I used to like going to event movies on opening night. But this was a time when people were routinely firing guns in the crowded lobbies of urban theaters. The suggestion of pointless danger was infectious. Now I’m more likely to go near the end of a big movie’s run, sit in an empty theater and soak up the sense of elegy and regret. I joined a sparse weekend crowd seeing 2012 yesterday and that was pretty much the feeling in there, the kind of gloom that makes a person think Roland Emmerich’s epic scenes of global spoilage and destruction are intended as metaphors for all the money he wastes in filming them.
Now, I know the work of Roland Emmerich, so I knew, as soon as I saw Amanda Peet buying Pullups diapers in the supermarket, that 2012 was going to be a movie about [spoiler alert] a young girl’s heartwarming triumph over bedwetting. But I wasn’t quite ready to absorb this fact until it played out fully on screen. It’s hard to decide if its monumental chutzpah or cluelessness or cynicism or some perversely rigorous and far-reaching irony that leads Emmerich to use the destruction of the world as a backdrop, an enabling device, for the kinds of reconciliations and epiphanies and trivial victories you would find in a softhearted sitcom. The idea that, following a solid two-and-a-half hours in which we’ve seen the earth literally break, and most of its human inhabitants burn, asphyxiate or drown, we should feel anything at all in learning that a seven-year-old girl no longer wets the bed is…well, it feels like a set-up, or a joke. What else could it be? How could the script meeting in which it was decided that this issue should bridge the entire movie not have erupted in embarrassed laughter? I think I have an unusually strong, some might say perverse, appreciation for what cynicism and transparent calculation can bring to the mainstream action movie, but with this (not to mention the predictable bit with the imperiled lapdog) Emmerich takes us into extreme territory. It seems like he is trying to outright mock the moviegoer for the psychic concessions he’s made to Roland Emmerich – by building the largest imaginable disaster to resolve the smallest imaginable conflict. Like he’s saying, “Suspend this, bitches!” But then again, in the details of his films Emmerich gives every indication of being an inveterate dumbshit, so maybe I’m overthinking things.