Thursday, March 10, 2005

Natural Disasters, Icebergs, and Cockroaches

I didn't expect much from the Roland Emmerich film, "The Day After Tomorrow.” Because of my interest in global warming, the televised trailers caught my eye initially, but the sour reviews convinced me to skip the film in theaters. Two months after it was released on DVD and video, however, I decided to rent it.

The movie features a young, blind chemotherapy patient who clings to his copy of "Peter Pan.," much of the dialogue is ham-fisted, and the central father-son story line is threadbare. Still, “The Day After Tomorrow” is markedly better than I expected. The special effects, lampooned by some critics, are excellent and the acting, contrary to critical consensus, is fine. It’s no triumph of cinema, but it does make the viewer ask some tough questions about how we spend our days here.

And while the movie does greatly exaggerate the speed of a sudden onset ice age, is it really deserving of the vitriolic criticism it received? Anthony Lane, writing in The New Yorker, proclaims that he is “determined to double his consumption of fossil fuels” after seeing the film. Perhaps such negative reactions (even those shrouded in half-jest) are a result of the film’s proposal that civilization, movie criticism included, will be wiped away, whether by water, wind, fire, or deep shaking?

Such a humbling possibility should not be taken lightly. Organic Matter recently brought this BBC article on “supervolcano” risks to my attention. In the article, geologist Stephen Self says, “We don't want to be sensationalist about this, but it's going to happen. We just can't say exactly when.” This statement could be applied to any number of natural disasters.

Even in our age of technological wizardry, one in which we litigate to postpone death, clone half-breeds to "save" endangered species, and play video games to wage war, Nature remains our master and commander. It is often said that the cockroach will survive long after humanity expires, after our achievements are covered and meaningless. Perhaps the statement has lost some of its impact through repetition, but I always find myself returning to the chestnut.

The cockroach will survive long after humanity expires. It's a humbling thought, and quite something to consider. An old “artist statement’ of mine comes to mind:
"Whenever I attempt to “explain” my work I find myself thinking of desolate highways or an empty bed with strewn sheets. Long, lonely stretches of highway make me think of icebergs and the tenuous nature of humanity’s accomplishments. To some extent, everything makes me think of our imminent demise: the dust under the sofa, the stars above, pencil shavings, my computer screen. This acceptance of death, whether it be that of an individual or a species, results not in nihilism but in optimistic pessimism. Though we will continue to make mistakes until our end, Nature, herself, will learn from our efforts."
In short, as scary as “The Day After Tomorrow” or supervolcanos are, as helpless as we would be in the face of such natural wrath, we are but part of the greater whole. Though our accomplishments and temples may corrode and crumble, though no one will be here to appreciate them, our energy will live on. The great experiment will continue. Dear, flawed Albert got it right: E=MC2.

Photo credit: ripped from Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research website

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