In Writing the Apocalypse: Historical Vision in contemporary U.S. and Latin American Fiction Lois Parkinson Zamora argues that apocalypse is a chronoscope of literature, an organizing principle of which there is both a dissenting perspective of apocalypse to criticize political and social structures and an eschatological perspective of apocalypse used to comment upon the structures of time. (
1989)(Johnson 1990). In Julio Cortázar’s poetry; the myth of apocalypse seeks to form a new synthesis from psychic or social revival, from an internal and external revolution that integrates social and political idealism. (Johnson 1990) Zamora
The eschatology of contemporary film also criticizes political and social structures, beyond merely commenting on the structures of time. A variety of films were chosen that seek to form a similar new synthesis from psychic or social revival, from the apocalypse by utilizing an internal and external revolution that integrates social and political idealism. Films such as Children of Men (2006), 12 Monkeys (1995), 28 Days Later (2003), 28 Weeks Later (2007), Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1979), Day of the Dead (1985), , Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1982), Mad Max 3: Beyond the Thunderdome (1985), Dr. Strangelove(1962), The Handmaid’s Tale (1990), Omega Man (1971), Planet of the Apes (1968, 2001), The Apocalypse (2006), The Day After (1983), and the film Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell (2006) will be watched and analyzed critically to test hypothesis. Beyond the presentation of a cautionary tale, apocalypse films seek to both entertain and terrify. It is with a rational approach that perhaps our inevitable future will not become realized in any shape or fashion found on the silver screen though at the end of days, the powers of divine goodness will overcome the powers of satanic darkness.
Rebellion and Totalitarianism in Children of Men
In Children of Men, the setting is
, and the time is only 20 years from now, but despair pervades as the human race has somehow become infertile so civilization has grown chaotic and decayed. (Puig 2006) The particular conditions of that hell, sketched with a deft indirectness in the bravura opening sequence, are these: Since a fertility crisis of unknown origin struck in 2009, no new people have been born on earth. (Stevens 2006) Based in broad outline on the 1992 dystopian novel by P.D. James about a world suffering from global infertility – and written with a nod to Orwell by Alphonse Cuarón and his writing partner Timothy J. Sexton along with David Arata, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby- Children of Men imagines the unthinkable: What If instead of containing England , the world has become Iraq , a universal battleground of military control, security zones, refugee camps and warring tribal identities (Dargis 2006). Iraq
teeters on the brink of lawlessness, newspaper headlines and propaganda posters plastered everywhere in the gray and squalid London are not so much reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984 but a more spectacular exhibition of Alphonse Cuarón's imagination (Stevens 2006). P.D. James set her thriller The Children of Men in the year 2022 when there is apparent universal male infertility, and called it 'the ultimate failure'. The failure refers not to infertility itself but the inability to discover its cause (Seshadri 1995). Human population increase has been the greatest threat to the global environment as we know it, and is surely on course to destroy it.(Seshadri 1995) Seshadri;s purpose in this essay is to speculate if other forces are coming into action to check this numbers explosion (Seshadri 1995). A speculation that should be read in conjunction with the theory, popularly known as the Gaia theory, that hypothesises that life, by its very presence, has the capacity to influence and maintain the conditions of its survival and thus offers an eventual escape from a polluted and ravaged environment, would not allow humanity to simply stop reproducing. But beyond the regualtory factors of biology, there still exists the conflcit between society and the individual where the citizenry of London in Children of Men chose to either stay compplacent, willing to take the licensed “quietus” euthanasia drug to end the dispair, submit to fertiltiy screenings, or turn a blind eye to the treatment of illegal aliens, an inherit trust in authority and general rule of law. London
The inability to trust military and governmental authority figures is prevalent in Children of Men (2006) as England is represented as the last holdout of humanity (there's a hint that something very bad happened in New York) and as such, England has been hit by an onslaught of illegal immigrants (referred to as fugees). Upon entry into the country, the fugees are immediately corralled into and cages, cattle cars and placed in camps, conjuring up images of Nazi Germany (Puig 2006)(Stevens 2006). There are ruined buildings and fires raging on every corner, despite the omnipresence of armed guards, as a propagandistic slogan on a TV screen early in the film boasts, "The world has collapsed. Only
