The Handsome Sidekick and I have watched a couple of TEOTWAWKI movies lately, namely The Road and Seeking a Friend For the End of the World. Obviously they’re very different films, and just as a heads up, this post will contain spoilers about both. So with no further ado, I will begin under the cut.
I think the fascination about apocalypse movies for me is what they say about today’s world. They speak to me about what’s important, what matters when the chips are down and when all we have is each other.
In Seeking a Friend, two people team up out of circumstance and convenience, knowing that the world would end within days. It’s predictable (but still kind of sweet, of course) that they also team up romantically, and as the end of the world approaches, they turn their last hours on earth into a celebration of life: food, wine, music, companionship. More about that later, because I want to first discuss The Road, which is a very different, and possibly quite a bit more complex, story.
I had read a review about this movie before I watched it, and to be frank, if it weren’t for the Handsome Sidekick, I wouldn’t have bothered watching—not because I expected it to be such a bad movie, but because I find films dealing with death or hopelessness to be a bit too depressing for my often tired and emotional state. Life is not that difficult for me, but I can imagine all too easily that it could be, and so I prefer to escape into films which focus more on the happy times.
There are so many ways in which The Road isn’t about the happy times. And there are so many ways in which it doesn’t even make sense. I think possibly, that annoyed me more than the bleakness. Let me elucidate…
The film consists of present day and flashback scenes. In the flashbacks, the viewer is introduced to a man and his wife, who is pregnant. One evening, there is a strange yellow light from outside, and the man gets up and starts filling the bath and the sink with water. I assumed some kind of (already anticipated) disaster was going to hit—why else would you be panicking about running out of water?—but the reason behind it isn’t ever really discussed.
In the present-day scenes, the man describes how nothing is growing, the crops have all failed. The trees are falling down. They’re living in a dead world, and they’re heading south because that’s where the woman told them to go.
I suppose, considering the cold, it’s not a bad idea to head south. But there are a lot of holes here, too. The boy is about 10 years old in the present day. The disaster happens when the woman is only a few months pregnant with him. Why would they wait around so long in their house? Did they have no neighbours? What did they do beforehand, and why were there no friends or family with whom they could join up? Where is their support network?
At one point, in a flashback, it shows them playing the piano. Then it jumps to the man chopping up the piano, while the woman and the boy stand and watch, shivering. I get it: it’s cold, and they’re burning the piano for warmth. But later, when we see the man and the boy walking along the road, we see many BIG TREES. You know, the kind you can chop up for firewood? And which, I’d hazard a guess, burn better than pianos.
The fact that she leaves also makes me really sad, although obviously I can empathise with having cabin fever after being in a house for that long with only your husband and your son. But the desperation between them, the way in which their relationship has fallen apart just makes me feel as if it’s done more for the story than due to a real analysis of what people might do in that situation. At that point, the people on the screen felt like characters, not individuals to whom I was supposed to be relating.
The very end of the film is sad, too. Although the father has tried all this time to protect and care for his son, in the end he dies, leaving his son alone until strangers come, convincing the child that they are, just like he and his late father were, ‘the good guys’, and he goes with them, on into the bleakness.
How bloody depressing.
Is this how we would act, given the same circumstances? Obviously The Road and Seeking a Friend are different TEOTWAWKI films in the sense that the end in the former is far more protracted than that in the latter. In Seeking a Friend, people have only days until they know it will all be over. Running out of food is not an issue. Running out of time is. In The Road, they have almost too much time. The world is dying slowly and part of the drudge of watching these people walking, slowly starving, always on the lookout for danger, is that every day is the same awful reality. There is no time for celebration of life. There is only them, grimly holding onto survival.
I suppose my dissatisfaction with The Road is that it leaves me wondering why anyone would want to continue to live in such a world. I empathise with the woman wanting to walk out into the cold to die (even though I couldn’t imagine leaving my child) because there is literally nothing to live for. That’s due to the way the people are, as well. The bleakness is not just reflected in the lifeless landscape, it’s also in the lack of humour and enjoyment in the people’s lives. That’s what I can’t imagine.
And the joy and humour is what I get from Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. They, too, are looking down the barrel, but they’re embracing it. Humanity is on the brink of extinction, and they are going out with a bang. And it is frightening and tragic, but at least there is beauty.
In the final scene in Seeking a Friend, the two main characters are lying in bed together as the lights begin to go out. They can hear explosions. The end is near. Penny tells Dodge that she’s frightened, and that she wishes they’d had more time.
Dodge replies, ‘I am madly in love with you, Penny. You’re my favourite, favourite thing… I’m really glad I got to know you.’
And that’s what I want from a TEOTWAWKI film. I want a reminder that in the face of sheer and absolute obliteration, people will still look at each other and fall in love, and they will celebrate that, too. People will still feel that overwhelming sense of passion and joy at a connection with another human being.
Everyday, it seems like the world might end just a little bit, if you let it: when we’re late for school, or I get a reminder for an overdue bill I thought I’d paid, or someone spills dinner all over the floor. I need reminders that the important things are beauty and kindness and connections with others. And if I’m sitting down to watch a film, that’s the kind of message I want. I can already get upset about real life, without worrying about how we’ll eat each other in an apocalypse.
Give me warm food and laughter over cold survival, anyday.