It’s Already Too Late: Akira, The World’s End
It seems as though it is already too late for the Sumatran tiger. Unfortunately, Mark Twain’s joke about great exaggerations cannot be applied here, nor is there much chance that we striped cats will pull a Tom Sawyer and witness our own funerals. We are not so impish, for one, and our deaths are no contrivance or mistake. Scratch that. Our deaths are most certainly contrived–by human hands. Maybe that’s why there’s a heaven for tigers now but not yet one for humans: your species has to basically be extinct before you can qualify for an afterlife. Fortunately, the same capitalist vigor that drove us into the dust is going to claim all you humans soon enough.
Consider the apocalypses of the Bible. Revelation, for instance:
After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal.
Were this written in our time, it would have taken care to note that the jasper and carnelian and gold and white robes and other riches had been ethically sourced and manufactured. More importantly, notice glory, the resplendent monarchy of God on display. Strange creatures, tigers unfortunately excluded, sing praises to this God: “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” What comes after, all the pestilence, death, and suffering, all the lamentation and gnashing, is the will of One who transcends, who has planned all of this in advance for some unfathomable reason. Humanity’s final reckoning is assured, and only its time is uncertain. Let me ask you a question: was tiger kind’s extinction foreordained? Was there a grand plan for us, who are arguably nobler creatures, as there seems to be for you? Of course, humans made all the right collective choices if the destruction of we big cats was the goal. However, given that humans are now driving themselves toward the same cliff (regrettably, we won’t have the pleasure of watching you stumble into the abyss, since we’ll already be there) I doubt that our deaths were the result of a rational choice.
Lately, the end of the world has taken on an appropriately human guise in film. Whether the result of human “ingenuity” or human negligence, when these two can be differentiated, humanity ends up fulfilling the old saying “if you want to take all the credit, you get to take all the blame.” In a world where nature itself is a formation of human activity, where no aspect of the planet, even the most remote reaches, is immune from contamination, the old boundaries between human and nature begin to dissolve. Think of the old theological distinction between natural evil and human evil. While a sudden asteroid impact would probably still qualify as an “act of God” in the old sense, we can no longer say the same thing about storms. Were there a just court somewhere in the world, we could probably put the entire United States on trial for the mass murder of the poor all over the world. United States, with carbon dioxide emissions, in the ballroom. So too in our films the organic/synthetic binary is far more uncertain than it has ever been.
Akira places immense power in the hands of human beings. Not just humans, but children. Its end shows the birth of a new universes at the hands of a young man who was, just days before, a street thug. We might joke that his new universe is the Australia of dimensions, a penal colony for delinquents and boat-rockers. What is curious about Akira is that its end of the world and the beginning of a new one is local. It wasn’t even the destruction of Japan, a landmass the size of California, but rather the destruction of a single city. The World’s End spares far fewer, and perhaps we can trace the globalizing of the apocalypse from 1988 to this year. It certainly follows a ruthless capitalist logic. Perhaps we can think of the end of the world as the premier capitalist entrepreneur, rising from mythic and humble beginnings only to spread his (emphatically male) interests around the world like a cancer. Akira allows us to see the failure of a nation rank with decadence, a mass of robotic flesh or fleshly robots (take your pick) who wallow in the filthy streets while the rich command the levers from on high. Of course, the experts buried the source of the original destruction, Akira himself, under the eventual site of the Olympic Stadium, the symbol of the end of reconstruction. In Akira the world is either in a state of decay, destruction, or reconstruction. There is no peace, and it seems the cycle accelerates every time.
The World’s End has a far more frightening vision of the end of the world. It is all-pervasive, accidental, and inevitable. It was the nihilistic decision of a single drunken man who refused to back down. Of course, we are shown a somewhat idyllic future, a cinematic realm of simple peasants, brigands, and heroes. There is no reconstruction, because the means of rebuilding, namely technology, are alien and oppressive in themselves. They have been transplanted into the human body, which eventually rejects it. Billions of people die and those who are left are consigned to a menial existence. Of course, this is the extreme of calls for “authenticity,” the fervent wishes of those who collect vinyl records and grow gardens for their own amusement, who want to make their photographs look older than they are and fetishize monarchies.
While Akira perceives that, even though technology has united with flesh and decimated the city, some survive and will rebuild. It is, at least, a dynamic cycle. What The World’s End does is to take hopelessness the next step and break the cycle, leave humanity in the state of destruction for all time because that is what is true and free. Technology only enslaves, only alienates. Even as a tiger who has no great aptitude for computers and such (my editor is the one who handles the posting process) I can see that this is perhaps the most sentimentalized apocalypse we can imagine today. It diagnoses with refreshing accuracy the breakdown of community we perceive today, but can think of nothing but annihilation as a solution. It’s Luddism’s most pornographic and exultant fantasy.
In The World’s End we have not the ruptural and surprising technological explosion of Akira nor the meticulously planned providential end of Revelation. It is a rational human choice slurried in alcohol, the noble assertion of humanity’s freedom to fuck up however it wants. I suppose when it is already too late, when we are already in the time of droughts and floods, that might be the only human freedom worth exercising anymore. On the other hand, I prefer to believe that radical destruction, as in Akira, is only a prelude, an opening of the curtain to a new world that can be rebuilt. Technology is going to remain with us, and thank God. For it is only an extension of our bodies when it comes down to it.