In Features, Issues

APOCALYPSE FICTION REDUX

Cillian Murphy wanders through a deserted London in 28 Days Later.

From the plague to the bomb, race riots to SARS, modern times have never failed to provide the real-life anxieties that make apocalypse fiction such smashing entertainment. And as Canadian beef imports slow and the terror alert remains at orange – with warnings that a movie theater could constitute a "soft target" – Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later is poised to capitalize on all our summer fears.

Despite its current resonance, however, 28 Days Later actually hails from a long line of eschatological tales, and part of the film’s fun is in identifying its various influences. The most obvious is Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend, which was made into a 1971 Charlton Heston movie, The Omega Man, and a 1964 movie called The Last Man on Earth. George A. Romero has said that his own living dead were inspired by Matheson’s zombies. More recently the novel has floated around Hollywood in a fanboy-tracked adaptation that launched the career of The Cell scribe Mark Protosevich and has attracted actors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Will Smith.

Although 28 Days Later recalls such touchstones as Escape from New York (1981) and A Boy and His Dog (1975), the film’s main influences may be literary. John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids (1951) features a hero who flees a London hospital only to find that most humans have been blinded and that the world is being attacked by flesh-eating plants. And 28 Days Later screenwriter Alex Garland cites the early "disaster novels" of J. G. Ballard as touchstones. These Wyndham-inspired novels – including The Drowned World (1962), featuring a submerged, depopulated London, The Burning World (1964) and The Crystal World (1966) – contain protagonists who react to their changing environments with a kind of melancholy fascination. At the time, Ballard’s end-of-the-world elegies were seen by flower powerers as relentlessly gloomy and nihilistic. But by tying society’s demise to ecological change – and by positing that some humans might adapt to the new order – Ballard coaxed a radical objective into dystopian fiction, an approach that reverberates in the contemporary films of Boyle and David Cronenberg and in the Matrix trilogy. – Scott Macaulay

Go to main article: The Diseased World.

VOD CALENDAR

Filmmaker's curated calendar of the latest video on demand titles.
Free Men Sensation Restless City
See the VOD Calendar →