Wednesday, December 4, 2013

England under duress

Thanks to How I Live Now, which I saw Monday, I am aware of a new subgenre of movies:

"England Under Duress" movies.

Movies set in a post-apocalyptic Britain have a certain feel to them, don't they? A certain look of popping grubbiness. Together they form a loose fraternity of thematic compatriots.

How I Live Now is just the most recent, though as soon as I became aware of this subgenre, two others immediately popped into my mind: Children of Men and 28 Days Later. Never Let Me Go is in similar territory, by being in a dystopian future set in the past.

I like EUD movies. I like them a lot. In fact, if the examples I've come up with mean anything, I am very favorably predisposed toward anything that even gives off a whiff of this kind of movie.

How I Live Now is the adaptation of a YA novel about an American girl (the brilliant British teenage actress Saoirse Ronan) who is shipped to England just in time to become embroiled in a 21st century World War III, although one that doesn't have quite the catastrophic toll we've come to expect from movies that dramatize World War III. The toll is pretty traumatizing for a teen readership, though, I must say. The movie "goes there" from time to time. It's unafraid to tear our hearts out on occasion.

And England sure does look good as a fallen society.

I suspect it is mostly in the cinematography, but there's also something about England itself that makes it a good setting for this type of movie -- other than just being home to one of the world's top film industries. I suspect the country has that permanently moist look of just having been rained upon, and rain is pretty much the predominant mode of post apocalypse. That said, I don't believe it rains once in How I Live Now, so it's not quite as simple as that, either.

I think I'm trying to fumble my way to a more significant point when there may not be one waiting for me, but I'll carry on for a few more paragraphs anyway. The roots of this may go back a couple decades at least, to movies like A Clockwork Orange and Sid and Nancy, which are obviously both informed by the punk rock movement. Neither of those films is explicitly post-apocalyptic, but there is an apocalyptic mentality at work in both -- a sense that the world even as it is constructed in our lives today is on the verge of apocalypse.

I think England also has the advantage of its grim determination in making the bleakness more, I don't know, quotidian. Children of Men specifically addresses the notion of England soldiering on while the rest of the world goes to pieces. So maybe England is where one can find a functional post-apocalyptic environment, like the one seen in Children. It's the everyday, lived-in quality of a society in ruins that distinguishes these England Under Duress movies.

I'm sure there are other examples of this phenomenon, but as it is almost midnight and I started writing this post yesterday morning, I think I will leave off for now.


Don Handsome said...

It DOES rain in How I Live Now - but its mostly shot in closeups to show the rain washing nuclear ash off of the trees.

But I love this England Under Duress concept. I wonder if its based in part on the fact that we've seen so many England survives or suffers through WWII movies that its easy to imagine what a post apocalyptic England would look like - because we've seen Brits surviving before so and because setting aside certain obvious post-WW developments, England's architecture largely looks the same now as it did in WW II, and therefore would conceivably look the same in the future as it did in WW II.

Vancetastic said...

Those are great observations. It's true that England is the only English-speaking country that has had a fair amount of war on its soil in the last century, so we have certainly been exposed to this many times on film. I think the fact that England has buildings that are a thousand years old also adds to the notion of it soldiering on through thick and thin.