2012 is a wonderful bit of preposterous entertainment. Have you seen the movie Speed? It has a scene where a runaway bus jumps across an expanse of missing freeway, totally defying the laws of physics. And yet the moment is still exhilarating. All of the action in 2012 is like that.
The movie is filled with people frantically fleeing from flying debris and with people, cars, and trains falling into canyons that didn’t exist a few seconds earlier. Los Angeles – where else? – splits open and its denizens tumble toward the Earth’s core while our heroes, led by the always appealing John Cusack, escape in a tiny plane, buildings collapsing within inches all around them.
Narrow escapes continue with Yellowstone going volcanic – as my wife frequently reminds me could happen any second – with lava everywhere and a mushroom cloud the likes of which hasn’t be seen since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Why though does molten rock never seem hot in movies? And why does a blast big enough to take out a national park only create enough wind to barely muss the hero’s hair?
Still, it’s all entertaining and the special effects are quite stunning. It’s the sort of movie where you sit back and go with the flow. I don’t usually eat popcorn during movies, but I did so this time with glee. And I wasn’t even all that bothered when my daughter texted me asking to buy her four tickets to New Moon. That’ll teach me to not forget to turn the darn thing off though.
Cusack plays Jackson Curtis, a divorced fledgling writer. He takes his two kids on a camping trip while his ex-wife Kate spends time with her boyfriend. And it is in this subplot that we best see what the movie is really about, a Noah-like punishment for sins.
There is a bit of corniness while Kate and her boyfriend are shopping for groceries. He is worried about their relationship and says, “It feels like something is coming between us.” Then, a crack in the earth – that we’ve long seen coming, setting off car alarms in the parking lot – opens up a crevasse between them, thrusting them apart.
Later, Kate suggests to Jackson that everything that is happening is their fault. It’s a throwaway line meaning something entirely different in context, but its implication is that all of this destruction has been caused by their divorcing and squabbling over their kids. The punishment seems ridiculously out of proportion, especially since they get along remarkably well, as far as divorced couples go.
But big disaster movies are often elaborate contraptions built around just such small human issues. All of Jackson’s fleeing is his running away from responsibility. All of the tearing of things apart is so a family can be put back together. All of the other subplots are variations of good and bad people getting what they deserve.
My favorite moment in 2012 came near the end. With civilization swallowed whole, one of the few books to survive is a novel by Jackson titled Farewell Atlantis. No, it’s not a copy of Hamlet or Catcher in the Rye or The Holy Bible. And this begs an interesting question: What books will survive the end of the world as we know it?
Leaving the theater and walking past about a hundred teenage girls camped out in the lobby, I wondered, “What if the only author to survive the end times turned out to be Stephenie Meyer?”