On a recent Saturday night, I went to the movies. Walking past the theater showing “I Am Legend” (plague kills most of humanity), I opted to watch “Cloverfield” (inexplicably angry alien destroys Manhattan) instead. After sitting through back-to-back previews for “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” (ancient truce between Hell and Earth is revoked, resulting in mass destruction) and “Doomsday” (lethal virus ravages England, a disease-ridden cinematic cousin to “28 Days Later” and “Children of Men”), I found myself disturbed. The End of Days suddenly seemed imminent. Should I cancel my post-movie dinner reservation? What’s with all this apocalyptic entertainment, I wondered, and what does it say about those of us who are filling the theater seats?
Apocalypse-themed films proliferate, according to Msgr. Francis Maniscalco, former communications director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, because they “reflect an idea that haunts the human imagination . . . a sense that this world is not permanent and faces some kind of comeuppance. Once it was thought that only God could bring that about. Today, we believe we can do it ourselves, due to the power placed in our hands by science or by our irresponsible behavior toward the environment.”
Rabbi Azriel Fellner, a free-lance film critic based in Livingston, N.J., agrees that the films may have more resonance because of recent advances in human capabilities, but he points to the current political environment as the source of these apocalyptic fantasies. Politicians, he notes, regularly mention the threat of nuclear war, or chemical or biological attack, and our imaginations start working overtime.