Sunday 7 February 2010


On 5 February, I wrote an entry about the power of books, inspired by The Book of Eli. Today I want to write about something else, inspired by the same film - the post-apocalyptic trend in fiction.

Back on 21 January, I wrote an entry about The Road. Films often reflect the world or society that produces them, which is what makes film studies such a natural companion to social history. Horror in particular often gives greater clues to the state of a nation's mindset than any other genre, casting that society's villains as the celluloid boogeymen. Therefore it's hardly surprising, in this rapidly disintegrating world, that we'd have two films within days of each other set in post-apocalyptic versions of America.

In both cases, our protagonists have the goals of travelling from one point to another, and the journey itself because almost as important as the destination. Indeed, in both films, a far greater portion of the running time is devoted to the journey than it is to backstory, or the destination itself. Think of it as a sort of 'It's not where you're going, it's how you get there that counts' kind of idea. Both visions of this future have their similarities and differences, but they got me thinking about the different kinds of post-apocalyptic worlds.

  • Apocalyptic plague - Zombieland, and other films of a similar ilk, showed us a world overrun by the living dead. The apocalypse has been a bloody one, as zombies feast on humans, and humans have to use their few remaining wits to stay alive. Even I Am Legend dips a toe into this territory.
  • Man's basest nature takes over - Mad Max went for the lawless future where whoever owns the fuel holds the upper hand. The Book of Eli strays close to this territory, although water becomes the rare commodity, and the owner of the water gets the power. All pretence to civilisation falls away in a race for the survival of the fittest. Darwin is apparently proved right.
  • It's the end of the world as we know it - The Road or The Quiet Earth show us an empty, desolate world, with protagonists struggling to maintain their humanity as the things that humans take for granted wither away. Cue sweeping shots of barren landscapes, or empty cities. The Book of Eli would also fall into this category.

There is some truly remarkable post-apocalyptic fiction being produced at the moment, both on screen and on paper. Stephen King's The Stand is one of the best epics, dealing with the world reeling from the aftermath of a viral epidemic, while Max Brooks' World War Z gives us multiple accounts of a zombie apocalypse, told by the survivors. Even the young adult category is getting its own apocalypse survival story, if you consider Twenty Years Later, the forthcoming work by promising new writer, Emma Newman.

Thing is, I have to admit, I'm less interested in what happens after the apocalypse - I want to know about the apocalypse itself. How did it happen? Was it man-made, or divine retribution? Or simply an accident, a quirk of nature? It's not often you get to write Armageddon, but I certainly enjoyed doing so when I wrote Checkmate!

What do you prefer? The apocalypse, or what comes after?


Emma Newman said...

I love both the apocalypse itself, and the aftermath. I don't mind where in the timeline the fiction is placed usually, as long as it's compelling.

They give different experiences; in the ones where the reader/viewer is thrown into the apocalypse, I find myself wondering what I would do, how it would feel etc. In stories placed a long while afterwards, I like the exploration of how society adapts, disintegrates or re-emerges and what elements of human nature come to the fore. Of course, you can get elements of both in one story, so any kind of well-written apocalyptic tale is likely to make me happy.

I loved Checkmate - I remember it well - and the whole thing of tiny people being caught in huge world-shattering events caused by uber-beings is another thing I love.

Anonymous said...

I prefer the build up to the end, the slow road into total destruction rather than the final huffing sigh of humanities death rattle.

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