Ever Since the World EndedReviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 07/25/07 02:42:13
(Worth A Look)
The title hooks us right from the top: “Ever Since the World Ended.” OK. I’m listening.Produced in 2001 and sadly left out of wide release until this year, the no-budget indie “Ended” presents a post-plague world in which only 186 people live in the entire city limits of San Francisco. Directors Calum Grant (who also wrote) and Joshua Atesh Litle (who doubled as cinematographer/camera operator) present this eerie, silent future in faux-documentary format, with the filmmakers as survivors who set out to interview everyone they can find, documenting their feelings about inhabiting a lonely, empty world and their fading memories of what it was like living through the end of the world.
The movie demands a few stretches of the imagination - for a society existing twelve years since everything stopped, everyone’s fairly well dressed, and things like water and cigarettes remain in ample supply. Smart scavenging is provided as one brief excuse, although for the most part, the film doesn’t get into the hows of such a life, and we have to accept that in a documentary made by and for apocalyptic survivors, there would be no need to explain the day-in, day-out routines that help them keep going.
Besides, that would be nitpicking, really, as “Ended” gives us so much to soak in that plenty of leeway can be offered without hesitation. We open with an oral history of the beginning of the end, memories that don’t really touch on the facts of the case (a worldwide plague broke out, end of story) as much as they set the tone: these people, living far removed from the event, look back with more acceptance than sadness, although a mournful mood is inescapable when you’re among the last people alive.
This being San Francisco, we meet multiple hippie types who have managed to work out a communal society; they care for each other and offer the young a kind of school where ideas are shared and feelings are more important than facts and figures. They live comfortably and clearly still enjoy each other’s company. But they must also deal with a cold reality: one storyline asks how these people will deal with the return of a man who was exiled due to his dangerous behavior. Can these proponents of a peaceful community truly advocate murdering him, as they had planned? While a peaceful sort of anarchy reigns, law and order must come into play eventually, but at what point will beliefs and actions conflict?
That leads us to the very question at the heart of the film. To what limits can humanity shake off its violent streak, or are we forever doomed to be an aggressive species? The movie offers no answers, only possibilities. When Cal and Josh dare venture into the wilderness outside the city, they are confronted by gunfire. (Earlier, they are nearly assaulted by a hammer-wielding paranoiac.) Others have managed to find peace, either in a safety-in-numbers kind of way or something more pure, like the surfers who learned how to fish and never worry where their journey will take them.
Fear is a constant theme, with one character commenting that without network news and government agencies around to pump fearful ideas into our collective subconscious, humankind can now realize just how non-threatening our neighbors really are. The happy ones in this dark future are the ones that accept this fearless way of life; the dangerous ones are the people that clutch their fears tightly, always assuming everyone is a potential intruder. When explaining how to survive nature when leaving the city, one traveler explains, simply, “the only scary things are the people.” (This theme has accidentally become even more powerful in a post-9/11 America. What would the hippies of this movie have to say about the Bush administration, or Fox News, or Stephen Colbert’s “Threat Down”?)
If the movie offers any hope, it is not from the adults, but from the children who grew up after the plague and have no memories of a crowded life. One teen grumbles that he’s sick of hearing grown-ups whining about the old days; another informs us that kids are making their way just fine, and maybe they can build a better world, given this second chance. There are reminders that this new youth will have their own problems - they accept death with a high amount of flippancy and/or apathy, although that is to be expected - but for the most part, these fresh faces, uncorrupted by the weight of a wicked world, offer a promise.
The film trips over its own ending twice. The first problem is that the movie includes footage of its own “premiere,” in which several of the interviewees gather to watch the final product; such a logic-straining finale isn’t as necessary as the filmmakers might believe in terms of wrapping up the story. The second is that Cal announces to his audience that he offers no solutions; by saying so, he over-explains his own work, arguably not trusting the audience to think things through on their own.But again, that’s nitpicking. The majority of the film is hypnotic and thought-provoking, with flawless performances all around (watch for a pre-“Mythbusters” Adam Savage in one key role) and an editing style that carefully balances the movie’s many subplots without ever losing track of the overall picture. And whether pausing to capture an empty city skyline or a haunted face, “Ended” is as gorgeous visually as it is powerful emotionally. This is a stunning, thoughtful what-if drama that demands attention.
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