Monday, May 31, 2004

The Day After Never

Update 1: Took out 3 paragraphs describing my neighborhood (What the hell was I thinking when I wrote them in a film review?), added to para. 4?added new sentence "New York Times..." to para 11

Day After Tomorrow Movie Poster

Poster ad for "Day After Tomorrow" at Limehouse Station, seen from my bedroom window

Sinister corporations control the world these days, enmeshing us in their webs of manipulative propaganda to make us consume things we don't need. That's the only rational explanation I can give for why I went to I went to see the new disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow last night.

Overall, I thought it was the best piece of unintelligent escapism I've seen all year. It had a wit and suspense that was missing from the director's earnest and completely unironic B-movies Independence Day and The Patriot. Throughout, the film used arresting visual images of a world reeling under giant tornados, skyscraper-height tidal waves, and a cold that can freeze the fuel of aircraft in flight and kill anyone not under shelter in seconds. Although the lead character, paleo-climatologist Denis Quaid, warns of the coming apocalypse, the American government, in the form of a Dick Cheney-like vice president as icy and unmovable as an Artic glacier, dismisses the threat.

To begin with, I don't put much credence in the film's science, but I'm hardly the first person to say so, or the most qualified. The story seems to have come from a pulp science-fiction book called "The Coming Global Superstorm", by two authors who normally specialise in writing about UFO abductions, the paranormal and other subjects of the X-Files.

For a depiction of global catastrophe, it's quite parochial in its outlook. Europe and Asia are destroyed by unprecedented global storms, but in a strange manifestation of the Special Relationship, only Britain gets any screen-time. Ian Holm plays an English scientist echoing the apocalyptic forecasts of the lead character, climatologist Denis Quaid. However, I found it hard to take him, last seen as Bilbo Baggins, seriously as a prophet of doom; I half-expected him to produce a ring from some waistcoat pocket.

Smugly superior environmentalism seen to offer little help in saving either Canada, France or Germany. In a world buried under snow and ice, I'd doubt how much use a little fuel-efficient Dinky-toy of a Renault Espace or an environmentally-friendly bicycle might be for fleeing through snowdrifts, as compared to one of those typically-American SUVs the Quaid character travels in from Washington to New York to rescue his son, Jake Gyllenhal who is holed-up in the New York Public Library with an array of stereotyped stock characters.

Predications about how America would react struck me as being off target too. Independence Day seemed to foresee the modus operandi of the Bush administration quite well - attacking the aliens without going to the Security Council for approval, denial of POW status to the captured UFO jockey, first use of nuclear weapons (a definite no-no under the third Geneva Convention), the pervasive influence of Jewish neo-con advisors in the White House....

Slate ran a competition this week to rewrite the contrite speech of the Cheney figure, delivered from the santuary given to the American population by a generous Mexico, that concluded the film. I think all the competition winners published made the same obvious mistakes in foresight as the scriptwriter did.

First, the most relevant political fact about the areas ostentatiously destroyed in the movie, the northern states of the US in general and New York city in particular is that, as Michael Moore callously pointed out after 9/11, these electorates haven't, by and large, voted for the current Republican administration. After the storm, there'll be no more New York Times, no more Yale Law School, and no more Federal government bureaucracy. However, in the southern states, solidly Republican since Nixon's time, many or most people can survive. The result: A Republican electoral majority as solid as Siberian earth on winter.

Furthermore, nothing I've seen tells me that repentant self-abasement is part of Dick Cheney's vocabulary, under any circumstances. Probably the obvious gambit for the VP to play would be the religious one, which would resonate nicely with all those born-again religious conservatives. God, he could say, has chosen to destroy the sinful people beneath a great torrent, as He has been offended by their vile practices, and save the Godly to start anew.

The storyline doesn't reflect the likely outcome in terms of international relations either. With Moscow, Paris, Beijing and London buried under glaciers, America would be the only permanent member still in existence, giving more reign for a unilateralist foreign policy; "Does the Security Council agree with me? Yes, I do. Resolution passed!"

Rather than beg the Mexicans for help, I'd be pretty damn sure that, with a functioning military, the Americans would be putting their requests for lebensraum and other resources in an insistent rather than a supplicating tone. Mexico could put no serious military force in the field to oppose even the National Guard, never mind stand up to nuclear threats from a desperate US.

Apparently, Al Gore has laid his touch of death on the movie, which has been underperforming the new Shrek sequel at the US box office.

Will the movie have any effect on attitudes? I think it probably will bring people towards the environmental movement, but probably not very many. According to Slate's review by David Edelstein, "Meanwhile, global-warming experts I know are already girding themselves for a major PR setback, as everyone involved in this catastrophe becomes a laughingstock. Is it possible that The Day After Tomorrow is a plot to make environmental activists look as wacko as antienvironmentalists always claim they are? Al Gore stepped right into this one, didn't he?"