The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

Rated PG-13 Our content rating: V-5; L-2; S/N-2.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.
Genesis 1:26 & 2:15

The earth mourns and withers, the world languishes and withers; the heavens languish together with the earth.
The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left.
Isaiah 24:4-6

The Day After Tomorrow

Isaiah’s words of judgment and doom were directed at Judah and Israel some 2800 years ago, but we could apply them today as well. The “everlasting covenant” that has been violated is not so much that of Moses as that made with Adam and Noah—humanity has interpreted “dominion” over the earth to mean a dominance that permits us to abuse it in our commercial ventures. Climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) is a stand-in for those real life scientists who have been warning us for several decades about global warming, just as Kenneth Welsh is the stand-in for the current American vice president—the actor even looks like the politician. It is at a climatology conference in New Delhi that Jack shares his computer model that points to impending danger unless the nations do something immediately. When he says that their climate is fragile, the vice president, after asking who pays for all the changes, says that the economy is also fragile.

Now in the real world the consequences that Jack warns about would not come for years, decades, or even centuries—but this is Hollywood, where the CGI experts cannot wait that long to go into action. And go into action they do, producing some of the most awesome scenes of urban destruction to be found in any film. Soon snow is falling heavily in India, hail the size of softballs are bashing heads and cars in Japan, and monster tornados are ripping apart not only the skyscrapers of Los Angeles, but the sacrosanct Hollywood sign as well. Still the vice president will not accept Jack’s predictions of further calamities—and then a huge tidal wave sweeps by the Statue of Liberty and floods the streets of New York City. From space the astronauts can see and send back pictures of a storm that is continent-wide. Jack, at last heard, warns that all Americans south of a line that divides the country into northern and southern regions be evacuated. Those north of the line must fend for themselves against an impending deep freeze that will plunge the temperature lower than anything recorded, even in Antarctica. Anyone caught outside will freeze almost instantly.

In between the cataclysms, we follow the stories of several humans, filmmaker Roland Emmerich, like all those who make disaster films, realizing that there must be some human interest added the special effects. Too bad he and co-writer Jeffrey Nachmanoff lack the skill of those who made Titanic. We’re supposed to believe that Jack, whom you would think would be badly needed to keep an eye on the weather during the colossal evacuation procedure, would be needed at his computer. But no, he declares that he must set forth from Washington to rescue his son Sam Hall (Jake Gyllenhaal), who has gone to New York City as part of a high school academic team. The students have found refuge within the cavernous interior of the New York Public Library (which makes for some impressive scenes as the water from the tidal wave washes up against it steps, and then later, as the deep freeze spreads across the surface of the buildings, turning the water in the street to ice.) Jack goes, of course, because he has been the Neglectful Father over the years, so he must go to his son—even though the highways are clogged with cars, and then snow and ice make every byway impassable, Never has such an epic trek—they must abandon their USV along the way—been made in such a few days!

There are several other subplots, the most noteworthy one being set in Scotland where Prof. Rapson (Ian Holm), an older climatologist, has been collaborating with Jack. Ian Holm is such an excellent actor that he brings a sense of reality to his scenes, he and his two colleagues calmly awaiting the deep freeze that will soon engulf them. There is also a delightful irony to the fact that Americans have been instructed to flee to the warmer climate of Mexico—and for a while Mexico closes its border to us. A more imaginative writer could have let us in on the fun of American diplomats eating crow and begging the Mexican officials to allow Americans to cross into the sanctuary of Mexico! The dangers of global warming are real, according to virtually all scientists, but turning their warnings into a summer disaster thriller might, or might not, be a good thing. Hopefully it will open up again the discussion concerning global warming and what we should do about it.

For reflection/discussion:

1) What do you know, and think, about global warming? What is our government’s position on the issue? Does our official policy reflect the concerns of environmentalists or of business? Why?

2) What do you believe that the word “dominion” in the Genesis account of Creation means? That humanity can do whatever it desires with the earth? In the rest of the two stories are their limits imposed on us? (Also see Psalm 24.)

3) In the New York Public Library scenes we see two different forms of authority, one that leads to death, and the other to life: which is based on outward display, and which on an inner knowledge?

4) Near the end, when they are talking about humanity’s surviving the last Ice Age, Jack says that this time it will depend on our learning from our mistakes. How do our mistakes teach us? What lessons have you learned from yours? Do you think we as a nation have learned much from the past? What often blinds us from learning?