Destroying The Earth Is Hard

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?

6 comments on “Destroying The Earth Is Hard

  1. tamtam says:

    Love .
    I know it may sound corny, but it really concurs all. And most of all its what the viewers wants to see. Its like all the apocalyptic movies everyone remembers the ones where there is a loving ending, but no one can remember the names of the ones where everyone dies. I mean there maybe some loss at the end but if the main characters stay true (alittle messed up) but still love and want to be together that’s when everyone says that was a epileptic movie (epic just sounded to cliché alone), and they will not only talk about it but they will remember it . and any show or movie worth making should be remembered for years to come.

  2. tamtam says:

    Theres also awesome or monstrously huge well I hope u get what I meam when I say epileptic.

  3. Shaula Evans says:

    Debbie, does the sense of victory come from the emotional payoffs? E.g., orphaned heroine X wants to save the world ***To Impress Her Surrogate Mother & Mentor.*** No matter how successful the external goal (save the world) is or isn’t, it’s the internal goal (receive love & approval) that engages our hearts most.

    Is that relevant to the story you want to tell?

    PS This sounds like yet another brilliant script! When you want notes, give me a shout.

  4. Hi Debbie. I’m really enjoying the blog and I think you’ve come across an interesting challenge. I think it’s very hard to represent something like potential or things that could be without actually showing them.

    I personally wouldn’t finish a story with a “lets move to a new world” ending. Like you said it seems like a defeat however it has been done, like in the film 2012 or Terminator 3. Also does your story need to end at that point? Can you show a future time when the people are recovering? Maybe that building/monument the enemy destroyed is being rebuilt bigger and better than before? Have they learnt from it?

    If you have the time, could you answer a question for me? Do you have any thoughts on how to write a story (most likely television) that could be considered ‘high concept’? Thank you.

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