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Apocalypse, please: 2012

Science, religion, anxiety: is the end of the world just fluff?

There is a bit of truth in every legend. How to behave when facing a prophecy then? Many of us, witnessing terribly shocking facts, such as the first potential evidence of the upcoming end of the world, would probably react by looking for safety in prayers. Anyway, at least by looking at the latest Roland Emmerich branded work, called “2012”, this would definitely be the worst option and would undoubtedly lead to an unavoidable death, even if a rather spectacular one.

Better though to start from the beginning; Very often, the least pretentious cultural products and at a first sight, the least interesting ones, are those which perfectly underline the processes of the society which has generated them; that’s why a movie like “2012”, which could superficially be categorized as a simple “blockbuster”, is extremely indicative of the rough conflict occurring throughout western society, among some of the most relevant institutions.

A war with no quarter between religion and secularization is taking place, shadowed by the ghost of the end of the world. This war is externalized in disguise: the movie we are talking about in fact, shows a bizarre convergence of scientific and religious elements, linked together by the ” glue of superstition”; it would even be possible to insinuate that it is the perfect example of the “new age” culture, but we will simply observe that “2012” gives a blow to the rim and one on cask, scientifically explaining the apocalypse that is shown, but constantly recalling “the Apocalypse”, the Christian one, that will allegedly put an end to time and the universe.

The most alert observers have certainly noticed that many references can be somehow “constrained”: the 21st of December, 2012, the day of the alleged end of the world is a date that has nothing to share with the Christian tradition. On the contrary, it is known that it is the date of the end of the 13th b’ak’tun, according to the Maya calendar, also known as the “long count” but what we forget to add is that the Maya calendar is a progressive one, that, after the end of the 13th b’ak’tun, contemplates the beginning of the 14th and so on.

The contemporary superstition, that can be faced only with a great amount of sense of humour, since it gathers uncountable mistakes and howlers, culminates in the assertion that Maya people, disappeared in an inexplicable way, would foresee, for the year 2012, an extremely rare galactic alignment of the planets, harbinger of incredible misfortune. Apparently, we were too distracted to notice these tragedies, since this alignment has already occurred in 2002 and has passed by without any comment.

Anyway, it is sure that 2012 will be a remarkable turning point for the new age culture, probably a tragic one: for mankind and our planet. Ironically then, after the soils (and the lives) a few centuries ago, even the calendar is stolen from the Mayas, to benefit the traditional Christian symbolism, which is externalized in the movie with its full evocative power.

The presence of this symbolism is constant, especially in the most relevant scenes of the movie: big cities, mainly the United States’ ones, die because of earthquakes and fire, while an approximately 8 kms high tsunami almost manages to annihilate the whole of mankind; only a few “chosen ones” manage to survive, sailing on huge boats, appropriately called “arks”. These references are undoubtedly interesting, but not well determinant; in fact, Damian Thompson, in his work about millenarianism called “The end of time” (1996), reminds us that basically every single society has the credence that “history moves throughout a predetermined birth and demise process, with a flood at the beginning of the cycle and a fire at the end”. More precisely, we can claim that the tsunami, drowning almost totally the Earth, replaces the universal flood in symbolizing a new beginning, but it is not over here.

In the most evocative scene of the movie, there is a section that strongly underlines the remarkable debt which the work has to the Christian tradition: in Rome, while earth and sea-quakes start disfiguring our planet, the cardinals who are praying in the Cappella Sistina (Sistine Chapel) are interrupted by a crack that suddenly pops up in the ceiling, more precisely in the part of the fresco that pictures the creation of Adam and makes its way exactly between the index fingers of God and the first man.

If Michelangelo’s masterpiece represents the eternal alliance between God and men, the crack can only indicate the opposite: the breakdown of the pact, which is broken while the Basilica of St. Peter collapses, overwhelming the people praying in the adjoining square and which represents one of the main symbols of Christianity. The ruin of the papacy, along with the scene of the pope who pronounces the last blessing, unequivocally establishes a handover between religion and science: this last one is in charge of the burden of rescuing mankind from extinction, while scientists substitute priests in their saving role as “guides of the new world”; who stands to pray is lost, who trusts science will be among those few chosen ones who will survive the catastrophe.

Moreover, even at the very beginning of the film it is possible to recognize that there is no actual room for supernatural or metaphysics: the source of the tragedy is a neutrinos storm and the overheating of Earth’s core, not some sort of divine anger or the arrival of the Antichrist or aliens, while the scientists are those who can foresee what will come next, not mere prophets. Finally, a new human society will spring up in Africa, the continent where, according to biologists and anthropologists, the human species was born; it is necessary now to say a few words, though, also about the impressive means that technology gives humanity: a flotilla of towering arks, able to carry about 400,000 people and even to stand the impact of a tidal wave that might submerge the Himalayas.

These are not only a renewed version of Noah’s ark and not even of the Ark of the Covenant, which would represent the alliance between man and God, while they do represent the union between men and machines, quickly exceeding other movie directors’ (such as James Cameron and the Wachowski brothers) doubts on such a tormented topic.

It is dutiful to notice that a movie that stages an apocalypse, an element whose own existence is due to the existence of religion itself (mainly the Christian one), actually and ironically declares its defeat, stating the full power of secularism and science. Testifying the ineradicable influence that religion has had on the structure of our thought identity, the final scenes do recall the Christian millennium, a long peace period, characterized by the authority of the righteous. (Apocalypse of John, 20, 2-7).

To sum up, “2012” is the tip of an iceberg built upon millenarian/apocalyptic anxiety, show up even in the transition from 1999 to 2000, whose explanation is given by Thompson himself: “Anxiety springs up when the social and intellectual structures collapse and people are disoriented. This is the reply to change and its variations”. Where are we living now? Isn’t this a changing and uncertain era?

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