The recent hailstorm of summer blockbusters reads like the belated fulfillment of the 2012 Mayan doomsday prophecy: “This is the End,” “The World’s End,” “After Earth,” “World War Z,” “Oblivion,” “Pacific Rim,” “White House Down” and “Elysium.”
Of course this is nothing new. Filmmakers have long been ending us, often with the flair of John of Patmos himself, whose stupendous debut, “Revelation,” has attracted a sizable cult following.
Indeed, annihilating ourselves and the planet, both in theory and practice, is one of humanity’s favorite pastimes. But it seems that now, more than ever, the prophets of cinema are agreed in their forecast: the end is nigh.
The signs are unmistakable: there’s the usual quartet of war, pestilence, famine and death, and then there’s the economy, overpopulation, hipsters — and I’m certain that the lost books of some buried civilization warn of the creature called Miley Cyrus.
But here’s my naughty little hunch: we not only sense that the end is coming; we want it to come. Yes, subconsciously, perversely and masochistically, we wish for the heavens to open and spit stars, for aliens to invade, the dead to crawl from their graves, spirits to haunt us, the earth to split wide and breathe hellfire.
Of course, each of us knows the zombies will never get us — they’ll get our bosses and mothers-in-law, sure — but not, one thinks, clever and resourceful me.
But why, in all seriousness, do we secretly pray for the apocalypse? Boredom, I suppose. We grow weary of civilization. We want something different, something to interrupt the tedium of the day and hurl us into primeval savagery.
The truth is that when the earthquakes and hordes of the undead and infected stumble onto our doorsteps, life will be simple again, all our priorities made clear. For there will be no time to stare into the plain faces of our spouses at the dinner table, no time to slouch to bed at ten and wake with thoughts of driving off the bridge, no time for quarterly reports, no time for picking up milk, no laundry, no bills, no dentist at noon.
No! The doors must be bolted — grab the gun! — there are children and friends to be saved, neighbors to sacrifice, stores to loot, things to do by God!
Yes, this is the secret fantasy of the male psyche—the moment when the dormant hero awakens. All his life he has been preparing for this moment. He read about himself in comics, whacked his friends with sticks, chased girls on the playground, lifted weights, threw footballs, opened doors for ladies, drove fast, drank hard, carried furniture, fixed things, broke things, and brought home actual and metaphorical bacon.
Look! There are legions honing their skills in dark basements playing “Call of Duty.” They tire of pixilated carnage; their greased fingers itch for metal instead of plastic. They are waiting.
And then the trumpets sound.
Some are raptured — but only the pansies. The heroes remain, some of them in bunkers grabbing their polished toys from the arsenal, some of them in line at the bank, whipping out concealed pistols — two or three pistols — and clearing First Merit of alien-terrorist-genetically engineered-zombie-infected-Illuminati-socialist-robot-demon foes.
Finally, each man is Scarface atop the staircase of his ruined suburban mansion, gun smoking and foot resting on the mingled corpses of ultra-intelligent apes and Communists.
Don’t believe me? Two friends of mine are eagerly awaiting the invasion of extraterrestrials — one in the hope that the ensuing war will finally “bring us all together, all people and all races, dude,” the other in the hope that E.T. will conduct him on an intergalactic tour.
The popularity of shows like “Ancient Aliens,” “The Walking Dead” and “Doomsday Preppers” is more than morbid and superstitious obsession. The History Channel has given up on history and devoted itself to ghosts and Sasquatch. Why? Because we want so dearly for it to be true — because nothing less than a dinosaur swimming in Loch Ness can satisfy us.
We live in an insatiate age of 64-ounce sodas and popcorn bags capacious enough to hold a medium-sized bear cub. A 3-D Brad Pitt hacks zombies inches from our noses and soon we’ll be feeling his beard on our cheeks in “Brave New World”-esque “feelies.”
But I’m confident we’ll become insensible to supersized thrills, that caffeine and butter will wreak their silent Armageddon in our veins and that those not claimed by comas will stretch their atrophied muscles and discover that what they needed all along was a quiet afternoon in the sunshine, a proper diet and a meaningful pursuit or two.
And they will repopulate the earth.