Twenty minutes into the Future…

During the entirely too excessive amount of time I spent on planes yesterday, one of them offered Mad Max[1] as an in-flight movie. And I saw the summary and grumbled, because the summary ran

In a post apocalyptic world, Australian policeman Max seeks to avenge the death of his family at the hands of bestial marauding bikers. (115 min)

Mad Max, I maintain, is not a post-apocalyptic movie (and dammit, you hyphenate that when it’s an adjective). I would listen to arguments that it’s a world in the slow beginnings of an apocalypse as society crumbles into a new dark age[2], but it ain’t post-apocalyptic. There wasn’t an apocalypse.

I do think it’s part of a really identifiable sub-genre of dark dystopias that are very low science fiction (if any) and that I think tend to get lumped into SF because they’re set “technically in the future” rather than because they’re movies about the effects of a new technology. I mean, things are in the future and it’s different and bad–that’s part of what SF is, right?

(We shall now pause for a regularly scheduled observation that if all SF was was complaints about how everything was going to hell, it would not deserve its title as “the literature of ideas”. Future rants about the reactionary nature of time travel may follow.)

But these movies… you know the kind I mean, right? The setting of Mad Max is undermaintained and there’s been a decay of the social order for some unspecified reason, but that’s it. Escape from New York came out in ’81, and there really isn’t any new technology in there; a bunch of it was probably developed during World War III, but that never really comes up.¬†Dead End Drive-In is a low-tech (and very low-budget) excuse to pen a bunch of unemployed hooligans up in a isolated parking lot and leave them there.

I’m not saying these different-society-plausible-technology movies are bad. Some of them are bad. Some of them are fun. Some of them are pretty cool.

But I really don’t think they’re speculative fiction, and I wish I had a name for the sub-genre. I suppose they’re dystopias, or possibly just near-future dystopias, but I kind of wonder if someone else has already thought about this and come up with a better name.

(NB: Not saying the subgenre of “twenty minutes from now, it’ll be the grim dark future” is exclusively low or no SF–you can look at Rollerball, Death Race 2000, or RoboCop for counterexamples. Or Max Headroom, which is the source of the post’s title. And I have a bit to say about both Max Headroom and RoboCop, but it’s actually still 10 p.m. on my body clock and I think I need a nap, never mind all this sunshine.)

[1] Not Road Warrior, not Beyond Thunderdome, not Fury Road, just Mad Max.
[2] The distinction between apocalypse and societal decline is interesting, and one that I suspect largely has to do with framing and speed. (Possibly enhanced by weapons of mass destruction. I suspect that a society that crumbles without anyone having the potential to fire off nukes is going to do so rather more gracefully than a society with said potential, insofar as such processes can be called graceful.)

I think it’s the insects’ turn.

Poster for the 1988 movie MIRACLE MILE. I rewatched Miracle Mile tonight; last night, actually, by the time this post is done. (Spoilers follow.)

If you don’t know it; it’s a 1988 movie about a guy who accidentally gets a phone call telling him nuclear war is starting (has started? the missiles are locked in, at any rate), and LA will be nuked in 70 minutes. The rest of the movie is him trying to get to his girlfriend and escape the city.

He manages one of these things.

Miracle Mile is dated, and its pacing and dialogue make it a bit hard to approach, but it pulls itself together as the film goes on. Some of the scenes towards the end are surprisingly bleak; the frantic crawl through the traffic jam is something I’ve never quite seen a match for. And it is an unapologetically downer ending[1]; I find it rather touching as well, which mellows it slightly, but fundamentally this is a movie that unquestioningly accepts that¬† nuclear war is going to be the end of things and waits for the characters to catch up.

“People are going to help each other, aren’t they? Rebuilding things?”
“I think it’s the insects’ turn.”

I would love to see a remake of it, but I’m not sure it could be done. It seems very much a movie rooted in the Cold War; the idea that a nuclear war could happen, that it was such a real and obvious and accepted fear that with so little prompting people would behave that way. I think you could convey a world in which that fear was present, but I think that for the audience it might be a case of learning that fear, not recognizing that fear.

[1] I said, to the light of my life, “is it really that much of a downer?” And he said to me, “World War Three started, LA is nuked, the main characters drown in tar. It’s a downer.”
He has a point.

“I have something to give you. I don’t want it anymore.”

Poster for the 1994 movie The Crow.Last week (I meant to ramble about this earlier, but it’s been a somewhat hectic Thursday-evening-through-weekend), I was talking to a friend about movies, and she mentioned that she’d not only see The Wrath of Khan, she’d snuck out of school to see it when it opened in the theatres. Twice.

I never did that[1], but I was thinking about a movie that I went to see six times in the first month or so after it opened in the theatres[2], and that is The Crow. Murder, revenance[3], rain, fire, revenge, poetry quoted and lines spoken; I loved that movie so very much, and even writing about it now has some of the dialogue chiming around my head and I am smiling.

But I could never remember the ending. I mean, I remembered Sarah being kidnapped, I remembered the fight in the church, I remembered the scene with Shelley at the end. But I never remembered what Eric did to beat Top Dollar. It just went right out of my mind, which I suppose is nice in that it made the fight much tenser, since I wasn’t sure how he was possibly going to survive that.

And it’s odd, to forget that. Because it’s a deeply satisfying moment, in its way.

Same with The Shining–not the movie, this time, but the book. I remember the ending; you will remember what your father forgot, the boiler, the capering figure before the flames. But for the first few years I read it–during which I’m guessing I read it at least three times–I never remembered the scene where Jack smashed his own face with the roque mallet, and what looked out was the Overlook Motel.

In its own way, that’s as pivotal a scene to The Shining as Eric inflicting Shelley’s pain is to The Crow; the one is an extremely visceral representation of the effects of the haunted house, the other’s an encapsulation of revenge that is inarguably earned and was explicitly justified by the target not seven seconds earlier. They could have been written out, but it’s hard to imagine them being replaced by anything that would be better suited to the story.

So I’m honestly puzzled as to why I couldn’t remember them. I first read The Shining when I was eleven or twelve, and I guess it’s possible that I just had trouble grasping the concretization of such an abstract concept, but that makes no sense in the context of The Crow. I was older, and the concept there is a lot less abstract.

And of course, now I’m wondering if there are other things that I’ve forgotten the same way, blanked out after multiple readings or viewings. I suppose I couldn’t tell, which is rather annoying. (I’m guessing I’m not the only person who has these blank spots, but I’m also guessing that other people with these blank spots don’t necessarily share mine. Which makes em even more curious about what causes them, I think.)

[1] Off the top of my head, I am an extremely boring person, and the only school-related movie incident I can recall is when I got so many demerits for staying up reading after lights-out at boarding school that I was grounded and could not go see Bram Stoker’s Dracula the one day it was playing.
[2] The sixth time, my dad went with me and said I wasn’t old enough to see it again. It seems like it would be kind of a moot point by then, but moving on.
[3] This is now a word.