Things I Learned from Movie X: 2012
By Edwin Davies
November 17, 2010

That Say Anything... sequel is sounding better all the time.

Settle down everyone, class is in session! Now, do you want to learn, or do you just want to watch a movie and make snide remarks? I thought so. Let us commence.

Ever since he blew up a selection of landmarks in 1996's Independence Day, Roland Emmerich has dedicated his life to seeking out new and more explodery ways to destroy first America, and then the world. He had become the chief, and possibly only, curator of the curious sub-genre referred to as "Disaster Porn," and in that vein 2012 could be considered his Debbie Does Dallas and Deep Throat combined. Using a potent mix of science, mysticism and bullshit, he gives himself free rein to sink cities, devastate continents and generally cause a ruckus. Look beneath the special effects, the melodrama and John Cusack's creepily inexpressive face (put him in a staring contest with Keanu Reeves and you've got a hell of fight on your hands), and you will find some truly profound lessons that will make you a better, stronger person and will help you lose 20 pounds.

Roland Emmerich would have us all believe that the Mayans as a culture were advanced in the areas of language, art and utter nonsense. With the turn of the millennium and the failure of Y2K to turn our toasters against us in an orgy of crumbs and blood, doomsayers and apocalypse junkies found themselves at a loose end. With all that aimless pre-millennial fear and malaise spent, they'd have to wait a whole century for another arbitrary date to make people fear. Sure, they could keep interpreting Nostradamus in just the right way so that they could proclaim every other year would bring about the End Times, but that gets old pretty quickly and the people of the world aren't like Charlie Brown; if you keep pulling that apocalypse you promised away at the last second, eventually they're just going to go and play something else.

Fortunately, if there's an ancient prophecy that can be misinterpreted, people will misinterpret the hell out of it and call it fate. So, according to some people, since the Mayan Long Count calendar ends in the year 2012, that means that the world will end as
well, rather than being a sign that the Mayans need to go to the store and buy a new calendar. In actuality, the end of the Mayan calendar marks the end of a "cycle" in the existence of the Earth, and that each of these cycles lasts 5125 years. Since the Mayans believed that cycles of existence existed before the current one, we can assume that on December 22, 2012, another cycle will begin, and that everyone should really start preparing for all the hysteria over 7137.

Of course, the dawning of a new age that is not noticeably different to the old one doesn't really give lots of scope for explosions and car chases, so Roland Emmerich and his co-writers came up with a story about neutrinos from the sun causing the Earth's core to heat up, which makes total sense if you slam your head into a brick wall a few times until yuo c an'tr reairlly thjjnmk or spellk anhimorew. I don't see why they couldn't just send Aaron Eckhart and Stanley Tucci down there to sort it out again. That worked pretty well the first time.

The Bible doesn't support divorce and neither does the Apocalypse

At the start of the film, science fiction author John Cusack is estranged from his wife, Amanda Peet, because she got tired of him
being distant and writerly and junk, so she has taken their son and daughter and now lives with her new boyfriend, a plastic surgeon and amateur pilot (did they choose his job and skillset by picking words out of a hat?) played by Thomas McCarthy.* By all accounts, Peet and McCarthy are happy, and she seems to be in a much more stable relationship than she was with Cusack and his crazy end of the world theories. But the world has other plans, and as they are thrown together by the end of days, Cusack and Peet rediscover some of that fire that went out long ago. And I do mean some of that fire because, by the point in the film that McCarthy's character gets ground up into plastic surgeon and amateur pilot foie gras, they don't actually love each other again, they just don't hate each other. But that's close enough, and in the end, isn't it worth the deaths of billions if it means that a couple of people can get together on the rebound as they stand atop the crushed bones of the one man who truly seemed to respect and care for her?

*2009 was a year of highs and lows Thomas McCarthy. As well as getting a supporting role in a Roland Emmerich film, he landed his first Oscar nomination for his work on the screenplay for Pixar's magnificent Up. I'd like to take this opportunity to say that if anyone reading this hasn't seen either of the films he wrote and directed, 2003's The Station Agent and 2007's The Visitor, please do so. Both were easily among the very best films released in their respective years.

If you're not John Cusack, you don't deserve to live

Obviously in a movie where the world cracks open and whole cities fall down into the molten maw of Hades itself, people are going to die. If they didn't, it would be like watching an Adam Sandler film that didn't feature Rob Schneider. It's a concept too gruesome to comprehend. However, 2012 represents something of an apotheosis of disaster porn as it wholeheartedly embraces the idea that only the main character and his boring baggage of a family have to survive whilst it gleefully slaughters everyone around them. Everywhere John Cusack goes, disaster strikes and bodies are left strewn in his wake, whilst he and his family (and any characters who have yet to fulfill their usefulness to the plot) are left unscathed. He's like Neo, but he dodges fissures in the Earth rather than bullets.

One of the plot strands of the film centres on a cruise ship on which two aging musicians (George Segal and Blu Mankuma) are stranded after it is hit by the first wave of earthquakes caused by the melting of the Earth's crust hit. The film does not want you to have any illusions about their role; these characters are introduced solely to die. They don't have any hope of survival, since they're on a regular old cruise ship and not one of the magic arks that everyone in the film is rushing to get on, there will be no last minute reprieve. They spend the whole film being thrown about as they wait for death's cold grip to take them, and their misery is compounded by their own sense of grief at the missed chances they had with their children. In its way, this section of the film is far crueler and more sadistic than anything in the Saw series. At least Jigsaw gives you a hacksaw.