As we all know, the world is supposed to end this year, dropping us all into a huge pit of who-knows-what. In an effort to be prepared, we’ve been thinking about what kind of post-apocalyptic world would best suit us — and since the end-date is a fantasy, we think it only fitting that the only resultant post-apocalyptic scenarios we consider be just as fictional. In our pop-culture focused minds, it just seems like it ought to work out that way. Accordingly, we’ve sifted through the many post-apocalyptic worlds in literature and film to find the best and the worst possible outcomes, at least in our eyes. But to each his own — would you rather live in Zombieland than in the Matrix? Or is your worst nightmare or best case scenario not represented here? Let us know in the comments.
This classic manga (and Studio Ghibli film) is set 1000 years after the “Seven Days of Fire”, a disaster that destroyed industrial civilization, turned the sea to poison, and turned the earth into a vast, polluted forest called the “Sea of Corruption” that pushes the surviving humans to ever-smaller open land. However, princess Nausicaä discovers that the forest is actually a purifying force, meant to restore the planet. We think the sense of quiet wonder that pervades this series is something we would be happy to wait in until the world rekindles itself — especially if we had our own fox-squirrel to ride on our shoulders.
Cloud Atlas (“Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After”)
The post-apocalyptic section of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas is probably one of the best options we could hope for — a return to tribal pre-civilization on the banks of Hawaii with only the barest winks of the hyper-tech society that once was. Of course, living as a savage has its own disadvantages, but after all the struggles of the modern age, we might be happy to revert to a simpler time — way simpler. After all, “Old’uns’ Smart mastered sicks, miles, seeds an’ made miracles ord’nary, but it din’t master one thing, nay, a hunger in the hearts o’ humans, yay, a hunger for more.”
Yes, the real world as portrayed in The Matrix would be a terrible place to live, but we probably wouldn’t live there — we’d probably be one of the people in the mind game of the Matrix. But, ask yourselves: would it really be so bad to go on living an exact replica of your life, never knowing that it was fake? Sure, on an intellectual level it’s scary, but compare that with having to actually face a battle to the death for every bite of bread, or getting eaten by zombie-robot-aliens. After all, ignorance is bliss.
Sure, the world of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games isn’t great — the inhabitants of the districts live under the tyrannical thumb of the Capitol, and the Capitol citizens are completely oblivious and shallow, but other than the whole reality TV/battle royale thing once a year, it’s not so bad. At least there are ways to feed yourself and some kind of existant society that allows you to live in peace with your family — as long as the odds stay in your favor. Plus, if we lived in the Capitol, we’d totally get some of those rad-sounding gold face tattoos. Just saying.
In Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s highly stylized black comedy, grain is the new currency and the world seems to have resorted to cannibalism to stay alive — including the strange residents of an apartment building, who lure in new tenants to turn into supper. The film is strangely upbeat for having such a frightening premise, and though we would be terrified to live in a world where normal people were reduced to cannibalism, we think we’d probably join the vegetarian “Troglodytes,” who live in the sewers and seek to overthrow the flesh-eating surface-dwellers. Then at least we’d get to have a cool nickname and maybe a little fun.
The Book of Eli
Though this is a fairly standard destroyed-earth scenario, set thirty years after a nuclear apocalypse, what really scares us about this film is the fact that no one can read. Terrifying! Also, if a post-apocalyptic life is as boring as this movie was, just kill us now.
In this weird YA novel by Garth Nix, a “Change” occurs, effectively disappearing everyone over the age of fourteen. The, the evil Overlords come to earth and harvest children on their “Sad Birthday,” using their parts to create terrible creatures. Change Talents or not, we would definitely not want to live in a world where you’re killed as soon as you hit puberty. Come on, isn’t puberty punishment enough on its own?
A Boy and His Dog
Harlan Ellison’s writings and the subsequent film imagine life post-WWIV in the remains of Phoenix, AZ. Society is non-existent, mutants, gangs and scavengers roam the dusty hills, including Vic and his telepathic dog Blood, who may be the most intelligent and self-aware being left on the planet. Most survivors are men, so women have been denigrated to a commodity, and one rarer than food or clean water, so highly sought after but poorly treated once nabbed. Everyone is brutal and driven by their worst impulses, and there seems to be no way out.
Ah yes, the zombie apocalypse. We’re using Zombieland here because we love Woody Harrelson, but consider this a place-holder for any of the myriad zombie-based end-of-days scenarios. We know some people might be excited to live in a video game and get to kill lots of slow-moving targets whose heads explode extravagantly, but we would not. The constant pressure of feeling like someone was going to come up behind us at any moment and eat our brains would definitely be too much for us, and we really couldn’t deal with all that gore on a daily basis. However, living without Twinkies would be no problem.
Cormac McCarthy’s bleak, dire landscape is our worst nightmare, as far as post-apocalyptic scenarios are concerned. It’s not that everything is so bad — there are no raging fires, no evil alien overlords, no zombies — but that everything is so bleakly hopeless. The idea of wandering forever in the obliterated former world with no real destination, dodging every other human on earth with no hope of a new life, is downright terrifying.