The Day After Tomorrow
I think all art forms have a subgenre of work that is designed only to manipulate us, to draw from us a visceral reaction to what we see or hear without bothering with nuance, overtone, or resonance - all the qualities that come with lasting art. I think of Tom Clancy's novels, invoking a kind of superpatriotism; and of Passion Plays; of heavy metal music; of Thomas Kinkade paintings. All of them could be said to have resonance in the single digits. And in the movies we have films like Roland Emmerich's "The Day After Tomorrow."
"The Day After Tomorrow" follows in the tradition of films like "Earthquake," "The Towering Inferno" and "Twister," in all of which disaster strikes, people have predictable reactions, and the film ends. Like slasher films, they all have just one purpose - to frighten and then to reassure. So too in this one. The earth is warming, paradoxically the melting ice in the Arctic Ocean will change the North Atlantic Current, sending cold water down to the temperate regions, and great snow and ice storms will cover the Northern Hemisphere. So far so good, except that for the purposes of the film this has all been compressed into about a week and a half.
And no one in Washington has listened to Dennis Quaid, nor to his mentor Ian Holm, who've been predicting this for some time. They are burdened with an American vice president who dismisses their concerns for the environment (no names, please), and so the forces of nature, as we say, are unleashed on the world.
Meanwhile, Quaid's son Jake Gyllenhaal is in New York and is trapped by the snow and a great tidal surge that covers Manhattan island to a depth of a hundred feet or so - I didn't measure - and he and his friends take refuge in the New York Public Library on 42nd Street at Fifth Avenue, though why a hundred-foot wall of water didn't wash away the reading room remains a mystery. Okay, we won't press the point. Now Quaid decides that he's going from Washington to New York to rescue Jake, and sets out with two colleagues in a truck, beating their way through the drifts.
But somewhere outside of Trenton, or maybe Princeton, they get stuck and must continue the last forty miles on snowshoes, plodding day after day through those pesky drifts until - but let me not spoil it for you. I will just point out that an enormous ocean freighter arrives on the tidal wave, sails up, or maybe down, Fifth Avenue and parks itself right outside the library. Mirabile dictu, there's food and medicine on board, maybe enough to save the life of Jake's friend Janet, who got a nasty cut on her leg that's now infected and will kill her if she doesn't get some antibiotics, and quick. Oh, and did I mention that there is a pack of wolves on board the ship who are also starving and see some delicious food on the hoof, so to speak, coming to the ship's surgery for the medicine.
Well, things come to a mixed end; thousands of Americans wade across the Rio Grande to warmer Mexico, in what the filmmakers must have thought was the greatest piece of irony since the passage of the first Immigration Act more than a hundred years ago. Are Jake and Dennis reunited? Does the vice president come around to see what a fool he's been? Is this the greatest country ever, or what? It's a pity that a film as manipulative as "The Day After Tomorrow" gets the full studio marketing treatment, while more realistic, more accurate information is relegated to the margins where only those who already know the facts are unable to reach anyone in power to do something about it all.