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In Movies, It's the End of the World as We Know It. Is That Fine?

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Jun 21, 2012 | 1:11pm EDT

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ALTAt the end of the new movie Seeking a Friend for the End of the World the world actually ends. Spoiler alert! (In fairness, I am going to be giving away the endings of various and assorted movies, so if you think you're going to get to some of them before 12/21/2012, you might want to read something else.) Actually, it's not really a spoiler, because it's right there in the title. The world is going to end. You shouldn't be surprised when it does. The world ends. Kaboom. Kapley. Kaplow!

Otherwise, Seeking a Friend is a rather formulaic rom-com where a man's wife leaves him (because the world is ending) and he is thrown together by fate (because the world is ending) with a younger woman who is completely inappropriate and his total opposite and they eventually get together before being ripped apart again (because the world is ending). But we've been taught by every movie that we've ever seen that in a sunny and optimistic picture such as this, there will be some last-minute reprieve, that something will go amiss (or won't), and everyone will live happily ever after in peace and happiness. Well, stop waiting for that white knight because, based on what we're seeing in movies these days, he is not coming. There is no redemption.

Seeking a Friend isn't the only one eradicating all human life. Melancholia is also about an asteroid hitting Earth and wiping it out of the solar system. And (big spoiler here) Cabin in the Woods turns from your standard issue horror spoof into a documentation of how galactic forces destroy the planet. Yes, in movies these days, instead of it just being a threat to rally against, the world is actually ending. Like, for real.

There have always been movies about the end of days or some sort of cataclysmic disaster, but it was always averted. It was about humanity soldiering on and rebuilding from the rubble. In Deep Impact, the world is hit by one meteor, which causes mass destruction, but a second one is blown to smithereens before any impact, deep or otherwise. The end of the movie focuses on the rebuilding of the White House. The same year, Armageddon destroyed a meteor using nuclear bombs and Aerosmith songs so that Liv Tyler could go on to have Ben Affleck's babies. Ten years later, in 2012, the planet is literally falling apart, but it ends with the few remaining survivors congregating to start life anew. Only two years later, that hope has been wiped out.

In Cabin in the Woods, humanity's final blow is nothing more than a morose plot point, a clever little twist for a movie that is predicated on clever twists. (What makes it a great twist is you never think the world will actually end in a movie, so it seems that twist will never work again.) In Melancholia, also the name of the celestial object that spells our doom, the Armageddon is a symbol for a deep depression that overcomes one woman and who finds her way out of it, only to watch everyone around her fall into their own state of the blues (which is curiously the color everything turns just before impact). While literal, the end is mostly symbolic about how different people deal with the pain of living, not the emptiness of dying.

Something different is at work in Seeking a Friend, which shows Steve Carell's Dodge waking up one day to find that his life is ending both literally and figuratively. It's your classic mid-life crisis, "you're wasting your life" movie, but in the past this character would turn things around because he has cancer (Funny People), an angelic intervention (It's a Wonderful Life), or just general neurosis (American Beauty). Now the only thing that can make someone change is the end of the world, when it is just too late to change.

It seems like the Meliorist Myth (as English majors would call it) that things in America are always getting better is at an end. We live in a world where the economy collapsed and is slow to recover, the climate is acting erratically because of the strain humans put on it and seems not to be stopping, and China with all its people and money seems to be taking over as the world super power. As far as Americans are concerned, the world is over. Even in our political system there has been change after change from Democrat to Republican to Tea Party and back again and nothing is getting fixed. It is the end of the world. We're all obsessed with it, just like the Mayans predicted.

And this isn't just a liberal outlook on things, because fundamentalist Christianity seems to have something to do with it too. According to a 2011 poll, 41 percent of Americans believe the Rapture is coming. Yes, almost half of the people in this great country think that Jesus is coming back and will kill every last one of us and it could happen at any moment. That sounds like a good plot for a movie!

The thing is that movie plots don't come from nowhere. They're often a manifestation of our collective anxieties, misgivings, hopes, and philosophy. It seems a little disturbing, or at least just a little bit more realistic, that our newest fixation is the complete decimation of the species. Maybe it's because, as our culture is cluttered with constant streams of content, that is what it takes to stand out these days — the threat of utter annihilation. Or maybe it's because we all think that we're beyond hope and instead of dreaming up ways to cure the awful predicament we've put ourselves in, we're now imagining just what is going to happen when the scary inevitable comes to our door. Either way, it seems like things are going to need to improve in the real world before the lives of our movie characters get any better. Until then, get ready for Hollywood to keep dreaming up our utter destruction.

Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan

More:

'Seeking a Friend': Steve Carell Thinks He 'Would Get Devoured by Zombies'

One on One: 'Melancholia' Star Kirsten Dunst

'Cabin in the Woods': How Did Your Audience React?

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