Levi Agee’s Screengems: It’s the end of the world as we know it

December 21, 2012

This was supposed to run in Friday’s newspaper. But it didn’t. Apologies all around

Levi Agee for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and blood, dirt & angels

Well, this is awkward. I’m writing this article without the full faith that you will read this. December 21 is the day the Mayans picked for the end of all civilization.

I don’t really have all the science to back this assertion up but it seems a long time ago they only made their calendars up to Dec. 21, 2012. So rather than assuming laziness or a clerical oversight on the Mayans’ part, the zeitgeist assumed the worst. Just in case newspapers are still delivered or you are reading this in a bunker on your iPad mini (where are you getting Wi-Fi?) I thought I’d present you with some end-of-the-world, apocalyptic movies to help prepare you to cope with the prospect of a doomsday scenario.

The first obvious choice is Mel Gibson’s 2006 film Apocalypto. Despite how you feel about the insanity of the man behind the scenes, he makes competent, if not very entertaining, films and his take on the decline of the Mayan civilization is highly entertaining.

This film should give you some context for the prophetic Mayans. Plotwise, the film is almost one long, expertly crafted chase scene (in a good way). The main character Jaguar Paw (incredible name) gives a good lesson in eluding human sacrifice with good examples of how to fashion traps and hide out in a jungle. Without spoiling the ending, oh wait, this happened in history, Jaguar Paw does save his family only to be confronted with the approaching conquistador ships from Spain that some scholars say accelerated the decline of the Mayan Empire.

As a supplement to the very active and physical Apocalypto, Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain (2006), provides a more cerebral and dramatic approach to some of the elements inspired by the Mayan culture and religion in regards to sacrifice, rebirth and a spiritual journey.

Earlier this year I went with a friend to see Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (Long title, huh?) starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley and was intrigued by the refreshing, romantic-comedy take on the prospect of a cataclysmic event like a meteor hitting the Earth and wiping out mankind (see Deep Impact, Armageddon). The genre is so played out by now we’ve seen every kind of scenario for the end times but this film, which is part road movie, part farce, part dramedy, gives a very dry and sometimes unique perspective on the apocalypse as seen through the sad eyes of a man who was recently abandoned by his wife.

Now he gets to witness all the upper-middle-class hedonism like the guiltless drug abuse and sexual abandon that come with the knowledge that in a matter of hours you are going to die. Sadly, the shifting tone of the film is not the only thing that interested me the most, but by the end of the film it was the element that most frustrated me about the movie. I imagine the time spent waiting for the end of the world would be funny, then sad, then maddening, then funny, and sad again, then enlightening, but who knows?

I would be remiss if I made a list of apocalypse movies without including one zombie movie. Whatever scenario befalls us for the end-of-the-world, I can only hope zombies are involved in some way. Next to vampires, zombies are the thing right now. I could have picked any of the groundbreaking flicks from George Romero’s catalog (_____ of the Dead) but I have to give it to Danny Boyle’s action-horror masterpiece 28 Days Later with one small caveat. It isn’t technically a zombie movie — they’re just infected with some weird virus.

28 Days Later and its equally worthy sequel 28 Weeks Later center on a rage-inducing infectious agent that ultimately takes over the population of Great Britain and we follow a small group of survivors led by a bicycle messenger who wakes up from a coma to a desolate cityscape (see The Walking Dead pilot). 28 Days plays mostly dark but there are bits of inspired joy in the film, including a scene in a grocery store and a pack of wild horses to name a few, that give this film a much needed relatable human element amidst the bloodshed and dire circumstances of a zombie infestation. 

Personally, I don’t want the world to end, but — Mayans forbid — if the world does go up in flames I’ve seen enough films to know how to survive almost any scenario. Then again, maybe not everything happens in real life like it does in the movies.

Levi Agee is a local filmmaker who covers the Arkansas film scene. Send him your movie news at
levifilm@gmail.com


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