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The idea behind this blog is to share my opinions about Post-Apocalyptic Literature, Films and Ephemera as well as my random nattering on a regular basis.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Reckoning a film in review

A Reckoning was filmed in 2011 but is just now seeing the light of day due to legal battles between the financial backers of the film and Mr. Barker the director and producer. I'm glad that after so many years it can be viewed as it is pretty damned good. 

Many years ago when I was taking some of first undergraduate classes at Western Oregon (way back before I got my degree in early childhood education, my reading masters, and my special education degree), I took an introductory English literature class. It was there that I met my good friend Gavin Keulks. I don't remember the story that we were reviewing and discussing that day but I do remember the word he used to describe how the author generated the tone or feeling of the writing. He said it was a pastiche. This is when an artist (in writing, art, or even film) puts together qualities of others in order to honor those artists with playful mimicry. One good example of this is the dance scene at Jack Rabbit Slims It is so strange and out of place in that movie because the entire scene her costume and all was lifted from Federico Fellini's 8 1/2. Not in any way is Tarantino having sport with Fellini, rather he is shining a light on the film in a playful way. Andrew David Barker treats A Reckoning in much the same way so that, through the skillful use of scenes and of thematic elements from many different movies and books, he manages to convey both that a cataclysmic event of unknown (but certainly hinted at) origin has befallen humanity leaving just a single person alive and also that that lone survivor isn't so alone after all, but instead, has gone batshit insane. 

The first tell that he might be insane is the quote at the movie's opening. 'All that we see or seem/Is but a dream within a dream' The next few lines of the poem are I stand amid the roar/ Of a surf-tormented shore,/ And I hold within my hand/Grains of the golden sand-- Those lines become important later. 

Barker also uses story elements from many different film and books to convey a sense of madness. First is the creation of straw people. Our lone survivor has spent tireless hours making people from straw complete with clothing and back stories. He places them throughout his small village. He interacts with them daily and even holds class with some of them as their teacher. It is these small interactions that call to mind other 'Last Man on Earth' type movies and books. It is these elements that convince the viewer that he is indeed the last man. In The Quiet Earth, Zak Hobson finds himself alone. To combat the feeling of aloness he takes full-sized cardboard cutouts of people and interacts with them. Zak at that point is both alone and losing his mind. But at least our lone survivor is speaking to a real object and not a total figment of his imagination. In another scene he is shown at a bar interacting with a straw man who acting as bartender much the same as Floyd does in The Shining. This is of course just a single example. There are many more. 

Lastly, going back into the cataclysmic event of unknown (but certainly hinted at) origin that has befallen humanity I wrote about before, our Lone Survivor read a lot. This can only be a call out to one Henry Bemis of Time Enough At Last. This last part here gets to the main question of 'Has the world ended or is he crazy'? He reads, all the time. The class he teaches? Just an excuse to read. He always has a book at his bed. Prominently featured is one called Noah. This might be a reference to the Biblical Flood or it may be high-five to another movie: The Noah, a movie where a nuclear apocalypse has left a single man alive. The Noah also creates someone in his mind to ease his loneliness. A pivotal scene: he is reading to his class as has become his habit when he encounters this passage:  ‘But now, when I began to be sick, and a leisurely view of the miseries of death came to place itself before me; when my spirits began to sink under the burden of a strong distemper, and nature was exhausted with the violence of the fever; conscience, that had slept so long, began to awake, and I began to reproach myself with my past life, in which I had so evidently, by uncommon wickedness, provoked the justice of God to lay me under uncommon strokes, and to deal with me in so vindictive a manner. These reflections oppressed me for the second’. The careful reader will recognize this as an excerpt from Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, yet another Last Man type scenario. It is also the view of Zak Hobson in The Quiet Earth ‘I have been cursed to live’.   

So it’s up to the viewer to decide: Is our Lone Survivor really alone? Did the teeth falling out and vomiting mean a nuclear war had happened? Was that notion further backed up by his lesson on atoms when he ‘substituted’? If so was it a neutron bomb situation that left building intact and only killed people (Henry Bemis)? Or is he just completely insane as all the other evidence points out?

Track down a copy and give it a watch. Give it two or three as I did … more clues and hints will jump out at you.