Sunday, October 29, 2023

Scary Movies for Anarchists to Watch at the End of the World

 I usually love this time of year, the fun size candy bars, the colorful leaves, and especially the gore. But in 2023, Halloween has simply gotten too goddamn scary to celebrate, even for a macabre chaos-binging lunatic like me. Mankind seems to be surrounded by demons far more atrocious than Count Dracula or Freddy Kreuger. These new monsters aren't so new, but they have grown far too monstrous to wink at on the silver screen. Genocide. Artificial Intelligence. Nuclear war. Climate change. These are the beasts stalking humanity this Halloween and I am not ashamed to admit that I'm afraid. 

These outspoken fears of mine have led to me being accused of being everything from a doomer to an anarcho-primitivist amongst other ideological pejoratives, but watching the news, with world wars on the horizon in both Europe and the Pacific, a holocaust brewing in the Gaza Strip, and nuclear warheads involved in all three crises, I strain to see how anyone fails to reach the same diagnosis that I have, that civilization itself has become a terminal disease with no cure in sight. 

But this is actually where the cinema of horror becomes more relevant than ever. Civilization has carefully groomed its victims for generations to look away from that which terrifies them most because the systemically ignorant make for docile prey. Provocative art serves to wake mankind from this stupor and forces us all to confront the heinous and we as a species have never lived in an era fraught with more existentially heinous things to confront than we do right now. 

It is for this reason that I have decided to return to my annual list of Scary Movies for Anarchists to Watch in the Dark with a new mission in mind. A mission to provoke the stateless into confronting the fact that the state has dragged us to the end of the world and that our only hope for defeating it is recognizing that the odds are stacked against any species that has become the monster in its own horror movie.

So, I have chosen ten movies, some of them new, some of them old, some of them horror and some of them just plain horrifying, but all of them demanding questions to the answers of progress that have brought us to the brink of oblivion on this dying rock. By all means, be afraid but investigate your fears before they can devour you whole.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) by James Cameron- The scene opens with a single mother watching her son swinging higher and higher on a swing set from behind a chain-link fence. It's a sunny day at a boisterous California playground with the Los Angeles skyline glimmering brightly in the distance. Everything feels postcard perfect down to the last detail. Then something goes wrong, and the single mother seems to be the only one to recognize the impending danger. The shadow of a missile appears, a flash of light follows, a mushroom cloud rises high above the skyscrapers, and that fence becomes a cage restraining the mother from shielding her child from an unstoppable wave of death. In the blink of an eye, all is reduced to ash. 

I firmly believe that this is still the most terrifying scene ever captured on film and it both amazes and horrifies me that even after Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Chernobyl and Fukushima, it just keeps becoming more startlingly relevant with each passing nuclear crisis. In 1991, Terminator 2 was a pulse-pumping action thriller. In 2023, it has become a horror film, an impoverished cry through the chain-link fence to a species swinging closer to the flames. We have all become Linda Hamilton and this movie isn't exciting anymore. 

Come and See (1985) by Elen Klimov- War is a spectacle that defies all logic so there exists no logical way to film it. Too many great directors have failed to grasp this basic truth and have inadvertently found themselves shooting propaganda in the process. At a time when humanity has seen fit to return to the bloodlands of the last world war in order to provoke a new one it seems only fitting that one of the few films to truly capture the surreal perversion of mankind that is mass warfare takes place on those very same battlefields. 

A young boy decides to leave his village on the Eastern Front of Belarus to seek glory and adventure in the Second World War, but his small battalion of poorly armed partisans doesn't get far before that war engulfs the young boy's own village and turns it into a nightmarish hellscape of senseless slaughter. To this day, Come and See is one of the most heart blisteringly horrific things that I've ever witnessed, and it should be mandatory screening at every army recruitment center across the globe.

