So unless President Obama and Speaker Boehner come to some sort of eleventh hour arrangement, the government is going to shutdown at midnight. What’s it going to be like? Will the staff of the Department of Agriculture be forced into the streets of Washington, with only pitchforks and a few potato diggers to fend for themselves? The vision is bleak – to quote the hilarious Glen Weldon: “Wild-eyed Senate pages in shredded blazers will stalk the DC streets, using their khakis to garrote passersby [while] at night, the sewers echo with the keening of hollow-eyed creatures that were once Capitol Hill reporters.”
Thankfully for those of us frightened and confused, apprehensive about what a nation without government may look like, there will always be movies to tell us what to expect. Here are 5 great cinematic examples of what our impending anarchical landscape may look like – America, grab a chopper and some hairspray, here comes the Thunderdome.
The “Mad Max” Films
I’ll start with by far the most obvious choice, Mel Gibson’s wild ride through the post-apocalyptic Australian landscape. The open road, after all, is perhaps the clearest symbol of complete freedom and independence we have. The bare landscape of these films, filled only with the decaying and disorganized society is quite the freaky vision of a future, in an Outback without a shred of law and order. Who do you think would make it out of the Thunderdome alive, Obama or Boehner?
“28 Days Later”
Hey, at least our government is only shutting down due to political gridlock. What if they all just turned into zombies? Debates about the film’s genre credentials aside, Danny Boyle’s terrifying expedition through a desolate English landscape, ravaged by the hordes of “rage virus” victims is powerful stuff. Not just legal authority but society as a whole collapses. There’s one shot in particular that’s always stuck with me: as the film heads northward we see the city of Manchester in the distance, quietly burning. Why is it on fire? Like most of the other unsettling visuals in the film, it’s left unexplained; the logical cause of this calamity doesn’t seem to matter when survival itself is the priority.
Malcolm McDowell is the perfect anarchist. In his early work, notably “If…” and “A Clockwork Orange” he exudes the perfect balance of insanity and genius necessary to lead the destruction of an entire established authority. You wouldn’t find him getting a bit misty on “60 Minutes.” In this film, McDowell’s first, he plays a youth in a stuffy English private boarding school in which the younger students are essentially beaten up as part of school tradition. This leads to a deeply unsettling revolt, with firearms no less. Anarchy in an established institution like this, a hallmark of the culture of the British political elite, is perhaps even more potent than the brutal open roads of the apocalyptic Outback.
“Children of Men”
To top the list when it comes to the greatest degree of complete and total chaos, however, is Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian vision of a world without children. The United Kingdom of “Children of Men” is the last remaining organized society in the world, though it quickly crumbles before our eyes. Against perhaps the bleakest art direction in any of these films, Clive Owen and Julianne Moore struggle through this extraordinarily havoc-ridden world, culminating in a sequence so astonishingly desolate you have trouble shaking the accompanying gloom.
“Passport to Pimlico”
What is it with the Brits and anarchy? It’s not just these four films, but things like “V for Vendetta” and “Lord of the Flies,” all British productions and inspired by UK writers.
Anyway, I think it’s appropriate to end on a high note. No doubt that the government shutdown tomorrow will be less than pleasant, but at least there won’t be zombies, students with firearms or a sudden loss of fertility. “Passport to Pimlico” is a delightful comedy about the collapse of public order, as a neighborhood in London suddenly discovers that technically it’s an independent country. Freedom from curfews, alcohol regulations, and just about everything else can be quite fun; here’s a clip from the film, at the moment when these Burgundians suddenly realize the benefits of their newfound nationhood.