There are just days before we usher in 2012 and just under a year before we hit Dec. 21, the date some have theorized the world will end. While I’m not buying into the apocalyptic scenario, I will admit that the possibility of some cosmic force turning out the lights and locking the door has inspired me to revisit a few of my favorite end-of-the-world movies. Some serious and others slightly silly, all deal with the idea of mankind coming to terms with its own expiration date.
PANIC IN YEAR ZERO! (1960): A little-seen Cold War classic, this movie stars Ray Milland as a family man whose camping trip becomes a considerably more significant affair after Los Angeles gets nuked. While the fight-for-survival trope has been trotted out more times than I care to count, this dated and more than a little melodramatic version of the story proves to be an excellent period piece.
UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD (1991): I think this movie is about the end of the world. It might also be about utopian technology. Or it could be a love story or a family drama or, if viewed from the right angle, a really long music video. It’s hard to say. But that doesn’t make it any less fascinating. Directed by German filmmaker Wim Wenders, it’s a near-future science fiction story in which dreams are recorded, mysterious strangers are chased across every continent and a satellite crashing to Earth endangers every creature on the planet – all to a truly rocking soundtrack provided by U2 and Talking Heads.
MIRACLE MILE (1989): A small movie about big ideas, Miracle Mile asks what we might do if we learned that everything, and I mean everything, was going to end in an hour. That’s the dilemma facing Anthony Edwards, who plays a free-wheeling horn player with a thing for Mare Winningham. His answer, spend those final few moments with the woman he loves. As a result, the bulk of the movie deals with him getting from point A to point B in time. It’s a clever thriller with a great, romantic premise.
ON THE BEACH (1959): A submarine crew, the few survivors of a war that nobody won, travel south, just ahead of a cloud of deadly radiation. In southern Australia, they find humanity’s last outpost, where they await the inevitable end. This is not a movie about war or radiation. It isn’t even about death. Instead, it’s about how people choose to spend the time they have left and come to terms with all that has gone before. A simple, and strong, message and movie.
SUNSHINE (2007): Derided as a commercial and artistic misstep when released, this science fiction film about a crew sent to, of all things, reignite the dying sun is a powerful meditation on sacrifice, insanity and those elements that motivate mankind to make last-ditch efforts even when every indicator points to doom. At the hands of talented filmmaker Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire), this film manages the tricky balance of significant style and metaphysical message.