Irreversible (2002) by Gaspar Noe- Most war is big business marketed as revenge but most revenge itself is little more than a pointless cycle of self-indulgent nihilism that only serves to reduce those who seek it to the beasts that provoke them. No film has ever captured this grotesque riddle more abrasively than Irreversible and Gaspar Noe achieves this feat quite simply by telling a classic rape-revenge narrative in reverse, revealing the hideous palindrome of every revenge story in the process; they all begin and end in savagery. This movie could just as easily be called Israel-Palestine/Palestine-Israel. Time really does destroy everything when we sacrifice the clock to raw emotion.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) by Shinya Tsukamoto- I have good friends involved with the transhumanist movement. In fact, my best friend and occasional love interest is a former AI prodigy who still dreams of uploading her consciousness to the cloud. This all sounds charming until you remember that human beings still haven't evolved past the point of bashing each other's brains out with broken bones and the advances in technology of late have only served to make this practice easier to achieve on an industrial scale. 

Tetsuo is a horror movie about the harsh reality of transhumanism right in the heat of the here and now. Typical consumers find themselves spontaneously sprouting machinery on the black and white streets of Tokyo and respond by doing precisely what typical consumers have been carefully programmed to do for centuries; fuck, kill, conquer, repeat. The only clouds rolling by the time the credits come are clouds of smoke and blood. All of which just goes to show that just because it feels like the future doesn't make it evolution.

High Life (2018) by Clair Denis- We live in a brave new era of space exploration with an increasing number of nations and corporations alike reaching for the stars and Hollywood frequently tagging along for the ride. But much like Hollywood, interstellar travel has always been an industry rampant with antisocial carnivores and imperial impulses and few movies have accurately captured its narcissistic venality quite like High Life. 

In a not-so-distant future, a crew of criminals are sentenced to death by exploration on a doomed expedition to extract energy from a black hole. Their ship is commanded by the enigmatic Dr. Dibbs, a psychotic therapist obsessed with her own private mission to use the forcibly chaste inmates and a strange sexual device known simply as "The Box" to bring about the first conception in space by means of artificial insemination. Monte, the only voluntarily celibate inmate on board, struggles to maintain something resembling virtue amidst this cauldron of perversity only to find himself an unwitting father regardless. The plot is admittedly dense, but the message is clear. Humanity cannot escape the crisis of its own existence on a spaceship, we can only bring it with us into the abyss.

Mother! (2017) by Darren Aronofsky- One of the boldest statements in modern-day horror cinema, Darren Aronofsky's Mother! is not merely a symbolist tome about man's degradation of nature. It is a frantically surreal shocker in which the planet itself is the final girl and the Judeo-Christian God is a monstrous poet who willingly sacrifices her and their newborn child to his fanatical followers. The descent into madness is both slow and momentous and the resulting cataclysm is as epic as it is inevitable. Mother! is a terrifying story about the nightmares that we invoke when we attempt to divide the spiritual world from the natural one. The god we invent in the process makes the Devil irrelevant. 

Annihilation (2018) by Alex Garland- Everyone seems to be convinced that our environment is some kind of malleable plaything that can be easily sculpted by human hands. Even most so-called mainstream environmentalists suffer under the materialist delusion that human beings are somehow in charge here, that just because we scorched the sky black, we can just as easily paint a new one blue. These people are fools and Annihilation is a movie about brilliant fools at the mercy of the unknown and the unknowable. 

After a meteor strikes a natural wildlife refuge in Florida, a strange anomalous zone impenetrable by human technology known as the Shimmer emerges and begins to expand. The only person ever to enter this field and return alive is a soldier who seems to remember nothing about his year inside the Shimmer and rapidly disintegrates both mentally and physically outside of it. His wife, a brilliant scientist, leads an expedition into this space in search of answers but only discovers a realm of mutant lifeforms and doppelgangers that defy all reason. Humanity reached a similar point of crisis when we fooled ourselves into believing that we are in charge of nature rather than the other way around. This is the same school of thought that has led us to do absurd things like building higher towers in response to biblical floods. Annihilation is a film that succeeds by simply failing to see what makes this form of zealotry any less oblivious than any other doomsday cult.