soldiers on"—mainly by means of the strict anti-immigration policy, the verb choice is horribly apt, since heavily armed soldiers are ubiquitous. (Children of Men 2006) .They flank the streets and train platforms, guarding the pervasive metal cages crammed with a veritable “ Britain of humanity, these fugees” (Dargis 2006). In a separate interview Alphonse Cuarón states: Babel
“There's this whole idea of tyranny being created by a single figure, a dictator. In the book, there actually is a dictator of
, you know, this notion of a Big Brother, a dictator. And we wanted to make this world, this universe, a democracy. Great Britain is a democracy. But, by the way, being a democracy doesn't mean people are choosing the right things or what is just.”(Voynar 2006) Britain
The characters live in a democratic republic, with the right of freedom of speech, but in the film, if they challenge or speak out against the government, that's is considered un-British and together, slowly, in the same way, Cuarón is allowing the idea of democracy to drift into an area where democracy becomes a matter of faith. (Voynar 2006) It is an issue of faith, a destination rather than a point of departure, that Cuarón creates this conflict between the viewer and the material with certain concepts like gated communities, and the building of walls instead of building bridges. (Voynar 2006) The films discussion of the issue of immigration, and of shipping people off who aren't citizens is done in a fictionalized society that is “democratic”. Cuarón adds “as in -- democratically chosen. It's not that there is this bad guy doing it like Hitler, it is a democratically chosen position. And the idea of tyranny -- a democratically chosen tyranny -- that as a humanity, we are making our choices.” (Voynar 2006)
Theo (Clive Owen), a former activist who's now a burned-out bureaucrat in the Ministry of Energy, scarcely reacts to the death of the world's youngest living citizen, an 18-year-old still known as "Baby Diego," who dies in a bar brawl. "He was a wanker," he tells his friend Jasper (Michael Caine), an ex-political cartoonist who makes a living selling pot in the countryside near
. "Yeah, but he was the world's youngest wanker," Jasper counters (Children of Men 2006). Theo, for a variety of reasons, is so emotionally numb he, and this is a theme Alphonse Cuarón is employing, a sense that the characters are sleeping and need waking up, to establish alertness, with Theo being alert to the world only to survive in it. With the character of Theo the “waking up with all your senses roaring as opposed to waking up then shutting your eyes” of which Theo eventually does, becoming alert to the social environment he moves through. Cuarón says, “it’s not that the social environment is the backdrop for this adventure. The social environment is the adventure.”(Cuarón, Wagner 2006) (Voynar 2006) London
When Theo is pressed into service by a gang of rebels (called ‘The Fishes’) which is headed by his old lover, Julian (Julianne Moore) he hardly seems up to the task of guarding the miraculously pregnant young prostitute named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) who literally holds the world's future in her belly. Alphonse Cuarón himself when asked about Theo and references made to the nativity story explains: “If you think about the story in the bible, this couple is escaping because there is a guy who butchers all the kids in town… so that was a reference”.(Cuarón, Wagner 2006) “(Theo’s)character is more like Moses than Jesus or even Joseph, as Moses never got to see the promised land, Moses died because God punished him because of doubt”(Wagner 2006). The idea of relations of gender and race define an integrated apocalypse of Children of Men (2006), where Kee, the film’s female protagonists is black and Theo, the male protagonist, is white. In the original novel, the character of Kee was absent, but the concept of life springing from
Africa brought inspiration for Alphonse Cuarón, “that the notion that the future of humanity resides on the dispossessed- the lumpen of the lumpenproletariat” (Wagner 2006). There is also the supposition that immigrants, the sub-citizenry of would hold the miracle of human survival. The central characters in the film carry the hope for survival, a repeated archetype: journeying to a distance location in the hope that once there they will be safe, the quest for their salvation. Great Britain
Cuarón, a native of
