The end


Starring John Cusak, Amanda Peet,
Woody Harrelson, Danny Glover
Directed by Roland Emmerich

The ancient Mayan civilization sure seemed to have had a special appreciation of natural rhythms. That knack helped inform their calendar, which is speculated to have been based on crop cycles, the rhythms of celestial objects, or even human fetal gestation. This is all gleaned from the interpretation of the glyphs on their calendar (combined with an understanding of Mayan mathematics). That is how some have come (perhaps mistakenly) to suggest that the world will end in 2012, because…. Well, that’s when the Mayan calendar seems to end.

Amazingly overlooked all these years in some Mayan ruins was a stone tablet that contained yet more glyphs like those on the calendars, and which would, perhaps, have been appended to their calendars, but it broke off somehow. Astonishingly, this add-on could be interpreted to indicate that the Mayans predicted that Hollywood would make a movie about 2012 at the end of 2009, and even predicted the very elements that such a film would possess. Here are those glyphs (of actual Mayan glyphs of calendar days) and their predictions:

This glyph at the beginning of the addendum tablet, which looks like an upturned eye, predicts that the film will be an “eye-opening” experience, and that people will file in expecting to be blown away by the bombast of the end of the world in all its computer-generated glory. As the Mayan civilization seems to suggest, they will not be disappointed on that score.

This glyph predicts that the movie will provide some hackneyed, cockeyed explanation for how the world will end — something about “neutrinos” that barely can be detected and yet are the basis for the end. See how this glyph is kind of fuzzy, like some sort of stringlike particle twisted all out of shape?

Here we have the jaw-dropping premonition that desperately important news from scientists about the demise of the planet will be delivered to important governmental officials at evening cocktail parties so that they can treat this news with the requisite skepticism and annoyance. The Mayans must have had a special advance insight into the “beltway” mentality.

The Mayans seemed to know — even before film was invented — that disaster movies must have cameos by elderly iconic movie stars wearing old-fogy style hats (like the one etched here) so that they can elicit wincing pathos and doomed attempts at reconciliation. (Sigh.) They somehow knew that the ultimate disaster movie about the end of the world would have this, too.

We don’t know how, but with this “rubbing-fingers” glyph (the symbol of money) the Mayans seemed to know that a Hollywood movie about the end of the world would show that rich people would be willing to pay handsome sums to get on any project that would whisk them to safety. But who would have guessed that they also guessed that hundreds of thousands of people would be able to afford such handsome sums so that they would all get to fight at the end over a limited number of seats on the rescue ark?

This glyph, with the small “stars” around one big star, evoked the view that the graphically rendered effects of a disaster film (the center star) will invariably outshine the actors.

The Mayans foresaw that any major filmic blockbuster depicting the end of days would, of course, have wincingly goofy dialogue about how everyone is sorry that they didn’t tell each other how much they loved one another, and yadda yadda yadda — just as this face with the protruding left ear seems to envisage.

The animalistic image of this glyph incredibly predicted that a movie about the ultimate environmental collapse also would show humans trying to preserve the world’s animals as well as human culture — and just how silly that is, as we see the creatures of the African savannah hanging from helicopters being flown over the frozen mountains of the Himalaya. Anyone for a giraffe-sicle?

This calendar glyph — showing a deep chasm — predicted that a film of the end would have giant cracks in the Earth opening up to swallow everything in their path. But note the lack of anything filling up the void space. That’s because they also knew that such cracks would — incredibly and unnaturally — not be filled with any magma or crumbled earth that would get in the way of watching people and buildings fall into the abyss.

The Mayan tablet foretells that a film of the end of the world will show that some humans are unaffected by the elements. For example, after crash landing in the Himalaya, a group of humans happily hike down glaciers and trek over ice fields with little clothing. They can also withstand being submerged in frigid water for what seems like an eternity without succumbing to deadly hypothermia. As this glyph shows, the Mayans somehow knew movie humans could eventually evolve into an Arctic aquatic species.

That also helps explain this very next glyph, which shows broken bars. How the Mayan could envision that humans in such movies would fail to elicit realistic reactions to colossally threatening events and, instead, perform like superheroes making harrowing, nick-of-time escapes using superhuman strength, skill and timing (like prying apart the metal bars of this glyph) is beyond my meager comprehension.

The Mayans seem to have predicted that a $250 million film of the end of the world would have to show giant waves crashing over the continents — and have that happen in the span of a few minutes. These are not tsunamis; they are TSUNAMIS, just as the etching in this glyph depicts. (See those dots? Those are the Earth’s continents under a great big wall of water.)

This Mayan glyph shows the predictable confusion over how humans can predict that the Earth’s overheated core would produce so much tectonic shift that the oceans would flood the continents — and that giant “arks” could be built to withstand these floods, and that the flood waters — moving at the speed of a raging river — would make it all the way to the base of Everest, so that the arks could just float along on the currents. Notice the quizzical, faraway look of the glyph’s face.

The Mayan people seemed to have known that even in an age of lightning-fast communication — the Internet, e-mail, satellite surveillance — prying eyes somehow can be shielded from gigantic public works projects in faraway places like the Himalaya Mountains where massive steel structures (that look like arks) can be built by swarms of workers. No connecting the dots in these films.

The wave-like image of this glyph bumping into a solid object amazingly prophesized that when a giant vessel — the equivalent of about 50 Titanics — slams into an even more massive feature — oh, say, Mount Everest — at high speed, stupendously, the occupants of the vessel, who are all standing around and not strapped in, will not go hurtling forward en masse. Now how did the Mayan know that the laws of physics would go out the window in such disaster movies? Oh, wait! Maybe physics wasn’t invented yet.

This seemingly complicated glyph forecast the Mayan knowledge that the quality of a film seems to be inversely proportional to the amount spent on its special effects. They knew about 2012 even way back then!

And, just like the look of “whew” on the face of this glyph, this last image of the Mayan calendar addendum predicts that you will exhibit a similar reaction and facial expression and as you exit the theater of this movie. Sort of like, “Thank God that’s over!”

Doug Young is The Statesman’s award-winning film critic. He also works for Sen. Mark Udall as an environmental policy adviser.