Movie Rental Guide: Three Post-Apocalyptic Civilization Movies (or, Dreams of Business School Students Captured in Film)
Written by Bwog Staff
Bwog’s Film Rental Guide returns! Film correspondent Mark Hay rolls with the new mood.
At first it seemed just a series of fleeting, disparaging, sensationalized headlines. Wall Street crash. $700 billion bailout. Bailout failure. Soon enough the crisis broke upon us and here we are, bemoaning our current financial affairs and preaching gloom and doom. And it’s hard not to get just a little concerned about the situation, but then I realize that life could be so much worse. So, to take the edge off, some schaudenfreude for the weekend.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984): An unfortunately overlooked film for a frighteningly overlooked specter, Nausicaa offers a sample of the style of writer/illustrator/filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away) before he discovered the art of subtlety. Miyazaki envisions a world a millennium after the destruction wrought by giant, industrial bio-weapons of the ancients, known as the God Warriors. In this world, only small pockets of humanity remain, isolated by necessity as only small alcoves shielded from the winds can sustain life. The winds carry spores from the toxic Sea of Decay, a poisonous jungle spreading over the rest of the earth, and the spores spell instant death for all men.
One of the more successful shelters, the Valley of the Wind, remains a less chaotic and desperate land than the rest in the hands of the young and compassionate Princess Nausicaa (American voice provided by Alison Lohman). Nausicaa spends her days exploring the edges of the Sea of Decay, communicating with its insect guardians, the Ohmu, while her mentor, Lord Yupa (Patrick Stewart) searches the world for the messianic ‘Man-in-Blue’ of legend who can stop the spread of the toxic lands and save humanity. Then, an airship containing an excavated God Warrior crashes in the valley. The rightful owner of the behemoth, Queen Kushana (Uma Thurman) arrives to reclaim it, revealing her plan to use the beast to burn down the Sea of Decay and taking Nausicaa and several others hostage.
En route, they are attacked by an enemy gunship leading to an emergency landing in the jungle, Nausicaa’s escape, and a union with the prince of another kingdom threatened by Kushana, Asbel (Shia LaBeouf). Lost and beleaguered, scrambling for life and answers, the two must attempt to save their lives, if not the world in this fancifully thoughtful tale.Though coarse in exposition and stiff in dialogue, the film carries a thread of hope through tangles of admonishing despair. Chasing that glimmer and exploring the lush realities of Miyazaki, one cannot help but become enamored with its blunt charm.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964): A quick newsflash: the threat of immediate nuclear annihilation is no less real now than it was forty-four years ago. Yet we shrug off Iran and North Korea, loose nukes and centrifuges, as if they were merely issues of foreign policy. This cavalier attitude to our individual fates and connections to global happenings lends Stanley Kubrick’s Cold War black comedy a perpetual relevance to our lives almost half a century after it was made. Kubrick bluntly introduces us to Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), newly insane commander of a fleet of US bombers. Suffering from paranoia of the Communist plot to deprive Americans of their “precious bodily fluids,” he orders a nuclear strike on the USSR. Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) has to attempt to stop Ripper’s orders, while President Merkin Muffley (again, Peter Sellers) tries to diffuse the situation with the Soviets, passing off the order as a governmental faux pas.
Much to the president’s chagrin, his advisors – the lusty warhawk General ‘Buck’ Turgidson (George C. Scott) and the inexplicable Dr. Strangelove (guess who? Peter Sellers) – inform him that the USSR has a Doomsday Device, which cannot be disarmed and will ensure total destruction of the earth if a nuclear strike is issued against the nation. Struggling for survival against bombers with their radios disabled, continual distrust between the two superpowers, and a host of personal shortcomings, the film descends into absurdity. Facing this world, reductio ad absurdum, we laugh until we recognize our own faces and then no longer know whether to cry or merely continue laughing.
Delicatessen (1991): For those who hate the straightforward, finger-pointing rhetoric implicit in most post-apocalyptic films, writer/director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (of Amélie fame) offers a meaty character piece packed with endurance, resignation, humanity, and barbarism – with a dash of archetypes for the English majors among us. Right from the get-go, the strikingly isolated vistas of ramshackle townhouses set against dreary skies of almost perpetual sepia tone suggest that something is not right in the country of France. For reasons unknown, all food production has stopped, and humanity has withdrawn into tight groups, gradually accepting a fate of cannibalism for survival. The particular community of the movie, still equipped with daily amenities such as television and toymakers, operates through an “honorable” code, with the local butcher, Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus), luring in outsiders with the promise of work for room and board, using their manpower until they grow strong, and then slaughtering them for the town’s food.
All the inhabitants, seeking their own survival and rationalizing their new world, come to accept the system until Clapet lures in Louison (Dominique Pinon), an circus clown of indomitable spirit wandering lost since the death of his partner. Through charm and principle, Louison wins the heart of the timid and subdued Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac), Clapet’s daughter. She, then, faces the question of whether or not to warn Louison of her father’s intentions and break the system, jeopardizing their tentative existence for the sake of love, or to simply give in to the pains of the collective gut. Moving in its assessment of human willpower, adaptation and emotional fortitude, Delicatessen blends perfect parts darkness and light to create a cannibalistic work of art more whimsical and entertaining than Sweeney Todd. A worthwhile film for Jeunet enthusiasts and first-timers alike, and yes, the description of this movie as “meaty” was an unfortunate pun.