, is making some very pointed comparisons to today's politics and that ``Children of Men'' could be considered a cautionary tale. (Pols 2006) Alphonse Cuarón argues that it is not cautionary, as civilization has moved far past the time for caution but into a time of transformation. “We live in times where you cannot do cautionary tales anymore. There is no time for caution” but he asserts, “Hope can be a spring board for transformation”. (Cuarón, Wagner 2006) But as dire as the situation is, the film's broader theme is not entirely pessimistic. We're told all the time that children are the future, Cuarón himself defines children as hope, and “we glimpse the possibility of hope because you can not impose hope. Hope is like democracy. You can’t impose hope, it is a contradiction of terms. Hope springs from within, so cannot impose as sense of hope without being hypocritical”. (Cuarón, Wagner 2006) Mexico
The concepts of abandoned institutions are predominately displayed in varying degrees in Children of Men (2006), conceptualizing the reality of the central characters that the world is falling apart and the our normal institutions are crumbling if not already destroyed, such as the war torn, blown out school building abandoned to the elements in Children of Men (2006). Dana Stevens of Slate said “Children of Men is a "layered" film, with nearly every frame is a palimpsest of visual information, from TV screens to graffiti-covered walls to wooded English country side, each scene encompassing the ideas of an apocalypse displayed in this “layered film”. (Stevens 2006)
There is an underground effort by the Fishes and the Human Project to improve things, but even that is fraught with power struggles and internal corruption. The wealthy cultural elites have retreated into seclusion. Picasso's seminal
, hanging in the background of one key scene, creates a potent symbol of a world where art no longer matters and the most educated people sequester themselves rather than seek answers or challenge the status quo. Theo’s wealthy cousin Nigel has stashed away Michelangelo’s David for safekeeping in his private museum while “ Guernica , and probably Rome, New York burn, can only smile as he swills another glass of wine”. (Dargis 2006) The real emphasis on improvement comes from the rebel “fishes” (led by Theo’s ex wife Julian, played by Julianne Moore) and the apocryphal “Human Project”. The final quest for salvation is found in the “Human Project” a safe haven where her newborn can be studied by scientists looking to save the future of mankind. Guernica
There is a final concept of de-evolution, where the story begins in the Metropolis of London at the pinnacle of civilization and devolves to the agrarian country side and then to the state of nature during the final scenes of warfare into the caveman like dwellings of the Bex- Hill water treatment plant and to the final shot of a lonely rowboat adrift in a coastal fog, representing the ocean where all life has come from, these are images intended to stay in the mind, beacons to remind us of the potential for shipwreck on a global scale.(Stevens 2006) Dany Boyle, the director of 28 Days Later (2003) pays homage to Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men (2006), calling it a gripping, dystopian nightmare. Beautifully filmed in battle-scarred, colour-drained hues by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Cuaron's apocalyptic vision of this grey and unpleasant land charts a grim map of Britain which includes haunting footage of the once-magnificent Battersea Power Station, and climaxes in a Hadean vision of Bexhill-on-Sea which most closely resembles war torn Bosnia. (Kermode 2007)
Zombie Amaragedon: 28 Days Later and Romero’s Apocalypse
In Dany Boyle’s film 28 Days Later,
is besieged by the assaults of a plague type apocalypse where animal rights activist free an infected chimpanzee from a research facility. The setting is reminiscent of 12 Monkeys (1995) where A.L.F. (Animal Liberation Front) type anarchists find the chimps in an array of cages and instruments. The contaminated primates bite the activists unleashing an epidemic of literal rage infection. The rage infection causes people to uncontrollably attack and nearly kill any non-infected human in site, passing the virus to that victim who is now infected and dangerous. The ensuing plague decimates London in “28 Days”. This is a primary similarity between The Romero films: contagion, playing on humanity’s ever-present fear of disease and infection, the theme of science gone mad, particularly in Day of the Dead (1985) where scientists study reactivated corpses in the hopes of finding a cure but instead perpetuate the zombie apocalypse. London
The central characters in all the films carry the same hopes for survival, the questing for their salvation by completing a journey to a distance location in the hope that once there they will be safe.(A theme which occurs in story after story from Chaucer to L. Frank Baum. The idea of relations of gender and race define an integrated apocalypse as well in both 28 Days Later (2003) and all of the Romero Dead Films. In 28 Days Later (2003) the female protagonist is black and the male protagonist is white but these roles are reversed in the Dead trilogy.
