From The Walking Dead to Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, it seems like everything these days is set in a post-apocalyptic world. While we might be tempted to blame it all on Trump, it seems he's more of a symptom than a cause; but one thing's for sure, the future is looking precarious and the boom in movies and TV shows set in a bleak, post-apocalyptic world is a testament to the state of our current cultural climate.
Looking into the future has always been a daunting affair, but we're sadly far from the Back to the Future optimism of the 1980s and well into Dr. Strangelove territory. While the '70s and '80s gave us franchise starters like Mad Max and Planet of the Apes, is it really a coincidence we're seeing them revived now, darker and grittier than ever? Let's dig a little deeper and see if we can find the core of why post-apocalyptic films are seeing a resurgence, and what that says about our cultural psyche.
The Future Looks Bleak And People Are Psychologically Preparing For What's To Come
The state of world politics, the election of Trump, terrorism, the war in Syria, general distrust, the rise of nationalism — it's all enough to paint a worryingly dark picture of our future. Let's face it, things are not looking good and right now most of us are just hoping they don't get worse.
It's therefore no surprise then that cynicism is also on the rise, and with the looming prospect of another Great War, and the all too real possibility of a nuclear war at that, is it really that hard for us to imagine living in a post-apocalyptic world?
By watching movies and shows set in a post-apocalyptic environment, people are aquatinting themselves with the possible outcomes of our current actions (think climate change, running out of natural resources, etc.). By bringing apocalyptic predictions to life on screen, the reality of what life would be like under those circumstances becomes clearer and somehow more possible for us to imagine happening.
But coming to grips with a possible future outcome isn't all we're doing, we're also learning skills useful to survival in such a world. I'm pretty sure your average Dead-head at least believes they'd be more equipped to handle the apocalypse than someone who watches, say, The Vampire Diaries. Movie Pilot's resident Dead-head, Allanah Faherty, shared what she's learned via The Walking Dead about surviving in the post-apocalypse:
I've definitely learned things like what places would be good hideouts, what kinds of foods would be best to snack on early or horde for later; also how to create caches of food and supplies, and to learn to use a variety of weapons asap.
I have to say, those are all pretty useful skills. I'll be seeking out her company in the event of a zombie apocalypse. But no matter how much post-apocalyptic TV you consume, I think it's safe to say that a strong cinematic stomach does not necessarily a bold survivor make.
Current Issues Become More Black And White
Setting a movie in the future allows creativity to flourish, as filmmakers imagine a new world with new norms, new fashions (hello Hunger Games), and new everyday realities. But it does more than that too; setting a film in the future allows a clearer message to be sent to viewers through a high-contrast black and white setting. Clearly something has gone wrong, resulting in a major, apocalyptic event, wiping out our current reality. The future depicted takes a present-day issue that might have caused the event — take surveillance, or rising sea levels, or mass epidemics — and magnifies it, taking it through the years to arrive at its final, destructive form. In Children of Men, we find that the women of the world have mysteriously become infertile, leaving a wasteland of hopeless humans facing the prospect of extinction. It's impossible to see such a film and not ask yourself how it relates to our society, if our society is in fact going in that direction, and whether or not that is a good thing. By setting a film in the post-apocalyptic future, filmmakers are able to send clear messages that aren't as muddled by the complexities of our present environment, forcing us to question our own world and where we're headed.
We Get To (Re)Explore A World Without Tech
In many of these post-apocalyptic settings, something horrible has happened and all the technology we've come to rely on no longer works, Y2K-style. This is a great movie/TV ploy for a couple of reasons, not least that not being able to make a phone call, and instead having to run as fast as you can to deliver a message, greatly heightens the drama.
Of course, the cinematic appeal of a world unhindered by our modern technology is a great reason to set a project in a post-apocalyptic world, but it's not the only one. I would argue that cutting the chord on our tech also satisfies a two-sided curiosity and nostalgia for both the younger and the older generations. Those who grew up with dial-up or no internet at all (that's no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and a probably corded landline) can again access the part of their brain that reasons through situations without the help of technology (you can't just watch a YouTube tutorial to figure out your life, man), while those who've grown up surrounded by screens are tapping into a new way of being.
As technology gets more efficient it also gets more invasive, and we rely on it in ways that would have been unthinkable just 20 years ago. Getting a window into a reality in which all of that tech has been taken away begs the question, is this technology helping more than it's hindering? Going even deeper, I would argue that for the most part humans abuse technology. We live in a time where, even though technology is supposed to unite us and improve our communication, more people than ever feel isolated and anxious. By watching films set in the post-apocalypse, we get to (re)explore a world in which we had to have direct contact with one another to get things done, for better or for worse — and I think some part of all of us secretly yearns for that again.
Why do you love films set in a post-apocalyptic reality?