My movie playlist on “The End of the World: Apocalypse from the Margins” was just published on the Media Playlists Website of The Centre for Screen Cultures at St. Andrews here.
The apocalypse has always been a popular scenario in science-fiction film. Yet the circumstances bringing about the end of the world on the big screen have continuously changed along with the shifting threats and fears human society has faced throughout the 20th century.
In the early 21st century, the end of the world increasingly feels imminent in a way it rarely did before. As climate change researchers predict impending environmental collapse, political crises bring about the implosion of seemingly stable nation states, and a global pandemic exposes the pressure points of countries across the globe, the end of the world is no longer just a figment of imagination, a mediated spectacle brought about by an alien invasion.
This ubiquitous undercurrent of catastrophic doom has also brought forth new cinematic narratives and images. Hollywood tales of the hypermasculine white hero singlehandedly saving the day, the world, and his estranged wife and children, are increasingly replaced by transcultural dystopian visions of disenfranchised and marginalized people fighting for survival and resources as the world around them slowly dies.
This playlist is dedicated to the smart and lovely students in my 21st-century Sci-Fi Film class at BGSU in Spring 2020, who set forth to study contemporary science fiction and got to realize, as the semester went on, that what we had approached as examples of speculative fiction had somehow become reality.
So more or less coincidentally, within a week I got to see two new movies about the early 1980s that both dealt with the issue of HIV/AIDS: Ryan Murphy’s The Normal Heart (HBO, 2014) and Matthew Warchus/Stephen Beresford’s Pride (Calamity Films, 2014). When I say that I’m here to discuss one of them mostly favorably (Pride) and one of them less so (The Normal Heart), I’m not doing this primarily to draw a comparison between British and American filmmaking, although I believe they can also serve as fairly good examples for a specific type of national cinema/television.
I admit I had high expectations for The Normal Heart, especially considering the stunning ensemble of actors this movie brought together (Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons etc etc), and thus was actually a bit disturbed by how off-putting I found it. There are two things in particular that bothered me about The Normal Heart: Continue reading
I saw Jason Reitman’s Men, Women and Children at the theater last week. Other reviewers have said this before me, but just to state it again, one more time: Considering the ambitions this film clearly had, it turned out to be not particularly good. Parts of it also made me angry. I have to admit that I have not read Chad Kultgen’s novel (which this movie is based on) very carefully, but from what I can tell, some of the things that bothered me about the movie seem to be just as annoying in the book, whereas others might be a result of the adaptation for the big screen.
I still think the most interesting part about this movie is the exploration of aesthetic possibilities in the play with different screens and interfaces. MWC is not the first audiovisual text to experiment with this: The 2013 movie Fruitvale Station and the BBC show Sherlock have played with the visual representation of text messages, Her (2013) is another movie that toys with the incorporation of small-screen devices into a cinematic aesthetic of the digital age. Scholars are also becoming interested in this phenomenon: Not too long ago, for instance, I attended a lunch seminar with Professor Bishnupriya Ghosh (University of California) on the aesthetic of surveillance (in the manifestation of security camera feeds) in Bollywood horror movies. All in all, I don’t think the last word has been spoken in that regard, and so I am still curious about the ways in which filmmakers are trying to work through the possibilities that the interplay with different screen formats has to offer.
However, the rest of the movie left a sour taste behind. Strangely, it felt a bit like looking at the browser history of someone who is not very familiar with the internet, is deeply concerned about its dangers, but also intensely fascinated by its dark corners, which in turn makes them feel ashamed of themselves. In other words, the movie felt dirty in places it didn’t need to be, alarmist over things I felt it misrepresented, while at the same time glossing over/downplaying many serious issues that could have used a bit more in-depth scrutiny.
Two storylines in particular I would like to discuss in more detail:
BEWARE THE SPOILERS AND DISCUSSION OF SEXUAL PRACTICES.