The inability to trust military authority figures who later reveal greedy self interest is another element in 28 Days, where the heroes are accosted by a rouge military unit who the heroes thought were their friends, but soon turn towards basic chauvinistic principles, sexual servitude of the female protagonists. This is also explored in both Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, where authority is given to the remnants of society’s institutional forces, the police and the military groups fortified against the zombie hordes. In George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) the hero was black, the heroine a near-comatose basket case. The comfortable genre formulas were violated at every turn; the teenage couple is reduced to meat for the ghouls, the daughter becomes a zombie, and- the hero dies at dawn, mistaken for a zombie by a rescue-and-cleanup crew of gun toting rednecks. The concepts of abandoned institutions are predominately displayed in varying degrees, be it the abandoned grocery store where the 28 Days characters indulge in a fantastic shopping spree, the war torn the graffiti-covered walls and the newspaper headlines and propaganda posters plastered everywhere in the gray and squalid London of 28 Days Later; we see the last vestiges of humanity in old flyers looking for missing loved ones (reminiscent of 9/11) and abandoned newspapers heralding the last days of the apocalypse.
George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) did mark a new age in modern horror with it’s genuinely apocalyptic vision of contemporary America overrun in a single evening by a mindless, hungry onslaught of the walking dead. Where the menacing hordes are easily cut down as individuals but implacable and unstoppable en masse, In George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1979) he devastatingly extended Night of the Living Dead’s premise and apocalyptic narrative. Such claims will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the traditions of radical gore cinema, epitomised by George Romero's Living Dead movies, a quartet of films spanning four decades, in which marauding zombies became powerful metaphors for the horrors of racism, consumerism, vivisection and class war. Yet there is something particularly resonant about such nightmarish phantasms when placed within uncomfortably familiar British sites, a juxtaposition which has long been exploited by purveyors of the uncanny. (Kermode 2007)
Dawn brought the horrors of the original into the harsh light of day. An uneasy quartet of civilians and paramilitary SWAT-team members purges an abandoned shopping mall of its walking dead. It is the ransacking of the abandoned shopping mall that is mirrored in 28 Days Later’s “shopping spree” scene. Romero wrapped up his living-dead trilogy with the grim Day of the Dead (1985), an intelligent, introspective distillation of the apocalypse scaled down from his original script by budgetary and time restraints.
Danny Boyle agrees that Children of Men (2006) exists within the same tradition as 28 Weeks Later (2006) the sequel to 28 Days Later (2003), and points out that both films are significantly directed and photographed by non-British film-makers who are able to observe the strangeness of this land and its culture with the intelligent empathy of an outsider's eye. (Kermode 2007)
'In the end,' says Boyle, 'I think the key thing about
is that it's built on this deep, dark ocean of history. There are grassy, picturesque areas of Britain which you still can't put train tunnels through because they're actually covering plague pits. You just don't get that in London - that dark abyss of the past. And it makes America , as a location, very fertile ground for horror.' (Kermode 2007) Britain
Mohawks, Leather, and Diesel in the Post Apocalypse
In Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1983) the concept was to not include the lush greenery of
and England Europe but to focus on a harsh apocalyptic no-mans- land, barren and desert like. This conjures images of the Wild West and general lawlessness, using archetypal motifs of a besieged community of decent people who need protection against vicious bandits who are rescued by a hardened man who rediscovers his humanity. The heroes make a questing attempt to travel from their besieged community across the desert, much like a group of settlers who have surrounded the wagons as they are attacked by Indians. These archetypes are common in the "Western" genre of American films, set on the frontier in the late 1800s, and Japanese films such as Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. There is a striking resemblance to the embittered, impenetrable "man with no name" character portrayed by Clint Eastwood in various 1960s European-produced Westerns. The film's depiction of a post-apocalyptic future was widely copied by other filmmakers and in science fiction novels, to the point that its gritty "...junkyard society of the future look...is almost taken for granted in the modern sf action film." US
The Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction says that Mad Max 2, "...with all its comic-strip energy and vividness...is exploitation cinema at its most inventive."
