Next week, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World hits theatres adding to a growing list of end of the world movies being produced lately. Last year alone, two of the most critically acclaimed films of the year involved the end of time (Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life) and the end of days (Lars von Trier’s Melancholia). While the topic of the end of the world in film may have once been reserved for propaganda, films like Seeking a Friend seem to suggest that the destruction of the planet may be something we’re actually comfortable with – something we can sordidly laugh at.
Long after when Stanley Kubrick released the end of the world classic Dr. Strangelove, I was born in a time when the threat of the cold war had long come and gone. And to those who actually bother to take interest in it at all the threat of nuclear destruction seems less eminent than arbitrary. Films like Seeking a Friend and Melancholia which have the apocalypse as the backdrop rather than the engine of a story seems fitting to the time we live in.
Frederich Nietzsche rejoice. It seems that our films are telling us apocalyptic threats pale in comparison to the choices we make in our day to day lives. Alas, here is my list of some of the most noteworthy end of the world movies:
On The Beach, 1959
The first film I know of (leave a comment if I’m wrong!) where there’s no hero to save the world and everything goes kablooey in the end. Admittedly the ending of On The Beach is a little enigmatic, but between the deserted streets and the ironic there is still time banner on display one can only assume this is as close to the end of days one could get away with in a time when the post-war glow had not fully faded from people’s memories.
The name says it all. A film that still resonates almost 50 years later and would get more than a few votes from film buffs on their all-time favourites lists. The last scene of this film remains one of the most beautifully juxtaposed scenes of film history.
23 Skidoo, 1964
A national film board experimental short and a personal favourite of mine. I remember first seeing this film when I was 14 and thinking “wow, people make movies like that?” You can watch 23 Skidoo on the NFB site online here.
Reign of Fire, 2002
I wanted to add a film that falls under the category of “films where the world should have ended but didn’t,” which could be an entire post of its own. Why did I choose Reign of Fire for this list? Because the world didn’t end and now they’re making a damn sequel. Also, the idea of the apocalypse by way of mythical dragons kind of appeals to me.
I still think watching this movie was like watching a two hour high-budget fashion show with no substance – but I definitely appreciated the concept of the film. I liked that the end of the world wasn’t something to be fought against, just something that was. A tip of the hat to Lars von Trier who has said that he will never make another film with a happy ending (not that he ever did, really).
The Tree of Life, 2011
At risk of getting cut-eye from my local independent film shops clerks, The Tree of Life reminded me of watching a mash-up of your stoner friends groovy screensaver and an emotionally charged butter commercial. In The Tree of Life we’ve passed the ends of days and have already made our way to the end of time itself, which visually looks a lot like stock footage you could use to sell yoga pants. Regardless, The Tree of Life makes the list for being an effort to infuse an avant-garde structure into mainstream filmmaking.