LEGION: Apocalypse and the Postmodern Imagination

With this post I bring together a revised version of a post I wrote for another blog of mine, with a film trailer for Legion, due out in January 2010. (A word of warning to my readers: The trailer is rated R for mature viewers due to graphic language.) These two items come together in a discussion of our continuing fascination with apocalyptic, including that informed by Judeo-Christian conceptions of the End.

Fears and scenarios concerning the ultimate End of things are far more broad and diverse in the late modern West than the Left Behind novels of evangelicalism and popular culture. Elizabeth Rosen discusses this topic in Apocalyptic Transformation: Apocalypse and the Postmodern Imagination (Lexington Books, 2008).

Rosen begins her discussion with an introduction into apocalyptic thinking. She notes that just as human beings need origin stories or myths to explain our beginnings, so we also incorporate stories of the End in order to come to grips with the threats of the end in the face of social chaos and the finality of the human story. She also draws the reader's attention to the fact that stories of the End are sense-making myths that serve as "an organizing principle imposed on an overwhelming, seemingly disordered universe." Used in this fashion, apocalyptic stories function much like conspiracy and chaos stories.

In the history of the Western world the Judeo-Christian apocalyptic has been the most influential. In that religio-cultural context one of the key apocalyptic texts has been St. John's Book of Revelation. In that piece of literature the Greek word for apocalypse refers to an "unveiling," literally meaning a revelation provided to the reader as a means of providing a sense of peace and purpose to the seeming chaos and social disruption surrounding them. In contemporary popular usage the term "apocalyptic" has moved beyond this specific meaning to serve as a general phrase referring to the End. Although the Judeo-Christian apocalyptic continues to be popular in various circles, and to exert influence outside of its specific religious context, other visions of apocalypse are found throughout popular culture. Here the context of late modernity or postmodernity puts an interesting twist on apocalyptic myth as it seeks to, as Rosen states, "reject the myth's absolutism or [to] challenge the received systems of morality that underlie it."

Having laid her foundation through the Introduction Rosen then explores differing ways in which apocalyptic myths have been explored in popular culture. Given my personal and academic research interests I appreciated the diversity of cultural sources that she drew upon in consideration of apocalypse, including graphic novels, books, and film. Several case studies in Rosen's exploration were of great interest to me. These include a look at Alan Moore's graphic novel Swamp Thing, which Rosen describes as "a veritable collection of apocalyptic stories," a differing apocalyptic twist in Moore's Watchman graphic novel, Terry Gilliam's films Brazil and 12 Monkeys, and the Wachowski Brothers' Matrix trilogy of films.

Rosen's work is a reminder of the continuing interest in apocalyptic. As her discussion notes, one of the ways in which it has been expressed is through film. A specific form of apocalyptic cinema often depicts a battle between angelic forces, humanity, and the divine. The forthcoming release of Legion next year is an example of this. Produced by Sony Pictures and directed by Scott Stewart, the film's official website includes the following synposis:

"When God loses faith in mankind, he sends his legion of angels to bring on the apocalypse. Humanity's only hope lies in a group of strangers trapped in a desert diner and the archangel Michael."

In Legion the trailer indicates that God has given up on humanity and now seeks to eradicate it through the use of angelic forces. But in instance Michael the archangel has gone rogue and now stands with humanity in opposition to God as he battles divine forces. In this way Legion demonstrates a postmodern deconstruction of a general Judeo-Christian theology in a number of areas, and in so doing questions traditional conceptions of the divine goodness and a final outworking of his purposes in vanquishing evil.

As the trailer demonstrates, the film appears to be an interesting hybrid between apocalyptic tale, horror film, and action adventure. I have added this to my list of movies to see next year.

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