Reviewer Roger Ebert calls Mad Max 2 "skillful filmmaking," "...a film of pure action, of kinetic energy", which is "...one of the most relentlessly aggressive movies ever made". While Ebert points out that the movie does not develop its "...vision of a violent future world...with characters and dialogue", and uses only the "...barest possible bones of a plot," he praises its action sequences. Ebert calls the climactic chase sequence "...unbelievably well-sustained" and states that the "...special effects and stunts...are spectacular", creating a "...frightening, sometimes disgusting, and (if the truth be told) exhilarating" effect.
Reviewer Pauline Kael called Mad Max 2 a "mutant" film that was "...sprung from virtually all action genres," creating "...one continuous spurt of energy" by using "...jangly, fast editing." However, Kael criticized director George Miller's "...attempt to tap into the universal concept of the hero", stating that this attempt "...makes the film joyless", "sappy", and "sentimental." Richard Scheib calls Mad Max 2, "...one of the few occasions where a sequel makes a dramatic improvement in quality over its predecessor." He calls it a "kinetic comic-book of a film," an "... exhilarating non-stop rollercoaster ride of a film that contains some of the most exciting stunts and car crashes ever put on screen." Scheib states that the film transforms the "...post-holocaust landscape into the equivalent of a Western frontier," such that "...Mel Gibson's Max could just as easily be Clint Eastwood's tight-lipped Man With No Name" helping "...decent frightened folk" from the marauding Indians.
In the brief prologue which covers the events preceding the original Mad Max (no back-story was offered in that movie). After uprisings and an extended war due to energy shortages plunged the Australian desert into anarchy, a group of special police officers were assigned to restore order to the outback. In contrast, in Mad Max 2, there is a much more pronounced breakdown of civilization. The film begins as Max clashes with some straggling marauders, led by biker warrior Wez. They are led by a grim and charismatic masked warrior called "Lord Humungous" (Kjell Nilsson), a large, muscular man with a hockey mask over his disfigured face who commands a vicious mob of mohawked degenerates. These characters could be considered the remaining descendants from the types of anarchist/activist characters first shown in 12 Monkeys and then in 28 Days Later. There can be seen a direct characterization of the “fishes” from Children of Men, really any character who is above the law, resorts to any means necessary for self preservation.
The initial introduction of the main characters in 28 Days Later are similarly described in a sort of generic attire and action of the apocalypse including military boots, dark clothing, the use of Molotov cocktails, bandanas or face masks (some times necessary to remain autonomous and hidden other times to ward of contagion), gloves, primitive weapons such as bats, blades, crossbows and the use of armor. This suggests an internal struggle against moral values verses external necessity but these accoutrements are vital to surviving in the apocalypse. In comparison to the anarchist activists protesting the World Bank and WTO conferences in
in 1999, those people looked like characters from an apocalypse film sharing the same uniform of a street fighting rebel. Seattle Washington
These are the fictionalized accounts of what could happen in the apocalypse as conceptualized for
. There are striking similarities such racial equality, a quest type of motif, the break down of law and order, the destruction on the political and social institution and violence as an everyday occurrence, but most importantly there is hope in all of these films, a hope that no this is not the end of the world but merely a chance to carry on the plight of humanity and to have the faith enough to survive. Hollywood
Contagion, Chaos, and Captain Trips
My next example caries into it the next stage of the apocalypse, the rebuilding of society, seen in Stephen King’s The Stand: Notes on similarities between it and other films in the apocalypse genre: It is a contagion apocalypse: Originally developed by the United States Army as a bio-weapon, an accident unleashes it upon the general population.
The contagion is a fatal strain super influenza responsible for decimating 94% of the Earths population. During the apocalyptic events, the governments begin to fail and eventually turn on their own citizens in a hint at authoritarian control to suppress the contagion, then the truth, and finally to instill some form of law and order.
