Tuesday, December 26, 2006


I've always been fascinated by novels and films taking place in a post-apocalyptic world. Give me a small group of survivors trying to make it in a dramatically altered landscape, and I'm happy. I'm not talking about movies depicting the catastrophe itself (ie Deep Impact or The Day After Tomorrow) but about the ones specifically dealing with the aftermath—the nuclear winter of our discontent.

Entries in the well-stocked post-apocalyptic genre include novels like Stephen King's The Stand, Nevil Shute's On the Beach, Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz, Michel Houellebecq's The Possibility of an Island, even Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, and quite a few films: Ray Milland's Panic in Year Zero!, Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later…, Michael Anderson's Logan's Run, Boris Sagal's The Omega Man, Lynne Littman's still-striking Testament (which shows just how much of an emotional punch you can pack with a budget of approximately $12).

On two completely different planes from each other, we can add Cormac McCarthy's The Road and the CBS drama Jericho to the shelf. Neither is hot-off-the-press new, but I'm just getting to them so fine, I'm late.

I'd never been able to finish a Cormac McCarthy book until The Road. His prose felt too affected for my taste—goth for boys—but The Road's stark minimalism actually allows the flights of poetry to support the book rather than choke it. The plot is simple: A man and his son travel through a blighted, ash-covered landscape where nothing grows anymore. They encounter some of the post-apocalyptic staples, like cannibalism and a hidden stash of food, but mostly McCarthy zeroes in on primal emotions and describes incredibly well the abyss the characters face on a daily basis.

Like The Day After, Jericho takes place in Kansas—shorthand, obviously, for all-American. I've only seen the pilot so far but the show looks decent, even though there's a surfeit of hugging. (Hugging has got to be the single most overused—and irritating—gesture in American movies and TV shows. It's a skin-deep show of support that signifies a lot and means nothing.) Jericho follows the Lost formula pretty closely in terms of the group of people it throws in together, down to a hunky-but-broodily-sensitive male lead. What the show lacks so far is that sense of existential dread that permeates the best post-apocalyptic fiction (I'd even include Bergman's Shame in that bunch), as illustrated by the fact that the creators couldn't even bring themselves to let the little girl die on the crashed school bus. Oh well, I'll take Jericho, even if it turns out to be more like Dawson's Irradiated Creek.

Next: Arctic expeditions run amok!

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