What did post-apocalyptic films get right about our current crisis?
Honestly, we should’ve been more ready for this pandemic.
Given the popularity and proliferation of post-apocalyptic films, we should be masters at navigating a crumbling world. We have the blueprints right at our fingertips!
While we haven’t gone full-blown “Road Warrior” (yet), who knows what the future holds? As we settle into the rhythms of this apocalypse-lite, let’s take a look at some lessons from these five films and see if they’ve held true in our current situation.
“Land of the Dead” (2005)
Lesson: With enough money, you can buy safety.
In 2005, George Romero added a fourth installment to his famous, subversive zombie trilogy (“Night of the Living Dead,""Dawn of the Dead” and “Day of the Dead”). The plot of “Land of the Dead” revolves around an enclosed city where the poor live in squalor and the rich live in a high-rise skyscraper, which is ruled over by a millionaire played by Dennis Hopper.
Does it apply to our world? It’s hard to read stories about the 1 percent hiding out in luxury bunkers equipped with swimming pools — or in record mogul David Geffen’s case, self-isolating in million-dollar luxury yachts — and not feel the intense strain of inequity.
The pandemic has shone a harsh light onto the disparities between the haves and have-nots. Even at the beginning, it wasn’t a problem for entire basketball teams to get tested when there was a nationwide shortage. Big banks are getting bailouts while the rest of us get a check that won’t cover most San Diego rents. And actor Jared Leto spent the first 12 days of the pandemic unaware of it because he was in the desert finding himself or something. It’d be nice if we get some sort of rich-person reckoning like in the final act of “Land of the Dead,” but this is real life, and that sort of happy ending is rare.
“Bird Box” (2018)
Lesson: You’ll have to wear uncomfortable things to stay alive.
In “Bird Box,” the world is overtaken by unseen “entities” that cause anybody who looks upon them to kill themselves. As a result, Sandra Bullock and her two children must navigate the world blindfolded in order to survive.
Does it apply to our world? Good thing we don’t have to wear blindfolds, but it’s doubtful that anyone is really into wearing face masks. Not only do they make it difficult to breathe and trigger vague feelings of claustrophobia, but they also serve as a reminder of how bad our breath is at all times. Plus, for those with sensitive skin (i.e. me) they’re causing all sorts of unflattering acne. But just like the blindfolds in “Bird Box,” these face masks are very likely saving people’s lives.
“Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” (1985)
Lesson: Communication will be dumbed down to platitudes.
There are many lessons to derive from the post-apocalyptic “Mad Max” movies, including goods becoming more valuable than currency (e.g. Max: gasoline = us: toilet paper). But in “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” order has been simplified to cliche, easy-to-remember rules like “Two men enter, one man leaves,” and “break the deal, face the wheel.”
Does it apply to our world? Thankfully, no one’s enacted “remove the mask, face the axe” or “wash your hands or else get tanned” rules yet, but that hasn’t stopped people from relying on cliches and platitudes to get their messages across. If I hear one more commercial use “In these unprecedented times” or “Together, we’ll get through this” to sell me a car or an iPhone or an El Pollo Loco dinner, I’m going to volunteer for the Thunderdome myself.
“A Boy and His Dog” (1975)
Lesson: You can only trust animals when the world falls apart.
“A Boy and His Dog” is a super problematic movie about, well, a teen and his dog — with whom he shares a telepathic bond — and their methods of survival during the post-apocalypse. Their relationship is based on the boy locating food for his dog, and in exchange, the dog sniffs out women. I mean, the film is based on a novel by the famous misanthrope Harlan Ellison, and it was made at the height of ‘70s sci-fi bleakness, so of course it’s not going to be woke.
Does it apply to our world? If you can get past the ickiness of the story and focus only on a story of friendship, then it works. During a time when it’s scary for humans to be physically close, we can still turn to our furry friends for comfort. I hope everybody has a cat or dog that they can snuggle when the world becomes too much.
“The Road” (2011)
Lesson: People will resort to cannibalism
In the bleakest of futures, food will run out and humans will eventually turn to cannibalism. Such is the case in “The Road,” based on Cormac McCarthy’s terrifying 2006 novel of the same name.
The film follows an unnamed father and son journeying through a burnt-out world with no other purpose except surviving. And of course, they keep running into people who want to do them harm, including a house full of cannibals. It’s scary stuff.
Does it apply to our world? Thankfully, no. I know we’re nowhere near the cannibalism stage because no matter how empty the grocery stores are, there always seems to be Hot Pockets and Bagel Bites in stock. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we’ll carry humankind’s fire in the form of mouth-scorching pepperoni pizza pockets. Whether or not they actually taste better than human flesh is open for debate, though.
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