The remaining survivors begin to organize into two political systems with the “Boulder Free Zone” in Denver Colorado (representing democracy and good) and Randal Flagg’s occupation of Las Vegas Nevada ( a totalitarian regime, representing evil) as these characters also go on a quest to ensure human survival. Similarly to the other films, after the apocalypse in the Stand there is no racism, all survivors are treated equally as far as race goes, there is the integration of blacks and whites in both communities. One of the main characters, Mother Abigail, is the matron of the “Denver Free Zone”. She is a 98 African-American woman who lives alone on a farm in
. Most of the characters respond to the manipulations and influences of both Randal Flagg and Mother Abigail out of fear. Fear and self doubt, a reflection of sin, are a main motivator in all the action of this story. Kansas
Animal Liberation and the release of the Contagion in 12 Monkeys
In 12 Monkeys, James Cole (Willis) is a convicted criminal in a grim post-apocalyptic future. The Earth's surface has been contaminated by a virus so deadly that it killed five billion people in 1996–1997, forcing the surviving population to live underground. To earn a pardon, Cole allows scientists to send him on dangerous missions to the past to collect information on "The Army of the 12 Monkeys" – an organization they believe to be responsible for spreading the virus. If possible, he is to obtain a sample of the original virus so a cure can be made, enabling the human race to return to the surface. Throughout the film, Cole is troubled with recurring dreams involving a chase and a shooting in an airport.
The scientists' time machine is imprecise. On Cole's first trip, he arrives in 1990, not 1996 as planned. He is arrested and hospitalized in a mental institution on the diagnosis of Dr. Kathryn Railly (Stowe), where he encounters Jeffrey Goines (Pitt), a fellow mental patient with animal rights and anti-consumerist leanings. Cole tries unsuccessfully to leave a voice mail on a number monitored by the scientists in the future. After a failed escape attempt, Cole is placed in restraints but is then returned to the future, disappearing from his locked room and baffling his doctors.
Back in his own time, Cole is interviewed by the scientists, who play a voice mail message giving the Army of the Twelve Monkeys' location and show photos of Goines. They send him back to the past, and this time – after a brief detour to World War I
– he reaches 1996. Cole kidnaps Railly and sets out in search of Goines, who they learn is a founder of the Army of the Twelve Monkeys. When Cole learns that Goines's father (Christopher Plummer) is a famous virologist, he becomes more than ever convinced that he's on the right track. When Cole confronts him, however, Goines denies any involvement with the virus and suggests that wiping out humanity was Cole's idea, originally broached at the psychiatric facility in 1990. Cole vanishes again as police approach. France
After Cole disappears, Railly begins to doubt her diagnosis of Cole when she finds evidence that he's telling the truth. Cole, on the other hand, convinces himself that his future experiences are hallucinations, and longs to return to the pre-plague world and be with Railly. He persuades the scientists to send him back again. Reunited in 1996, shortly before the initial outbreak of the virus, Railly attempts to settle the question of Cole's sanity by leaving a voice mail on the number provided by Cole. When she recites her message to Cole later, they realize that it is the message the scientists played for Cole prior to his second mission. They both now realize that the coming plague is real. They make plans to fly to
to avoid the virus. Key West
On their way to the airport, they learn from their cab driver that the Army of the Twelve Monkeys is a red herring; all they have done is to delay traffic by releasing all the animals in the zoo. Cole decides he has done his duty to the future. At the airport, he leaves a last message telling the scientists they are on the wrong track following the Army of the Twelve Monkeys, and that he will not return to his own time. He is soon confronted, however, by a fellow time-traveler sent by the scientists, who gives Cole a handgun and instructions to complete his mission. At the same time, Railly spots the true culprit behind the virus - Dr. Peters, an assistant at the Goines virology lab, who is carrying a briefcase full of vials, about to embark on a tour of the world's major cities. After fighting his way through security, Cole is fatally shot by police as he pulls a gun to stop Peters from boarding his plane. As Cole dies in Railly's arms, she makes eye contact with a small boy - the young James Cole witnessing his own death, the scene that will replay in his dreams in years to come. Dr. Peters, safely aboard, sits down next to the lead scientist from the future (Carol Florence). After some small talk with Peters, she introduces herself: "Jones is my name. I'm in insurance."
