Alongside the so-bad-it’s-good ridiculous pleasures of Birdemic, Ricky decided to give me something a little more cerebral, with this movie detailing a high school philosophy class’s thought experiment about how they would survive the apocalypse. I generally love cerebral movies about philosophy, so this was a good pick for me.
It’s the final class period of senior year, and their professor Mr. Zimit (James D’Arcy) posits a final exam of sorts, with the premise that a nuclear disaster is incoming, there’s a bunker that will protect 10 people (there are twenty students plus the professor) for a year so they can rebuild civilization after it’s safe to come out of the bunker. He gives them all cards at random defining their jobs (structural engineer, electrician, poet, opera singer, organic farmer, etc.) and, in a second round of the experiment, a secondary characteristic that may or may not change their “value” to the collective.
One girl, Petra, quickly emerges as the leader of the students, both in the classroom itself (Mr. Zimit identifies her early on as his best student) and in the experiment (she has the most positive characteristics and is basically guaranteed a spot in the bunker every time), but she’s also the one least willing to play along with the rules Mr. Zimit outlines – whether it’s kicking him out of his own bunker or completely changing how “value” is determined, she’s gonna do her own thing, much to his annoyance.
I loved a lot of this. The film looks stunning, though I imagine most of the gorgeous backgrounds are digital, with each iteration of the thought experiment playing out as if it’s really happening in locations like Indonesian ruins, a vast desert, or a tropical paradise. It’s difficult to believe at times that they went to this much role-play detail in the classroom, but I was fine going along with it.
The main ethical question is far from new – how do you choose which people to save and which to doom to destruction in a situation like this. As if to highlight how basic questions like this are to an intro to philosophy class, there’s a rather hamfisted section at the beginning where the students explain their favorite ethical conundrums, like whether you push the fat man onto the train tracks to derail a train and keep it from hitting five other people. Obviously if they’ve just had a class in philosophy, they all know these and there’s little point in telling them again, but whatever. It’s an easy way to let the audience know what the film is going to be about.
*major spoilers in next paragraph; minor ones in the last paragraph*
The first couple of times in the doomsday scenario, they elect bunker people logically, based on the skill sets and secondary characteristics on their cards. When both of those fail, Petra chooses people based not on their skillsets, but on other, more intuitive logic, which drives Mr. Zimit up the wall. She chooses the poet, the opera singer, the poker player, and other people who can bring a little laughter, art, and humanity into their year in the bunker. I loved this (Mr. Zimit eliminated the poet right off the bat the first two times, which I thought was ridiculous – civilizations need poets and literature to remember what it even means to be human, and any good philosopher should know that), but thought it disappointing that it ultimately meant they died anyway, though with acceptance and joy in Petra’s version. I can see that as getting at a deeper truth – what matters more, whether we survive as a species, or how we treat each until our demise – but I wonder if it might’ve been a stronger ending to show how people who care about each other can actually work together for survival even lacking some advanced skills. I dunno. Maybe that would’ve been unbelievable.
I also didn’t really care for the ultimate revelation regarding Mr. Zimit’s relationship with Petra, which drove a lot of his seemingly vindictive actions and even the way he shaped the scenarios. Maybe given the relatively standard philosophical questions at the heart of this, some greater external motivation is needed, but a teacher’s jealousy over a student is about the most banal one I could think of. I would’ve been fine with it just being a series of attempts to survive the scenario, with no other ulterior motive driving it, as I find that stuff interesting on its own. Thankfully, I found the majority of the film interesting and thought-provoking enough (and visually beautiful enough) that my few nitpicks didn’t really affect my reaction too much. I enjoyed the film very much.
Stats and stuff…
written and directed by John Huddles
starring James D’Arcy, Sophia Lowe, Rhys Wakefield, Bonnie Wright, Daryl Sabara
I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how After the Dark entered my chart:
After the Dark > Hare Conditioned
After the Dark > The Last Waltz
After the Dark < Clueless
After the Dark < Old Yeller
After the Dark < Batman (1989)
After the Dark < The Lego Movie
After the Dark < Red Road
After the Dark > Talk to Her
After the Dark < The Public Enemy
After the Dark > Mystery Men
After the Dark < Trainspotting
Final #900 out of 3675 films on my chart (76%)
It is now my #1 John Huddles film, my #3 James D’Arcy film, my #46 Psychological Thriller, and my #17 film of 2013.
NOTE: The film is called The Philosophers on Flickchart.
After the Dark was recommended by Ricky Janzen, a friend from college. Averaging together this #900 ranking with my #2343 ranking of his other film, Birdemic: Shock and Terror, gives Ricky an average ranking of 1621.
A few more screenshots…