Humanity apparently crawled out of the primordial ooze wearing a THE END IS NIGH sandwich board, and we have been obsessed with apocalypse ever since. Is it because our own mortality is so incomprehensible that in order to come to terms with the end of our lives, we can only imagine the end of ALL LIFE? Is it the cathartic Saturnalia of watching all our carefully-crafted, treasured things go up in flames? There’s a certain kind of brain-flood that happens in an apocalypse narrative that’s maybe kind of like a DMT high: everything narrows and expands at the same time, and you’re like OK WHAT’S IMPORTANT REALLY? NOTHING. AND EVERYTHING. And then you hug everyone and cry and tell the cat you’ll try to be a better person from now on.
In the spirit of 2012 (the year, not the movie, which sucked), here are Not An Expert’s favourite apocalyptic tales.
1. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clark. A wonderful, chilling 1953 novel by one of sci-fi’s masters. Clark, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, always goes for the big guns. It also is one of the many apocalypse narratives that revolves around children, which hints at some kind of cultural anxiety around growing up/the world ending.
2. The Road by Cormac McCarthy/The Road directed by John Hillcoat. The movie and the book are two very different creatures, but you know what? They’re both really good.
3. Oryx & Crake/The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. Disclaimer: I know objectively that these books are nowhere near Atwood’s best writing. In fact, by her standards they’re pretty terrible. And by science fiction standards they’re run of the mill – light on original ideas, heavy on patronizing/glib views of humanity. NEVERTHELESS I’m a sucker for vaguely feminist sci-fi lite about the end of humanity.
4. Though really, if vaguely feminist sci-fi lite is what you want, you should stick to Octavia Butler: class-conscious, female-centric POC speculative fiction. She’s more dystopian than apocalyptic, but she rules.
5. Last Night, dir. Don McKellar. Not the 2010 movie about a troubled marriage but the 1998 movie about the end of the world. This movie seems closer to what it would actually feel like if the end was nigh. One of the most amazing things about it is it never gives an explanation for the impending doom – there’s zero science or technobabble. The world is ending, somehow, at a specific time, and that’s that. Bonus features: Sandra Oh; a stadium full of people jamming out “Taking Care of Business.”
6. Children of Men, dir. Alfonso Cuarón. One of the best, and not just because of Clive Owen. Combines real-feeling humanity-facing-down-its-end with real-feeling anxieties around migration, class, celebrity, reproduction.
7. Melancholia, dir. Lars Von Trier.
8. I Am Legend, dir. Francis Lawrence. A remake of Omega Man, but no Heston chewing what remains of the scenery. Way more nihilistic than I expected from a Will Smith movie. Great performances from Smith and Abbey the dog.
9. 28 Days Later, dir. Danny Boyle. It seems like we’re getting into zombie territory, and that’s maybe its own thing, but I had to mention this one because it’s so fucking good. Primarily because of how it made me terrified to think about the kind of person that is most likely to survive a zombie attack. Clue: it’s not John Cusack. (This theme, survival of the fittest/worst, is also a major part of The Road, obvs.)
11. Götterdämmerung, Richard Wagner. A blast from the past, this one; Wagner’s epic first brought Norse mythology’s Ragnarok (the prophesized war of the gods that would bring about the end of the world) to the operatic stage in the late 19th century. Götterdämmerung itself is actually the final cycle in a four-part opera and, in full production, it clocks in at just under 5 hours. Taking said runtime into account, I don’t recommend you try to sit through this one unless you’re an opera veteran or something. I do recommend that you pick your way through youtube, though, and select excerpts from this cycle to play at full blast during the apocalypse party that I know you’re having.