Hollywood Does the Apocalypse (Again!)

Preparing for the release of The Road and 2012, my TIME colleague Rebecca Winters Keegan investigates how to survive the end of the world—Hollywood style. Best tip (from Viggo Mortensen): Resist the urge to eat your children.

Our cinematic fascination with the end of the world is perplexing and somewhat perverse, but not new. According to Wheeler Winston Dixon, a film studies professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, one of the early sound films was 1931’s “The End of the World,” in which a comet slams in the the Earth. Dixon’s theory for why we love to imagine the destruction of our own civilization, as he recently described it to CNN:

“I think it’s a desire to sort of say ... ‘We won’t have to worry about the future, because there is no future,’ ” he says. “And so therefore, we can do what we want now, and all the debts are put off and all the responsibilities are avoided.” Besides, “the complete destruction of the world has always been attractive, because ... by witnessing that act and staying outside of it, you’ve witnessed the apocalypse,” he says. “It’s much like a horror movie. It allows you to participate without risk.”

Personally, I can’t get into these movies. And I tried to read The Road, but I found it too disturbing. (Though the writing was outstanding.) I don’t know, maybe I’m too literal or too soft. But I find no escapist value in watching atrocious things happen to society. That’s my job, after all, and it’s not particularly hilarious. So when I try to watch these movies, I am no fun… I find myself either walking out—or pointing out all the things that are unrealistic. (Watching the first episode of Lost, I kept muttering under my breath because all the injured airplane passengers were hanging out, treating their wounds, exchanging information—right next to the burning plane. Literally in its shadow! In real life, survivors of plane crashes get the hell away from the plane as soon as they can. Which makes more sense. Sigh.) So if you go to these movies, I hope for your sake that there’s no one like me in the theater.

GeneralAmanda Ripley