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Fear and Rambling

1/20/10

Jake Palmert


We are becoming a culture obsessed with our own demise. One of the most prevalent symptoms of our addiction, whatever the actual cause, is the extensive list of films depicting apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic worlds. Apocalyptic stories and myths, like the Mayan calender and Nostradamus to Terminator Salvation and The Book of Eli, are lucrative for Hollywood. Local Milwaukee filmmaker Chris Smith's new film Collapse should not be confused with these types of films. The 82 minute film focuses ostensibly on one subject, Michael Ruppert, with only brief cutaways and interludes. Though Michael Ruppert is dismissed by many to be a conspiracy theorist and alarmist, the affectivity of the film is not the result of his ability to persuade the audience of an impending doom or the undeniable veracity of his world view.  Far from simply indulging our cultural addiction, what Collapse does is codify the complexity of our cultural trepidation about our future, and the future of the world, into the narrative of a single person. What is significant about Collapse is that it offers a venue to structure and problematize, through the narrative of one individual, what has become for our culture, a latent fear of the future. 

Still from Collapse (2009).

Amidst his matter of fact demeanor and the barrage of information that constitutes Ruppert's storytelling the viewer undergoes a myriad of emotions ranging from anger, denial, and depression to panic and paranoia. As a result the tendency will naturally be to accept or reject his conclusions, unequivocally, based on the 'facts.' We are used to, almost conditioned, to think according to this dichotomy of true/false. But the power of Collapse is that it has a disturbing emotional resonance for the viewer that can allow for a constructive self-awareness that leads us out past our entrenched modes of thought. An artistic perspective is necessary that allows his words and conclusions to exist and affect without attempting to relegate them. Acceptance and rejection are our quotidian scapegoats. Collapse offers a chance at an honest assessment of how our myth of the future shapes our future. The unequivocal denial and rejection of his utterances as eccentric or misguided amounts to a selection of our myth of the 'true' future over the threat of his 'false' myth. Of course as a condition of thinking and living we necessarily must privilege one interpretation of the future over another. But the selection of a myth that aggressively suppresses and excludes the eccentric and the divergent, or doing the opposite—unhesitatingly embracing an apocalyptic and unredeemable future—signifies a sickness, whether at the level of culture or the individual. We would be better served to resist the fear that denies the possibility of collapse and also resist the temptation of fatalistic surrender. 

One undeniable premise of Collapse is that oil is a finite resource - it will eventually run out. This sets out a great plain of potential before us with a seemingly infinite horizon for portending. America's 'Manifest Destiny' has come to an end. Collapse presents a man convinced that he has traversed this plain and seen that what lies beyond our perspective is a cataclysmic meltdown of our way of life. There are moments when he appears to have the cold, analytical distance Western thought holds to be sacred when “thinking rationally.” In these moments he could be mistaken for a scholar or some type of socially ordained minister of knowledge. But other moments reveal the cracks and disturbances that constitute his, and everyone's psyche. Moments of anger, frustration, sadness, paranoia, and hope boil up to the surface. To interpret these moments and the utterances of this man is not a game of trivial pursuit. We cannot simply line up the facts and pronounce a verdict. The interpreting of his view is a process of delving into ourselves as a culture and as individuals. To misquote Kakfa: “a film should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us.” The film is a construct that can create an investigation as to who in us is capable of saying these things and who and what in us wants to deny them. Above all it is irrelevant what specifically Michael Ruppert has to say – the value lies in the unraveling of ourselves, of our beliefs and fears for the future and the meaning that holds for the living of our lives.


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