As I write this, Christmas is still several days away and the promised Mayan apocalypse, several hours. By the time you’re reading, Christmas will be over and the anticipation of the season will have been replaced by the chaos of empty boxes, shredded paper and the silent cry of a million cut Christmas trees finally free to give up the ghost. Unless, of course, the whole end-of-the-world thing has in fact played out, in which case the point is moot. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, it has not.
Because the world continues to spin, many of us are left with dealing with the detritus of the holiday season. Those boxes will need to be broken down. The wrapping paper will need to be disposed of. Somebody has to vacuum up the pine needles. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, the aftermath of the holiday season is pretty small potatoes. We aren’t dealing with a natural disaster. We aren’t dealing with a profound emotional meltdown. We certainly aren’t dealing with the Mayan apocalypse. And we aren’t dealing with the fictional aftermath realities central to the following five films.
THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981): The cause of the apocalypse that affects the world, or at least Australia, is never fully explained in the Mad Max movies. There are allusions to war, famine and perhaps some ill-advised nuking, but cause is always less important than effect. While each of the three (and soon to be four) films has its fans, I’ve always preferred the second. It’s not the plot, which is admittedly minimal, or the performances, which can be a little wooden. No, what I find fascinating is that exploration of man reinventing himself in the aftermath of whatever it was that altered the world.
KRAMER VS. KRAMER (1979): The most dramatic moment in this family drama actually occurs very early in the film. A young wife and mother, frustrated with her lot in life, walks out on her son and husband, played by Dustin Hoffman. The remainder of the film deals with those left behind struggling to pick up the pieces and carry on. It’s an interesting film where not a lot happens. Instead of big beats, it relies on small moments that perfectly illustrate both the internal and external lives of characters struggling to carry on.
ROCKY BALBOA (2006): What happens to an athlete who knows his best years are behind him? How far will he go to recapture the smallest piece of what once was and what might have been? These are hard questions with hard answers that come from an unexpected source – the fictional boxing legend who went toe-to-toe with a Cold War warrior, a professional wrestler and Mr. T. A surprisingly sweet and soulful film, Rocky Balboa is less about boxing than a man trying to resolve issues he continues to carry with him.
THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE (1970): A man left to die in the middle of the desert must not only find a way to survive, but also come to terms with his betrayal and the demise of the American West. It’s a small film and surprisingly quiet given director Sam Peckinpah’s (The Wild Bunch, The Getaway) reputation. It’s also a film unafraid of considering big questions while understanding they might not have an adequate answer.
BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970): Although the original Planet of the Apes is better known, it really serves as a setup for the second movie, which many people consider more complex and compelling. A worst-case scenario, it asks hard questions about the fall of man, who is to blame and what the repercussions might be. Marauding apes, lost astronauts and a ticking bomb provide the dramatic tension.