Central Themes of 12 Monkeys
Madness and sanity are important themes in the film, and Gilliam deliberately left certain scenes ambiguous, allowing for an interpretation that Cole is "mentally divergent" and the whole film a manifestation of his psychosis. From the sleeve notes to the DVD release: "Between the past and the future, sanity and madness, dreams and reality, lies the mystery of the Twelve Monkeys." The film deals with the subjective nature of memories and their effect upon perceptions of reality. Some examples of false memories are: 1) Cole's recall of the airport shooting which is altered each time he has a dream, 2) a mentally divergent man at the asylum who has false memories, and 3) Railly telling Cole she "remembered him like this" in the scene where hardly recognizable Cole and Railly are in disguise for the first time. A further example of memories and perceptions is that the pivotal character of Dr. Peters is never actually named during the film. The world's memory of Dr. Peters and his deed was lost to history and supplanted by the false memory of a twelve monkeys plot to destroy humanity. During a scene Cole and Railly watch Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, and the scene that appears is that of Scottie and Madeleine in Big Basin Redwoods State Park where Madeleine looks at the growth rings of a felled redwood and traces back events in her past life as Carlotta Valdes ("here I was born ... and here I died"). In addition to resonating with the movie's larger themes, Cole and Railly later have a similar conversation while the same music from Vertigo is repeated. "He's not simply providing a movie in-joke. The point is that Cole's own life is caught between rewind and fast-forward, and he finds himself repeating in the past what he learned in the future, and vice versa." This scene from Vertigo is also observed explicitly by Chris Marker, whose La Jetée inspired Twelve Monkeys, in his 1982 documentary montage Sans Soleil. The poetry reading interrupted by Dr. Railly's pager includes the following quatrain from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:
"Yesterday This Day's Madness did prepare;
Tomorrow's Silence, Triumph or Despair:
Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why:
Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where."
Tomorrow's Silence, Triumph or Despair:
Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why:
Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where."
References to time, time travel, and monkeys are scattered throughout the film, including the Woody Woodpecker "Time Tunnel" cartoon playing on the TV in a hotel room, and a monkey taking a sandwich to the boy thought to be trapped in a well.There is a recurring motif in the film regarding the depiction of time travelers as prophets. During Katherine Railly's lecture on "Madness and Apocalyptic Visions", she recounts the Cassandra myth, and speaks of medieval and war-time predictions of an apocalypse in the year 1996. Later in the movie, we encounter a medieval evangelist who calls out to James "You're one of us" and Railly's photograph reveals that the soldier from 1917 was actually Cole's friend Jose. Furthermore, religious studies academics have authored essays claiming that the lead character James Cole (initials J.C.) fits the cinematic character type of a Christ-figure, a savior sent to save humanity from itself. |
The Last Man on Earth Is Not Alone: Omega Man and the true State of Nature
It is the year 1977, two years since biological warfare between the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union wiped out the entire world population. This is revealed through flashback newsreel footage. Also in flashback, we learn that Neville, at the time a military scientist, had in the midst of the military and social upheaval which resulted from the spread of the deadly disease, injected himself with an experimental vaccine. The vaccine, for reasons that were not explained, had rendered Neville immune to the plague. In Los Angeles, several hundred somewhat resistant albinos calling themselves "The Family" have survived the plague. (The storyline does not fully explain how the Family has been affected by the plague, but the impression given is that the members are suffering from, among other things, what appear to be symptoms similar to extreme radiation poisoning. In Matheson's book, the Family members are actually vampires). The disease has turned them into violent, light-sensitive albino mutants, the plague having affected their minds with such symptoms as psychosis and "delusions of grandeur". Although resistant to the plague, these wretched creatures are slowly dying off, apparently due to the plague mutating.
The Family is led by a zealot named Matthias (Anthony Zerbe), formerly a popular
television newscaster, now reduced to a rhetoric-spewing, controlling madman. He believes, and has convinced his followers, that modern science and technology (instead of the ingrained flaws of humanity) are the cause of the war and their damnation. His followers have reverted to a medieval lifestyle complete with long black robes, torches, bows and arrows, and catapults. Because of their light sensitivity they are nocturnal, retiring to their “nest” during the day. As they see it, Neville, as the last symbol of science, the old world, and a "user of the wheel," must die. Los Angeles
Neville in turn considers himself to be at war with The Family and would like to wipe them out. As a former military officer, he is a hardened, realistic person who lives in a secure, fortified apartment, and has no compunction about using modern military weapons to defend himself. His arsenal of weapons includes a S&W M76 submachine gun, an infrared telescopic sight equipped Browning Automatic Rifle and satchel charges, which helps keep The Family at bay. By day, Neville forages for supplies and searches for The Family’s headquarters throughout the deserted buildings of his emptied city. At night, Neville barricades himself in his apartment building penthouse as The Family rages outside, taunting him while burning books and other objects of science and culture. The use of powerful searchlights deter The Family's after-sunset raids on Neville's home. It is unclear what will kill Neville first, the Family or his maddening isolation. Reduced to talking to a bust of Caesar and a television image of himself, Neville leads an existence of nothing but survival.
