I’m working on a big science fiction idea at the moment – a terrible enemy has taken over the planet and mankind must fight back – and I’ve run up against a bit of a problem. The ending.
I’m starting to think that in post-apocalyptic stories is it’s very hard to convey victory to the audience.
If you’re writing a movie about terrorists trying to blow up the Statue of Liberty, then if at the end she’s still standing – victory. If it’s about a man trying to get back together with his wife, and they don’t divorce at the end – victory.
But if the world we know and love is already gone, what does victory even look like? Okay, you defeated the alien invaders, or the killer robots, or whatever – but half the planet is a smoking wasteland and mankind’s sliding back into the Stone Age, so where’s the cause for celebration? Things aren’t going to get any more shit – but they’re not getting any less shit either…
And that’s the problem with destroying the earth. It’s hard to believe that your plucky hero’s victory, however much good he’s done for mankind, actually means anything in the grand scheme of things.
There are ways round this. Alien invasion movies like Independence Day often leave enough standing to suggest that the world can get back on its feet without too much difficulty. Or you can suggest a new future for mankind – a restored Earth, or perhaps a new world (though I find the ‘starting again on another planet’ approach is viewed very negatively by producers and execs. Again, it feels like defeat, not victory.)
But if you’ve genuinely pushed mankind to it’s limits and there’s nowhere else to go – how do you convey the sense of victory and triumph that the end of any good movie has to deliver?