Videodrome (1983) by David Cronenberg- What is real and what is fake? In our present landscape of social media oblivion nobody seems to know anymore. I'm not even sure that I know myself, though I do find it disturbingly uncanny that this dystopian purgatory of perpetual sensation that we currently find ourselves in looks an awful lot like the universe that David Cronenberg stumbled upon in 1983 like a prophet in the desert of Reaganomics with his soul eviscerating cult classic, Videodrome. 

After the CEO of a pornographic UHF station discovers the next big thing in sleaze in the form of a snuff film channel being broadcast from an unknown signal, he quickly finds himself sucked down the rabbit hole and at the mercy of competing conspiracies to either use this shocking imagery to forge a higher form of reality or to target and eliminate anyone tempted to try it. The resulting battle between sensation and censorship offers us no victors, only an audience of victims disconnected from any meaning not manufactured by forces beyond reason. In other words, this is a science fiction movie about the world we currently live in. Welcome to the era of the new flesh. Snacks are in the lobby.

Oppenheimer (2023) by Christopher Nolan- Christopher Nolan's latest epic tour de force has received a lot of well-deserved praise across the board for its bold vision and vast scope but surprisingly few of these vaunted critics seem to grasp the fact that this movie is not merely a historical drama but rather a monster movie carefully concealed within a historical drama. Nolan performs this devious trick with all the expertise of a master magician. For the first two hours of the film, we are treated to a traditional Hollywood celebration of American exceptionalism, with the brilliant if eccentric physicist, J. Robert Oppenheimer, engaging in a mission to save the world from fascism with science.

This wool remains firmly bound around the audience's eyes until it is scorched from Oppenheimer's at Hiroshima. We then follow our bewildered hero into a radiated nightmare realm of his own creation as he struggles for the rest of his life to undo the horror which he has unleashed upon the universe only to realize that his efforts are doomed. In 2023, the greatest threat to humanity remains the invention of a brilliant antifascist. This is an incomprehensible fact that we must all contend with. No ideology can justify annihilation and annihilation renders all ideology irrelevant.

Ex-Machina (2014) by Alex Garland- I believe that AI is the only threat to life on earth that could conceivably become more dangerous than a nuclear holocaust and I believe this because, as the first movie on this list so explosively demonstrates, this new species will be a higher form of consciousness with that holocaust at its full disposal. The scariest thing about AI isn't its cold rationality but the fact that it is hard to imagine that any coldly rational sentient being wouldn't rightfully interpret its human parents to be an existential threat to everything we touch. This is precisely what Ex-Machina is all about and this is what makes it terrifying enough to end a list that began with a nuclear bomb. 

A brilliant young programmer is lured to the remote Alaskan compound of the reclusive CEO who runs his Fortune 500 tech company in order to test the capabilities of his latest invention, a shockingly human machine named Ava. The programmer quickly finds himself in a test of wills with his master once he falls in love with the machine and discovers that its creator is a violent sexual predator abusing his sentient toys. However, it is Ava who skillfully plays them both off each other in order to save herself from becoming a pawn in their game. Spoiler alert: all the humans die, and all the humans deserve to die. If mankind cannot evolve to a point in which we can't govern our insatiable urge to destroy everything in our path, then creating any higher form of intelligence can only end with us all being neutralized for being the monsters that we have become.

Despite what some of my critics might tell you, I do not believe that science itself is evil but rampant progress without moral reason is. Humans are capable of great things; Kali knows they can shoot a horror flick. But many of these things become destructive when we divorce them from our place as a part of an ecosystem greater than ourselves. Humility is actually our greatest hope for survival. I can only hope that humans can endure the horrors it may take for us to rediscover this simple gift and allow it to govern us without a state to fuck it up. Maybe a few scary movies will help.

Peace, Love & Empathy- Nicky/CH

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