I’ve been on a small disaster movie kick over the last week, watching in short nightly instalments. Started with the Day After Tomorrow, which I’ve seen and mostly enjoyed. Then I watched 2012, which I’ve never seen and found to be a bit over the top. I also realize that “over the top” might be silly way to assess a movie about the end of the world but I stand by it.
What both of these movies have in common is a strange sort of optimism towards humanity as a collective in the face of massive adversity. Roland Emmerich, the director of both films, seems to believe in people ultimately doing the right thing. It’s a theme that comes across very heavy handed in 2012; but I think Emmerich is intentionally doing so. There’s a whole subplot about John Cusack’s character being a writer whose work is criticized for being too optimistic about the way humanity would work together. He’s held in deep contrast with Oliver Platt’s character, the White House’s Chief of Staff who represents self-preservation at all costs. Guess which POV wins in the end?
There is a sort of dissonance watching a movie like that in 2023. Most of our narratives have turned highly cynical - and for good reason. However, I think there’s an interesting meta lesson to be learned from 2012 and Emmerich’s charitable view of people. It was, in part, Cusack’s writing that saved humanity. His work helped inspired Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character to plead for the people with the means to save as many as they could. Despite being dismissed as naive, it made a difference in the overall trajectory of how that group of people chose to act as a society. Maybe we need those stories even if they feel out of place or overly simplistic. Maybe we need to choose to let narrative of what humanity can be find a spot in our future.
Better that than letting the other narrative win.