It may or may not surprise you to hear that I’m considered somewhat pessimistic by my friends.
You may think that with a bleak personality such as mine I would crave the colourful delights of Disney films. You would be mistaken. Instead I find them subversive and seditious.
You may think that with an isolated existence such as mine I would crave the aspirational gloss of teen dramas like The O.C. You would be incorrect. Instead I find them offensive projections of an unrealistic ambition.
You may think that with a life like mine I would watch films simply to escape myself, to feel a fleeting fantastical happiness at the hands of a fictional circumstance. You would be wrong. I revel in the sadistic side of cinema. I want it grim. I want all the grim you’ve got.
Recently I learned through a fellow blogger that the theatrical ending of Danny Boyle’s post-apocalyptic zombie flick 28 Days Later is not the original ending.
Originally the film ended with Jim dying in hospital after being shot. This perfectly represents the lack of hope both globally and personally. Jim’s death represents the ultimate fate of everyone, not only in this particular situation, but in all our lives. It’s certainly a bleak climax, but if there’s ever a movie in which it’s considered contextually relevant, it’s a movie featuring cultish rape and quasi-cannibalism.
The original ending was altered after test screening groups stated it was too grim. In a movie in which death is the primary focus, a movie in which thousands perish in horrifying circumstances, it was the singular death of a protagonist that pushed them past their maximum morbidity capacity. Presumably they were hoping for a jovial finale.
Apparently my maximum morbidity capacity exceeds that of the average cinema-goer. As such I wish the ending had been left alone. To rewrite an ending, your ending, to serve the ordinary opinions of an average audience seems like a betrayal of self.
Test screening also affected the finale of I Am Legend. While the original ending didn’t mirror the ending of the novel on which the film is based, it did follow the themes and tone more closely. But because the movie was intended to be a, and indeed was a Hollywood blockbuster, it had to have a suitably victorious ending. It’s unsurprising really. I suspect Will Smith is contractually obliged to save the world in all his films.
During the climax Neville heroically cooks a grenade and goes all kamikaze on his uninvited guests. Ending both his own life and the lives of countless scourge. This couldn’t stray further from the original novel ending in which Neville realises it is he who is their scourge. The infected do not appear during the day not because they’re nocturnal, but because it is they who are afraid of him. He is the last remaining man in a world in which infection has become normality. The film makes no attempt to convey the human characteristics of the scourge that became so prevalent during the novel’s finale and instead depicts them as archetypal zombies.
In the alternate ending to the film the infected are portrayed as having retained some aspects of humanity. Neville shares an understanding moment with the alpha male, and the film concludes with no further deaths. But nothing physical and emotional victory like valorous self-sacrifice.
In reality of course, Will Smith cannot save us. He is but a mere mortal and is doomed to the same fate that awaits us all – death.
It must be hard to hope for a happy ending whilst in the midst of a post-apocalyptic scenario. Yet Hollywood relentlessly serves them up to please the mainstream cinema-going audience. Characters in post-apocalyptic films too often express an overriding sense of hope. Sure some people are naturally optimistic, the bastards. But it’s hard to believe that over months of unrelenting agony their will has not corroded.
I appreciate that we attend the cinema to be entertained, and by that token; to be happy. Escapism is a wonderful thing. But beneath the glossy sheen of Tinseltown serves a reminder. A warning of what is a very real possibility – an apocalypse.
With this in mind, we as a race should should ensure that our post-apocalyptic pals are as informed as possible by making our media as grim as we can. When all that remains is the last man, woman and child on earth, if they’re not able to employ the sickest of tactics in order to slay every cannibal, nanomorph, vampire, werewolf, xenomorph and zombie and escape unscathed, they and the final remnants of humanity will be confined to non-existence.
What good is hope? As my favourite doctor once said – hope is for sissies.
Fortunately not all post-apocalyptic films feature the plastic promise of Hollywood happiness. The Road is probably the most beautifully bleak movie ever made. Any and every molecule of hope is completely eclipsed by misery. In comparison with reality it’s actually mildly chirpy, but in comparison with the Hollywood archives it’s like the Great Depression meets Keanu Reeves.
Unsurprisingly The Road‘s box office performance was almost as dismal as it’s ambiance. Unfortunately it seems that unless your horizon sparkles with the glitter of a billion rainbows, audiences would rather stay at home and knit kittens and tickle puppies, or whatever it is happy people do.
When executed correctly the lessons imparted to us by post-apocalyptic media are plentiful. Through an amalgamation of films, literature, television and videogames a person can learn enough survival techniques to rival Bear Grylls. The Road is no exception. It’s the most authentic post-apocalyptic vision I have seen. Surely there is no lesson in cinema more depressing than a father teaching his son how to properly commit suicide.
The Road is an extreme example of post-apocalyptic grimness. Even I found it harrowing, and I’m cold and dead on the inside. I commend the producers for staying true to Cormac McCarthy’s source material. The film could have easily been adapted into a more hopeful affair. Marketers could have advertised a story of persistance, love and survival. Box office figures would have been higher. Instead the film documents man losing the fight to survive and relinquishing unrealistic ambitions. This to me seems a more realistic interpretation of the impending doom which will inevitably befall us all – extinction.
Chin up. The sun’ll rise tomorrow. The weatherman said so.