Take Shelter from Melancholia by Surviving Progress

I suppose it’s appropriate that with today’s economic and environmental disasters looming large, we are seeing a number of films predicting the end of mankind in ways from which we cannot protect ourselves. 

Three new films that I saw recently in close proximity, all spelled out our doom in very different ways, with little or no hope of survival. Perhaps the current global economic crisis has people wondering what we’ve gotten ourselves into and how the end will come, instead of how it can be prevented. It’s as if we know that we cannot save ourselves from our own destructive nature, and we expect the Earth to retaliate for our blatant abuses and tell us that our time is up. Will the end of our planet be our own undoing, or will it come through some natural, unstoppable disaster?  

These three films all explore the inevitable global end and extinction of mankind on Earth. Two of them by natural phenomena from which there is no protection; Melancholia and Take Shelter, and if that doesn’t humble you, there is a documentary that very clearly illustrates how we will be the architects of our own demise; Surviving Progress

Melancholia and Take Shelter are both about individuals looking up at the sky and, through instinct or visions or dreams, somehow sense a coming global disaster, but are unable to express this to others except by what appears to be very unusual and disturbing behavior to the people around them. Both movies center on this person and their strange behavior and the effect it has on their family or community. When the disaster eventually strikes, they seem to be the ones, at least mentally, to be most prepared for it, if not physically. 

Visually both these films are appropriately ominous and eerily photographed with dreamlike, nightmare images and minimal visual effects. As these films are dramas that focus on intimate human relations rather than the physical destruction of the planet, as with Roland Emmerich’s 2012 (2009), they are slow and pensive films that can be depressing and boring for some.

Surviving Progress is a documentary about our capacity to kill the planet and ourselves along with it. It argues that, while we as a society have progressed in our technology and our culture has changed as a result, we, as people, still have all the same primitive instincts of our hunting and gathering ancestors, and that, what we call progress, is actually becoming detrimental to our survival.

Our ability to question ‘why?’ has made us successful in the past but we are now too successful to the point that we are destroying ourselves and the planet. The same abilities that helped us survive in our early history are destroying our planet today. To illustrate this, the movie uses an example from our past, when, as cavemen, we hunted Mammoths to sustain us with food and tools, and we became good at killing them. But eventually we became too good when someone figured out that we could kill many Mammoths at once by herding them over a cliff. Mammoths quickly became extinct, depriving us of an important renewable resource that would have sustained future generations indefinitely. We still have the same mentality today. Consumerism is destroying us and our planet, whether we are stuffing our bodies with food or stuffing our houses with stuff, we are literally consuming ourselves to death.

The film now turns to Wall Street, which is seen as an oligarchy of affluent people with political power to effect change to benefit their cause, which is to make more money and become more affluent. Corporations and economists, says David Suzuki, are totally out to lunch with their economic model of growth, which is completely unrealistic for our world. Corporations and the affluent would rather see 90% of the planet’s people starve and die, and see all the planet’s forests and resources destroyed before ever giving up their desire for more wealth.

We have gone from destroying Mammoths to plundering the last of our natural global resources with no thought for the future. It’s a grim tale of human greed and ignorance that will make Melancholia and Take Shelter seem like the justice we deserve. But as a character from Melancholia says ‘Don’t grieve for the Earth, the Earth is evil.’ And an expert in Surviving Progress characterizes humans as behaving like a virus, killing everything in its path. 



Dale Drinnon said...

The last-named film does have the potential of waking up people to take action: wake up enough people and take enough action and we just might save the human race and the world we live on.

One thing about it, though, is that we shall probably have to give uop consumerism to do that. At the very least.

Best Wishes, Dale D.

Lanre said...

It sounds strange to believe that the world would end one day. As a matter of fact, it will end but no one knows exactly how.
I believe these films are simply made to inform us of what is to come. It's true, over the years, man has gotten greedy and this greed still grows everyday. It might just be our greed that would end the world.

Brilliant post, J.

Jeannette Paladino said...

These films are not a genre I enjoy, frankly. I know lots of people love them but it's hard for me to comment. I admire you for reviewing films that tackle difficult subjects.

Laura Sherman said...

I do tend to avoid the doomsday films. I think if focus on the end of the world it might just come. However if we can focus on creating improvements, it offers hope and solutions.

Thanks for the great article!

mike martin said...

Thanks John. Great bl;og post as usual. I like the way that you help us see how films are telling a bigger story.

mmbear said...

I always get upset when I watch those films. Not so much that I am going to die, I just don't want the pain and suffering. I know it will happen, can't stop it, not if it is what God wants and he is the ultimate. So, I try to do right and believe God knows best and that when that day comes, he shows me some mercy. The rest of that stuff is just to sell tickets! or books or whatever they are pushing. The worst are the Alien ones where they take us over and we go like cows. Gosh, I hope we fight better than those movies show. Transformations #3 even had some humans siding with the Aliens and helping kill humans. Now, what in the heck is that all about? You don't think when all the humans are gone they won't get you too? They gonna leave one or two of you alive? But I guess it sells tickets. Thanks for all the info! Came over from the Linkedin group.