Wednesday, March 2, 2011

#61 / Last Night

The 1998 movie Last Night is about the last night on earth - and what people do. For whatever reason (probably my predisposition to believe in the likelihood or possibility of a coming catastrophe), the movie has always "stuck with me." Imagine my surprise, then, to read in a recent edition of the New Yorker magazine that there is some scientific basis for the major plot driver in what I should probably admit is a "B list" movie. In the movie, there is no explanation given for the upcoming end to human life on the planet. The New Yorker has the answer: asteroids.

Yes, reputable scientists actually believe that "Vermin of the Sky," asteroids, could put an end to everything. There is enough reality in this threat to our world (and I do mean our world, because it appears that the planet itself will survive) that responsible and informed people believe that we should be building a system of planetary asteroid defense. Hey, if we want to spend money, I do prefer this to spending it on more wars in remote countries.

The article has a brief cost/benefit analysis, and in terms of saving human life, it might be that just absorbing the "minor" asteroid death toll might be acceptable; the money could be better spent, it appears, on traffic safety and preventative health care. Of course, not true for the "big one." In that case, it's all or nothing. Check out Last Night for one thought about what is likely to happen. The New Yorker article, by the way, agrees with the movie that the imminent threat of a major asteroid collision would likely cause "our entire social structure to collapse."

In the movie, and I find this fascinating, the major characters are determined to deny, to the very end, that human beings are ultimately dependent on a natural world which they do not create or control. Clearly, when a huge asteroid is hurtling towards the planet, and will eliminate all human life, that would be a time to confess that humans ultimately do depend on the natural world within which our own civilizations are constructed.

The main characters in Last Night, though, have a clever way to deny this reality. They kill themselves just before the impact. So, they decide!

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