– Bobby Draper, The Flood
He’s very young, but Bobby Draper is right: there’s nothing like a good movie when you’re wrecked.
The great gift of the movies is oblivion. Roger Ebert once said, “If a movie is really working, you forget for two hours your Social Security number and where your car is parked.” When your own life becomes a problem you can’t fix, you need the kind of mental transport only movies can provide.
Don and Bobby made a great choice with Planet Of the Apes: it’s hard to beat science fiction for meaningful escapism. When it’s my bad day, I tend to look for a really good disaster movie, preferably something with a touch of liberal angst. (I could have sketched out the plot for The Day After Tomorrow myself.) When I was grieving the loss of my Dad in late 2011, Contagion was perfect. The whole world’s getting sick and dying, and Gwyneth Paltrow started it: even on a good day, that story wins.
The best kind of disaster flick has a timer. “Day 2,” it starts: things are headed downhill already, there’s nothing we can do. It’s got a downward momentum that’s speedy and solid: that guy on the bus is gonna get it, the skinny-dipping girl’s an idiot for being out that far, and just look at this fool on the roof of the Capital Records building! Who goes out to greet the alien invaders with a welcome sign?
In my kind of movie, you know all along — however it ends, whether Nicole Kidman becomes one of the pod people or the government epidemiologist gets his dose of the vaccine — you’re going to figure out what went wrong. It’s too late for the poor dead people in the movie, but you’ll sure as hell never forget to wash your hands again.
In early 1989, when I was dealing with the death of a friend and trying to finish my Master’s degree, Die Hard fell a bit short of the mark. (I prefer it when the source of the disaster is distant and indifferent, like God. No real villains, few heroes.) But the classics always work: to this day, when I’m sick I only want to watch Jaws.
What about you, Basketcases? What’s your popcorn flick when the world is going to hell?