You can still order a copy of FILMPOCALYPSE! 52 Cinematic Visions of the End in time for Christmas, if you want to give a gift that you can be SURE no one will have. Seriously. There are only like 200 people in the world who would need to regift this right now. U can win Xmas!
Mike Cavalier, the creator of The Junior Varsity, edited the book and wrote this informal introduction, not included in the book itself. Here it is, for your enjoyment:
Through the Fire and the Flames
(A prelude to the Filmpocalypse)
By Mike Cavalier
Death is the great equalizer. No matter who we are — good or bad, rich or poor, kind or cruel — we may live in an unbalanced world, and die in varying states of pain and grace, but our post-mortem (non-)existence will be in perfect symmetry. A harmony of silence. There is no difference, for example, between a martyred saint and a murdered tyrant; both have forever ceased to be. They are alike in death.
And at no point is this fundamental truth more apparent than when all of humanity stares down the barrel of a possible apocalyptic event, together. In those final moments before assured destruction for everyone alike, our power structures collapse. Our odometers reset to zero. The hierarchies that hold us, and boundaries that divide us, crumble and dissolve in recognition of the sheer enormity of widespread, simultaneous death. We are all equally fucked.
The Filmpocalypse collection is a series of essays about apocalypse cinema: 52 reviews of vastly different movies that all concern the end of the world. Some of the case studies are epic battles in which mankind resists destruction; others are catastrophes in medias res; still others are tales of life after the fall. The films are drawn from a wide array of genres, including action-adventure, science-fiction, horror, thriller, post-apocalyptic cinema, political allegory, and even comedy.
But this is more than an analysis of recurring conventions and shared thematic concerns. It’s also an exploration of the existential questions posed by the possibility of an apocalyptic event.
Filmpocalypse posits that when we contemplate the possibility of the end of existence, we often fantasize about bravely resisting the inevitable — we like to think we’d put up a fight. Perhaps we’d send our warriors into the armageddon to defend us, or rely on technology to save us, or use strategy to outsmart fate. Whether we’re confronting monsters, demons, lawless mobs, the undead, an alien invasion, an unjust ruler, a fatal pandemic, the brutal elements, or some other danger unforeseen, our apocalypse films are tiny prayers that when the final day comes, and the dam of civilization breaks, and chaos floods in, and death washes over the land, may we be brave and resolute, amen.
Sometimes, we imagine ourselves spontaneously transforming into ideal citizens. With each passing minute in the disaster porn of directors like Roland Emmerich, we see the anonymous, wide-eyed hordes of stoic survivors become more caring of one another, more loyal to their countrymen, and more confident in their leaders as they grow implausibly defiant, organized, self-sacrificing, and bold.
This is probably just wishful thinking, alas. But let’s pretend for a moment that we lived up to our wildest apocalyptic dreams, and pulled together to Save The World. What, then, of our leaders? Those men (often, men) in whom we so readily invest our unwavering hopes, and unquestioning trust? In our apocalypse films, the world order is often vindicated through jingoistic glory. Watch the president standing on the ruins of greatness, giving a stirring speech through a bullhorn. See how the soldier rattles his sabre, rousing his men to suicide. With uncommon valor, they lead us through the wilderness, and bring us the safety of higher ground.
Or maybe not. Maybe we don’t pull together. Maybe terror sweeps the countryside. Maybe we’re cowards who eat each other alive. Maybe our leaders leave us to die in the streets. That is our other apocalyptic vision — the flipside of our hero fantasies. What if we are the monsters, a few inches beneath the surface?
Moving away from the vastness of possible extinction, there are also the smaller movies reviewed in Filmpocalypse that are concerned with annihilation on a micro-scale. How would one person — or a couple, or a family — experience the looming prospect of global destruction? How might they face catastrophe with courage and dignity? And does “courage” or “dignity” mean anything in a world about to end? (Did they ever mean anything at all?) At the end of time and history, is there anything left worth living for? And if so, what does that say about how we should live today?
These are only a handful of the questions my friend and colleague Brock Wilbur raises in his new book of humorous, insightful critical essays, which is available today in paperback for $12.21 and on Kindle for $6.66. As the book’s editor (and guest author of one of the pieces), my opinion of it is obviously biased. But if you’ve seen samples of the work Brock released earlier this year, you know that he writes original takes on some fairly rare and exquisitely curated films. This is a unique book with a highly ambitious scope, and I invite you to check it out today, on Amazon.