"Melancholia"Lars Von Trier's new film reminds us that though the director may have muzzled himself after his sympathetic-to-Hitler comments last spring, his cinematic voice is alive and well. This universe-sized allegory for depression and the ecstasy of fatalism is exquisitely filmed and extraordinarily cast. Grade: 4 out of 5 stars.
"Children of Men"The year is 2027, and man has exhausted all the resources of the planet, triggering a global infertility epidemic that has lasted for almost twenty years. Theo (Clive Owen) is tasked by an underground movement with transporting a young refugee, but on the way, Theo discovers why the girl is so important: She's eight months' pregnant. "Children of Men" is loved by some and blasted by others, but there's no denying the potency of the film's picture of a world driven by desperation and despair, and threatened not by some external threat, but by the aftershocks of a species-wide failure to create life at all.
"The Road"This adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel follows a widower and his young son through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Though there's plenty of commentary on the downfall of humanity in the ruthless scavengers and crazed cannibals they to meet on their journey, the beauty of the book and the film is not in chase scenes or apocalyptic explosions but in the poetry of a man and a boy struggling to stay together and stay alive.
"12 Monkeys"After a virus drives almost all human civilization underground in 1996, a convict from the future (Bruce Willis) is sent back in time to track-- though not, apparently, to stop-- the killer disease's progress. Terry Gilliam's 1995 film is still hailed as a masterpiece both for Willis' scenes in the 1990s, where his apocalyptic pronouncements are dismissed by a naive humanity, and for his haunting shots of Earth's post-apocalyptic future, covered in snow and a blanket of quiet death that is terrifying without being obvious.
"WALL-E"Not all post-apocalypse movies have to be tragedies, and not all of them even need to have human protagonists. Pixar's take on humanity's downfall is laden with as much hope and beauty as with the dire warnings of environmentalists, and the best scenes of this gorgeous film feature a trash compacter and a sleek retriever-bot with an arm-weapon to rival the Terminator, no small feat for a Disney feature.
"Night of the Living Dead"Arguably, all the films in Romero's "Dead" series use the threat of a zombie apocalypse to examine the lens through which we see and distort our world, whether through consumerism (Dawn of the Dead), science (Day of the Dead), class (Land of the Dead), media (Diary of the Dead), and the military (Survival of the Dead). But "Night of the Living Dead" features the apocalypse itself, a 1968 classic focusing on one isolated farmhouse and its increasingly off-kilter inhabitants.
"28 Days Later"Not content with one reason for a post-apocalyptic universe, "28 Days Later" combines both the threat of zombies and the threat of disease. Cillian Murphy's bicycle messenger wakes up from a coma in this 2002 movie to discover the world has been taken over by a "rage virus," crafting zombies notably faster and more terrifying than most of their cinematic brothers. In a classic (and brilliant) twist however, audiences shift halfway through the film from fear of a zombie hoard to the far more sinister presence of those tasked with protecting humanity: the military and the scientific community at large.
"Akira"A visually stunning anime masterpiece, this movie tells the story of people with psychic abilities called "espers." In a post-apocalyptic wasteland known as Neo-Tokyo, a secret military project known as Akira turns a biker gang member into a psychopath on a telepathic and telekinetic rampage. Two young kids and a group of psionic "espers" can stop him, but they soon find themselves in a struggle between the government and the underground resistance. This film is a classic meditation on the hubris of science in our (super)natural world.
"A Boy and His Dog"Set in 2024, in an alternate history where JFK lives and a five-day nuclear world war wipes out most of civilization in 2007, this cult classic centers on 18-year-old Vic and his telepathic dog, Blood. They avoid mutants, androids, and scavengers in an attempt to find a land untouched by radiation called “Over the Hill.” Based on a novella by Harlan Ellison, it is a frank examination of need, sex, survival, and companionship in the face of near-extinction.
"Escape from New York"John Carpenter’s 1981 thriller is set in a dystopian 1997, following a gas attack by Soviet forces during WWIII that has caused crime to spike by 400%. Manhattan has been transformed into a sprawling maximum-security prison, but when the president of the United States crash-lands there, it's up to a convict to get him out again. Kurt Russell plays Snake Plissken in one of his most iconic roles to date.
"Planet of the Apes"Sure, audiences didn't realize it was a post-apocalyptic film until the end (and if you didn't know the movie's final scene, you may need to catch up on the last few decades of pop culture). But even before the twist ending, "Planet of the Apes" is a fascinating look at an Earth with its species dominance reversed, where apes are the intelligent, dominating species and humans are the oppressed, experimented on, and enslaved.
Melancholia is a movie whose review could be encapsulated in the first ten minutes or so of the film, a classic Lars Von Trier dreamscape in which the end of the world is painted in a series of images as entrancing as they are deeply disturbing, and as slightly off in their connecting themes as the characters are themselves.
Melancholia is essentially two movies, woven together by the feelings both stories generate. The first story is Justine's (Kirsten Dunst), about an unhappy bride struggling to bury her rather existential depression in a quick, uber-expensive wedding. The second story is supposedly that of Claire, Justine's sister, the centered and sensitive counterweight to Justine's piercingly honest and unfailingly fatalistic worldview.
But the true second story is not that of Claire, but of Melancholia itself, an unidentified sky-speck scientists discover is in fact a planet hurtling towards Earth. As humanity, represented largely by Claire's husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) and his trusty telescope, sits smugly in the scientific assurance that the collision will be a near miss, both sisters find themselves expecting apocalypse instead.
Claire is undone by the revelation, but for Justine, it is a moment in which she is finally at one with the universe. Vindicated in her depression, but also (and more crucially) experiencing a oneness with her mother Earth in a way that was not possible when life was a certainty, Justine is finally connected to the planet about to be destroyed.
Life on Earth is evil, Justine says, nobody will miss it. As Dunst luxuriates naked in the glow of a planet destined to destroy both her and all life on the planet, and as the residents of Earth play out their usual Von Trier dance of bitterness and bluntness, it's hard, in this filmic universe, not to be on Justine's side.
Such a feat is largely due to Kirsten Dunst herself, who after years of movies that did far too little to push her as actress has finally found a director worthy of her talents. Dunst is nothing short of mesmerizing in Melancholia, and Charlotte Gainsbourg, as level-headed sister Claire, returns to Von Trier's film universe to play a deeply fleshed-out and engaging character, her role blessedly free of the shock-value antics of her last Von Trier role in Antichrist. Sutherland, and Andrew Skarsgard as Dunst's fiancée, complete a strong ensemble cast.
The two stories in Melancholia don't quite fit together as seamlessly as Von Trier seems to expect. Justine's depression and its planetary symbol funcion best when the images of Dunst and the oncoming planet are allowed simply to co-exist and intertwine, avoiding the Von Trier fallback of extended zoom-ins and overly nasty dialogue. When the director allows his allegory to speak on its own, the movie goes from typical Von Trier fare, destined to depress and (for some) infuriate, to a truly ecstatic cinematic experience, one that stays with viewers long after the credits have stopped rolling.
Below, watch the Melancholia movie trailer, and click through our slideshow for ten more apocalypse movies that go beyond the category of disaster film and deliver a truly transporting and transcending experience at the movies. Did we miss any movies in our countdown? Let us know in the comments section.
Melancholia Movie Trailer: