Dec. 14–21. TIFF Bell Lightbox.
If the world ends next week, some of us will feel pretty ripped off. After all, the movies have promised us a variety of spectacular planetary finales, none of which seem to be at hand despite the predictions of those ancient Mayans. Thus far, we’ve had no invasion by fire-breathing dragons (as per Reign of Fire), no reports of celestial objects about to collide with the Earth (as in Armageddon and Melancholia), no fights with Mohawk-wearing mutant bikers over the last cans of gasoline (The Road Warrior) and no trigger for that Doomsday Machine our governments didn’t tell us about (Dr. Strangelove). Worst of all is the absence of the surest sign of humankind’s coming extinction—Sean Connery naked but for a pair of red underpants such as the ones he wears in Zardoz.
A new series at TIFF Bell Lightbox that includes all of the aforementioned movies plus several more cult faves, Countdown to Armageddon is a timely reminder of what we’ll be missing if Dec. 21 really does ruin the holidays. Then again, it’s not so bad to skip out on the gruelling visions of our world’s death throes in the two most recent entries. Alfonso Cuarón’s bracing Children of Men (Dec. 17, 9:15 p.m.) gives us a version of 2027 in which global infertility, economic calamity, and political repression have pretty much done us in. The mood is so relentlessly grim that only the movie’s astonishing camerawork provides any kick. Curiously, the depressed young bride played by Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia (Dec. 16, 9:30 p.m.) actually perks up as the Earth gets closer to colliding with another planet, thereby ensuring our collective doom. But all hope has been long extinguished before Lars von Trier’s leaden apocalypse fantasy has run its course.
Naturally, many of us like to imagine that we’ll face the end with more fight in us, like the wisecracking astronauts led by Bruce Willis in Michael Bay’s affably bombastic Armageddon (Dec. 20, 9 p.m.) or the dragon-fighting bad-ass played by Matthew McConaughey in Rob Bowman’s supremely entertaining Reign of Fire (Dec. 21, 9 p.m.). Connery also cuts quite the figure in Zardoz (Dec. 18, 9 p.m.), John Boorman’s luridly bizarre dystopia about our descendants’ woes in 2293. Yet it’s Mel Gibson’s taciturn Max in George Miller’s still-exhilarating The Road Warrior (Dec. 21, 11:30 p.m.) who remains cinema’s most potent icon of post-apocalyptic machismo.
If T.S. Eliot’s right about things ending not with a bang but a whimper, then next week could turn out more like The Quiet Earth (Dec. 19, 9 p.m.), a modestly scaled but imaginative curio from New Zealand about a scientist who may be the last person left alive after a mysterious catastrophe. The characters in Don McKellar’s Last Night (Dec. 21, 6:30 p.m.) can seem just as lonely and bewildered, which is why their efforts to reach out to one another in the hours before Armageddon feel so funny, touching and true. With its Toronto setting, the movie may also provide some useful tips for local viewers who may be wondering how to handle a real-life doomsday scenario come Dec. 21. Judging by Last Night’s many shots of eerily abandoned streetcars, TTC service will be disrupted by the coming events, so if you need one more trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame or Medieval Times before the world ends, just take a taxi.