The Bible and other religious texts identify several elements that will foreshadow the end of the world: earthquakes, wars and fires raging out of control, the dead rising to life, plagues and pestilence, and Woody Harrelson. Ok, I added that last one, but I find it oddly significant that the actor has roles in at least two new movies out of a growing number that deal with the apocalypse and/or its aftermath.
In the current Zombieland, Harrelson plays the leader of a small group of survivors struggling to make it in a world that has been overrun with the living dead. Roland Emmerich's 2012 (in theaters November 13) casts Harrelson as one among billions trying to outrun an impending global cataclysm some allege was predicted long ago by the Mayans. Did the Mayans similarly anticipate Harrelson's 21st century standing as would-be savior of humankind?
Between now and the year 2012, I foresee a raft of apocalypse-themed movies. 9 (the animated, post-human adventure, not the Rob Marshall-directed musical) is already playing (read my review here), and The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy's stunning novel, is due by year's end. Gloom-and-doom is increasingly the rage in our cultural zeitgeist, which in turn feeds the Hollywood moviemaking machine.
But will we soon experience the actual end of days? That's a question that, in my experience, quite a few people are asking themselves but are afraid or embarrassed to discuss openly. As tsunamis decimate coastal communities, as world economies decline, as the ice caps melt, as new viruses or new strains of existing viruses infect us, and as Iran and North Korea strive to arm themselves with nuclear weapons, some believe the initial signs of impending Armageddon are already upon us. Who can say with certainty that any of us will still be here a mere three years from now?
As a Christian, I have long tried to take Jesus' admonition in the New Testament to "Be prepared" for the end seriously. Whether "the end" will translate ultimately as the end of my own life or the end of all life as we know it is murky if not completely unknowable. Other world religions have their own messages and practices regarding the seemingly inevitable end of the world.
Keeping the end of life in mind doesn't translate for me into a fearful, depressed mindset. Rather, it helps me to appreciate each day — indeed, each moment — all the more. I regularly try to impress this on the patients I serve daily who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and are under hospice care. No matter what their religious background, virtually all respond positively, even eagerly, to my encouragement to live in the now and make the most of it.
Please don't get the wrong impression; I'm not about to start pacing the streets, carrying a placard reading "Repent! The end is nigh!" However, even country-western singer Tim McGraw has proclaimed the mantra "Live Like You Were Dying" to great success, indicating that many people do understand the wisdom in such an approach. With it comes the invitation to apologize to those we have hurt, forgive those who have offended us, and accomplish to the best of our ability the goals that we consider most important.
I can't tell you whether the world is going to end in 2012 or not. I wish I could. Frankly, I hope it doesn't. There's likely little we can do about it one way or the other, so there's no point in worrying about it. Let's all live like we are dying and make the most of the precious time we do have. Besides, if the end is that close at hand, Woody Harrelson might still be around to save us.
By Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.