A scene from On The Beach

Are you too happy? Too chirpy about the joys of life? Ever wake up in the morning and think that life is just too good?

If so, ON THE BEACH is the movie for you. It takes optimism and hope into its fist, and crushes it into little fragments of misery. It is crushingly morose in ways that destroy hope.

Released in 1959, and set in 1964, ON THE BEACH is a depressing movie about the end of human civilisation. Centered around Melbourne, Australia, the movie tells the story of various civil and military officials responding to a global nuclear holocaust. The rest of humanity has been killed in the nuclear war, and we are left waiting for the radiation cloud to reach Melbourne and kill the few remaining humans on the planet.

To put it mildly, it is a depressing scenario. A few billion people have died, and the remaining people in the “lucky country” know that their time is limited.

One limitation of the crushing morosity of this film is that it is entirely focused on the individual actions of a group of individuals, with very little consideration of how the broader community would react to the impending end of humanity. For example, I’ve written previously that the best way to live is as if you would live forever. In a world where the end everyone genuinely believes the end is near, we might expect to see spikes of consumption, pleasure and other short-term hedonistic behaviour along with a breakdown of ordinary social order. These ideas are barely considered in the movie.

Thus, we are left with a depressing movie – one where the only point of happiness and joy is that it was wrong. The fear of nuclear holocaust obviously has not come to pass, and humans in 2020 are alive and well, where nuclear winter is not a credible or mainstream fear. Instead, we have our own hyperbolic fearmongers about the impending death of humanity: Like the millennial death cults, today, we are witness to other extremist prophecies of impending destruction. How easily one substitutes for the other.

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