In the second half of the film, Neville is captured by The Family, "tried" and "found guilty" of being a heretic, and is nearly burned at the stake (in the middle of Dodger Stadium, where the bodies of the dead were burned two years prior). He is rescued by an enclave of still-human survivors who are somewhat resistant to the plague; although they are all infected, apparently their youth has given them an extra level of resistance, maintaining them at a pre-albino stage of the disease. Nevertheless, given enough time, they may succumb to The Family’s stage. Neville realizes that even if it might be possible to somehow duplicate the original vaccine without any sure means of doing so, it would take years. But he might be able to extend his own immunity to them by creating a simpler serum derived from his blood. Neville is amazed and gratified to find that some of the survivors include very young children, and has a brief relationship with an older member of the group, Lisa (Rosalind Cash). If the serum works, Neville and Lisa plan to pull out of the ravaged city and with the rest of the survivors start a new life out in the unspoiled wilderness, leaving Matthias and The Family to die out on their own.
Neville is successful in creating the serum and administers it to Lisa's teenage brother Richie (Eric Laneuville) who is on the borderline of “going over” to the mutant stage of the plague. Once cured, the idealistic, naive Richie goes to The Family to try to convince them to take the serum as well. Matthias is controlled by his psychotic hatred of "normal" people and, of course, would rather keep things as they are. He also refuses to believe that Neville would try to save him or his followers, and accuses Richie of being sent by Neville, ordering the albinos to murder him. Neville finds a note Richie left about going to talk to the Family, and discovers Richie strung up where The Family left him. Neville, caught outside after dark, is stalled in his attempts to reach home but manages to fight off the Family.
During this, Lisa suddenly and unexpectedly changes into a nocturnal. She betrays Neville and allows The Family access to Neville's bunker-apartment. Returning home, Neville is treated to an unexpected welcoming party. The Family destroys Neville's apartment, the remnants of the modern world. Matthias declares that now is the time to build; Neville tells him all they need build is coffins, they'll all be dead soon anyway. Attempting to escape, he is impaled by a spear thrown by Matthias. The final scene shows the remaining survivors departing in a Land Rover after being handed a flask of the blood serum by the dying Neville, lying in a pool of his blood in a dramatic posture which alludes to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
 Production notes
The shots overlooking the 'deserted' city, mostly at the beginning of the film, were filmed at very early morning and on Sundays to achieve the deserted look. However, for those sharp eyed enough, the odd sign of life can actually be seen here and there.
Several Los Angeles building landmarks can be seen in their construction phases, notably the ARCO Towers in
Downtown LA. Filming was disrupted by the Sylmar earthquake of 1971.
There is a brief excerpt of Country Joe and the Fish as well as Arlo Guthrie performing at Woodstock, as Neville enjoys his solitary viewing of the film of the same name. The scene was filmed at the Olympic Theatre at
313 West 8th Street in . Ω (omega) is the final letter in the Greek alphabet. The letter would also figure prominently in another Heston film, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, where he fights another race of mutants, this time one that worships a "Doomsday" bomb recognized by the Alpha and Omega painted on its casing. Los Angeles
[The film has been parodied on numerous occasions, including the "Treehouse of Horror VIII" annual Halloween special of The Simpsons, titled "The HΩmega Man," and an episode of Recess. "Omega Man" was also the title of songs by The Police, Fred Falke, and also the Bee Gees.The park fountain that appears throughout the film is the same fountain that is seen decades later in the opening credits of almost every "Friends" episode.[citation needed