Every generation thinks they’re going to be the last ones slow-dancing in the bar when closing time comes around. The interest in how it’s all going to end is something that’s been around since the beginning, conjectures and speculation shared over a pint at the pub or while warming hands above a pile of hot coals burning in an industrial barrel.
It could be a diffuse nuclear disaster, interplanetary warfare, an uncontrollable outbreak of disease or that dowdy old spinster Mother Nature seeking her revenge. We might have been mistaken for millenia running, but this time — like every time — it’s the real deal.
On the morning of Dec. 21, it’ll be high time for prognosticators to thumb through horoscopes, crack open fortune cookies, read tea leaves, shuffle some tarot cards or shake a Magic 8 Ball. As for which harebrained prediction had it right, only time will tell. Perhaps even as the sun sets on a busy day chock full of apocalyptic catastrophe, there will be some semblance of humanity that remains. But as the old last-call adage goes, while we might not have to go home, we sure as all hell can’t stay here.
If Oppenheimer has anything to say about it, the world, as it was, will end with a bang. Mushroom clouds are always somewhere along the horizon in this scenario, as explored in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 cold war satire “Dr. Strangelove.” The fog of war lies across cragged wastelands and clouded moral judgment in the 1975 psychedelic sci-fi flick “A Boy and His Dog,” which follows teenage Vic and his telepathic spud Blood in a land ravaged by nuclear fallout and set in the not-so-distant future of 2024.
Hold on to your tinfoil hats, everyone. Since the original 1938 broadcast of Orson Welle’s radio drama “War of the Worlds,” the possibility of an extraterrestrial invasion has captivated the national imagination. The hysteria plays out in fears of insidious appropriation in 1956’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” alongside its equally if not far more unsettling 1976 remake, though likewise satisfied by the heroic, last-ditch efforts that form the tense brow-wiping moments in “Independence Day” (1996). While seeming flights of fancy for special effects producers, they’re predictions that explore social schisms while expanding the antagonistic divide of “us” and “them” to cosmic proportions.
Mind the tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes, lest we forget that we’re living in Big Momma’s house. If we needed any reminders, 1933’s “Deluge” was ahead of the game in its vision of an apocalypse brought on by an unprecedented cluster of trans-planetary natural disasters, as reprised in 2004’s “The Day After Tomorrow” and 2009’s “2012.” All in all, prepare for a catastrophic series of Facebook reposts of the same photo of a mega-tsunami wave hitting the Statue of Liberty, or Mount Rushmore or whatever.
Sometimes we just have to face that we might have brought this whole mess upon ourselves. Maybe we’ll run out of oil? “Mad Max” and that one guy in the helicopter will be there waiting for us back in 1979 to remind us they told us so. Maybe we’ll run out of potable water because the polar ice caps have melted entirely into the ocean and the earth has become a single, salt-watery marble. Kevin Costner and his magnificent bulge will be tsk-tsking aboard ship in 1995’s “Water World.” Or will biological warfare be our undoing? Possibly, says 1971’s “The Omega Man” and its modern revisiting in 2007’s “I Am Legend.” Maybe we’ll literally do ourselves into a mess of overpopulation, as explored by the hot and crowded hell-hole that is the world of “Soylent Green”(1973) and the cold, efficient dystopia that gets one protagonist to hit the road in “Logan’s Run” (1976).
It was a great party. But it’s time to trash this dump until someone — whether a ruthless dictator with a stockpile of nuclear bombs, big slimy aliens or mama nat’ — calls the cops. Now let’s get wasted.