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The Movie the White House Should Want You to See

May 28th, 2004 · No Comments

I just saw a midnight showing of The Day After Tomorrow, the mother-of-all-disaster-flicks that MoveOn is billing (with help from Al Gore) as “the movie George Bush doesn’t want you to see.” Cato’s house global warming contrarian Pat Michaels took it seriously enough to pen a Washington Post piece denouncing the flick.

Having seen it, I now want to be the first to say: are you fucking kidding me? George Bush should be buying people tickets to this movie. It’s preposterous from start to finish—maybe the D.C. audience has an unusually ironic sensibility, but the crowd was laughing from start to finish, during many of the ostensibly most dramatic scenes. Partly it’s because of the movie’s hyperformulaic, throw-in-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach (A wave of hypercold is about to descend, freezing our heroes, and then… wolves! Words fail, seriously) and logic-defying plot contrivances (one of the world’s most brilliant climatologists is required to act like a thorough moron to get the final act’s drama going). But the movie’s earnestness provoked some of the loudest howls, as when the film’s Dick Cheney character issues a mea culpa for his previous skepticism about global warming, followed by a chastened, misty-eyed thanks to “what we formerly called the Third World” for taking in refugees from North America.

The catalyst for the movie’s meteorological mayhem is an ice age brought on practically overnight by a vaguely specified disturbance in the Atlantic current caused by melting icecaps. But the effect is not to deliver some kind of chilling, potentially mobilizing warning about the perils of our current environmental policy. Instead, the fantastic and sudden global catastrophe turns a genuine issue into a sci-fi threat: It puts global warming in roughly the same category as attacks by Godzilla or The Blob. In the film’s context, a debunking of the film’s “bad science” comes off like one of the Comic Book Guy’s cavils about the use of polarity-reversal on a Star Trek episode, or a fervent insistence that radioactive spider bites are not, in fact, likely to imbue people with a quasi-psychic danger sense. In short, the movie makes a genuine (if tractable) problem into high camp. It’s about as likely to spur political pressure for more environmental regulation as the X-Files movie was to prompt demands for an alien invasion defense force.

Update: If Dan Drezner’s roundup is at all representative, it seems my reaction was a pretty common one.

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