In the 1988 film They Live, “Rowdy” Roddy Pipper discovers he is living in a society which has been overrun by a malevolent alien presence. The invaders, disguised as humans, have infiltrated every nook and cranny of society, controlling government and other institutions. They propagate their will through subliminal messages dispensed in media. Special sunglasses enable the wearer to see through the alien illusion, revealing both the content of subliminal messaging and the identity of the aliens themselves. It is with homage to this film that Fightin Words presents entertainment reviews intended to look beneath the surface and decode the messages and influences within. As this objective is substantially different from the typical entertainment review, the reader should expect spoilers.
The end is nigh. In Roland Emmerich’s latest blockbuster, this eschatological cliché is at last fulfilled. Continents sink into the sea, tidal waves engulf the Himalayas, and Wisconsin becomes the new south pole. This is disaster porn, with destruction on a scale so vast it often defies digestion. Short of a supernova, black hole, or Death Star attack, it is unlikely a more dramatic catastrophe could be conceived of and portrayed on screen. 2012 follows an ensemble of characters as they struggle to survive the end of the world. Of course, it isn’t really the end of the world, just the world we know. Humanity survives. But it must start anew on a globe where every institution, border, and nation has been wiped out. As the tagline in the trailer declares, “no matter where you live, no matter what you believe, one date will unite us all.”
This is the philosophical theme the film works tirelessly to promote; when you strip away our contrived institutional divisions, we are all the same, all part of one big happy human family. Survival requires abandoning antiquated paradigms and placing faith in the experts among us to “ensure the continuity of the species.” The paradigm most in the crosshairs of this philosophical apocalypse is Christianity. The eccentric Charlie Frost, a pirate radio host played with slovenly relish by Woody Harellson, demeans the Bible as the least accurate predictor of the end of days among competitors like the Mayan calendar and the writings of the Hopi Indians. The iconic statue of Jesus Christ in Rio De Janeiro is shown crumbling into dust. An entire sequence focuses on Catholics gathered in prayer at the Vatican who are unceremoniously eliminated as the grand symbol of ecclesiastical authority comes crashing down upon them. One shot focuses on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel as a crack in the roof just happens to split between the depiction of man reaching out toward God. Given the literal world of possibilities in a film of this scope, the focus of the filmmakers seems wholly intentional.
There is a technique prevalent in film and television for suspending disbelief which can also be used to desensitize an audience to concepts they find instinctively repulsive. It works like this; a proxy character reacts to something unbelievable or repulsive by expressing an objection similar to that the audience might express. A second character then addresses the objection in a way that, within the context of the fiction, makes the unbelievable believable or the repulsive acceptable. In 2012, the always cantankerous Oliver Platt plays a high level US government official whose entire purpose is to fulfill this desensitization role. His cold, calculating, opportunistic humanism is meant to be disliked, but proven correct. In various scenes he and others serve to desensitize the audience to political assassination, shadow government, eugenics, biometric surveillance, and acceptance of class distinctions based on royalty, wealth, and perceived usefulness to the collective of man. In one scene, Platt’s character is shown talking on a phone to his aged and deteriorating mother for the last time as he prepares to evacuate to secretly constructed arks meant to preserve the elite. After the call, a character catching the end of the conversation says, “I would have thought they’d have given you an extra ticket [to take your mother on the ark].” Platt responds, “They did.” He goes on to justify leaving his mother to die, as she is old and useless and better off left behind.
Such a fate is prescribed for the entire unwashed mass of humanity, as the world opens up to swallow them whole. Watching the outcome of the devastation leaves one with the distinct impression this catastrophe might be a good thing. After all, the remnant of humanity (a miniscule percentage) represents the best and brightest from every corner of the globe, no longer separated by the institutions which formerly defined them, free to establish a united nation superior to any which came before. An epilogue title reads, “Day 27, Month 1, Year 0001,” indicating the death of the Old Order is an event which supersedes the birth of Christ as the moment from which we measure time. Watching this reminds one of the many proclamations from academics like Professor Eric Pianka from the University of Texas which openly call for massive reductions in human population, the thematically complementary evangelism of the New Age (or “New Thought,” as it is now conspicuously self-titled) which predicts a coming enlightenment to replace the Old Thought, and the entirety of progressive political ideology which draws upon masturbatory secular human delusions which imagine a communist utopia. Adherents to these philosophies will find much to love in 2012.
A last note of interest, the only two world leaders who refuse to board the arks are the presidents of the United States and Italy. The Italian president is said to be “trusting in prayer,” while the American president is merely “going down with the ship,” a concept which Platt’s character patronizingly describes as “noble.” It strikes this reviewer that the exclusion of these two parties from “the continuity of the species,” is indicative of a desire for the New Order to rise without the influence of the American republic or its Christian heritage (Italy –> Rome –> Vatican). It is further noteworthy to cite this exclusion is voluntary, perhaps representing an anticipation that adherents to the Old Thought will not want to sail into the Brave New World. This interpretation may be a stretch, but certainly jives thematically with the rest of the film which, along with being an able ensemble piece showcasing some of the most ambitious special effects ever conceived, is a pill of philosophy clearly intended to question the merits of established institutions while suggesting some people are intrinsically worth more than others.