the town and county they once called home burns behind them in nuclear fire. This cataclysmic expulsion from Eden is then recaptured by the displacement of the already mentioned satellite zoom-out effect, leaving the viewer with the ominous sense of the characters’ being watched from afar. The originally intended cut of the first Hills Have Eyes likewise ends with a shot of the surviving cannibal daughter, Ruby, holding hands with one of the Carters as they make the trek back to civilization.

This excised scene (the released version ends with a freeze frame of Doug in the process of smashing in one of the cannibal’s skull) is perhaps the most progressive of any of these examples for its gesturing towards a reconstitution of the basic social unit that goes beyond the exclusions of the modern nuclear family. More typically, these apocalyptic films seem to reinforce conservative visions that recapitulate the isolated, embattled nuclear family as a model for the survival of humanity in the brave new world, while jettisoning alternative and deviant types into the outer abyss. These films offer no alternatives to the social fragmentation chronicled in their plots, despite the opportunities for reconfiguration offered by chance constellations of class, race and personality type effected by the imagined state of emergency these films explore.