Digital images of future disaster are a crude distraction from the promise of renewal
A flood of films is presently swamping the cinema with nightmarish visions of a dystopian future. This recent trend was initiated by The Day After Tomorrow which purported to show a sudden and overwhelming global environmental catastrophe. It has been or will be followed by a number of productions that make the famous disaster movies of the 1970s look as traumatic as spilling a cup of tea. The Road, a film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s eponymous novel, is set in a post-apocalyptic United States devoid of sun, covered in dust and populated by desperate cannibals.
The Book of Eli is more explicit in locating the apocalypse in a post-war America but the film to cap them all is 2012 (currently on general release), which takes as its theme an ancient Mayan prophecy of when the world will end and shows a tsunami sweeping over the Himalayas, Los Angeles being destroyed by an earthquake, the Vatican imploding and the statue of Christ in Rio collapsing from its towering height. I think we get the unsubtle subtext here about the irrelevancy of the Christian faith in the face of such power. By contrast, the films Wall E and Tim Burton’s 9 are gentler child-friendly versions of a wasted landscape. A new genre has been born: apocalypse porn.
A number of cultural factors are clearly at work. In December 2009, the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen must reach collective decisions to reduce the risks of dramatic changes in the weather in the decades to come. Meanwhile, storytellers have a rich seam of ecological anxiety to mine. They are aided in this by recent, rapid advances in computer generated imagery which could give nuanced texture to narratives of decay but which display instead total and irrevocable destruction. A hapless polar bear may look nice but what really pulls the punters in is a tsunami devastating the eastern seaboard and an aircraft carrier being dumped on the White House (watch out for that one).
The era of recession also plays a part in these dark dreams of the future but it has been suggested that massive societal changes are the true force lurking behind them. The information revolution and the altered landscape of economic globalisation have influenced our thinking tangibly, worrying us about the power unleashed.
End of the world discourse is shunned in reality by British people who are steeped in rationalism and a particular scientific understanding of the world which allow no margin for the non-material. Christians should be wary of cultures which promote idle speculation about the future but we cannot avoid talk about the end times because they are part of the fabric of the New Testament. It is telling that scripture discourages speculation about the future because this affords us an excuse not to think about the present, which is the sphere in which God meets with us. How we live as followers of Christ now, in the light of our future hope of renewal, is a biblical priority.
Paul’s account of creation groaning with the pains of labour is one of the most poignant and moving of metaphors about the promised hope of a world to come (Romans 8:22) and we should not be embarrassed to own this in a culture that either ridicules it or caricatures it grossly in film. The choice of the phrase ‘apocalypse porn’ by cultural critics is quite telling, for what is porn but the perversion of what is good, true and the means of new birth?
Obama's Covert Wars
The use of drones is going to change warfare out of all recognition in the next decades.
Through A Glass Starkly
Images of traumatic incidents caught on mobile phone can be put to remarkable effect.
What Are British Values?
Is there a British identity and if so, what has shaped the values and institutions that form it?