On ends and beginnings

On ends and beginnings

For some reason, “Don’t Look Up,” a film directed by Adam McKay and released on Netflix shortly before Christmas, appears to have divided its audience between those who adored it (excessively) and those who detested it (excessively).

It may be the first time that the destruction of planet Earth by a comet is used as the premise for a dark comedy. The genre prompted some people to immediately compare “Don’t Look Up” to Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 classic, “Dr Strangelove.”

However, the great American director did not make an allegorical film (though you can substitute the comet with the novel coronavirus and/or the general collapse of political institutions) but was, rather, taking a shot at the widespread nuclear weapons induced paranoia witnessed at the height of the Cold War.

What is, perhaps implicitly, touched upon by “Don’t Look Up,” as well as countless other television series and films, is the notion of impending doom – global catastrophe.

From zombie series and others dealing with the sudden disappearance or partial wiping out of the world’s population, to movies set in post-apocalyptic wastelands where mysterious entities urge humans to commit mass suicide and many others, the common denominator between comet collisions, zombie invasions, murderous alien hordes and any other inexplicable, catastrophic event is the collapse of human civilization as we know it, an explosion of violence, lawlessness.

This fear is nothing new. As far back as the Middle Ages, mankind has been obsessed with the notion of the apocalyptic end of the world. In the run-up to the year 1000 CE, whole regions of Europe were paralyzed by fear and the widespread belief that the Second Coming would take place on New Year’s Day. Prisons were emptied, prisoners refused to be set free, usurers forgave their loans. A frenzy of forgiveness spread across the land, accompanied by copious amounts of self-flagellation.

But the year 1000 came and went, and the world returned to its usual habits. Usurers began demanding their money back, prisons began once again locking people up and so on and so forth.

This apocalyptic behavior has been repeated and taken different forms through the centuries, with the latest being the apocryphal theories that circulated surrounding 2012.

And we are still here, of course.

However, a widespread feeling is gaining traction in society that something is coming to end, from climate change, the omnipresent dominance of social media, the radical challenges faced by democratic institutions, to the pandemic and the fear that healthcare systems are on the verge of collapsing, as well as, of course, the proliferation of conspiracy theories.

As with any end however, it also means a new beginning and, as we know, any birth – whether of an infant or a star – is accompanied by pain.

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