It’s obvious now that the end of man won’t be signaled with mushroom clouds, an alien invasion, or a meteor, but with silence. Only silence, long and unceasing. We’ve always known this would be the case, however, it never seemed like the final day would really arrive.
My mother was fond of the saying, “All good things must come to an end,” a cliché that now makes me cringe. Yet, what was there to do about any of it? Nothing except to wake up each morning, go through the normal routines, and then go to sleep. Each day we were all a little older, a little closer to the end. And each day fewer people were alive than the previous day. That’s how it’s been for eighty years; it’s the way it will be at least a little while longer. I see now that from the very start, my life has been leading to this: my brother and I alone, witnessing the end of man’s 200,000-year reign.
I watched more movies as a kid than any other boy in the neighborhood. They fascinated me. While the adults were worried about grown-up problems, I could go to my bedroom, close the door, and put on a movie that let me go anywhere I pleased. The possibilities were only as limited as the imaginations that created each story. One day, The Godfather trilogy allowed me to live the life of mobsters. Another day, the Star Wars trilogy took me to a galaxy far, far away. Occasionally, Andrew stayed in his own room, but most of the time he was right there with me. All the while my parents and the rest of the neighborhood worried about what they were going to do—if they would move or not move, if they would be able to take care of their loved ones or if they would need caring for themselves. The adults’ worries, my parents’ worries, didn’t bother me back then because I had my movies. No matter how awful the scenario was in each film—a nuclear holocaust, aliens enslaving us, a race to save the Earth from a meteorite—the stories made me smile and gasp and giggle the way little boys do.
The actors from those movies have been dead for years. So have the writers and directors. The last movie ever made was produced fifty years ago. Not many people went to see it, but it was actually pretty good. It was billed as a culmination of everything ‘Hollywood’, and promised big explosions, incredible special effects, and a startling final scene. For the most part it delivered on its promises. Not many people were in the mood to go to the movies at that point, though. It didn’t help things that the infamous ending was its own kryptonite. The protagonist, a handsome and charismatic man, the envy of every man and the fantasy of every woman, proclaims that life is just a huge joke. Instead of pushing a red button and launching a rocket to save Earth’s population—still billions of people back then—from the dreaded invasion, he takes his lover in his arms, begins crying, then shoots himself in the face. Dramatic music kicks in. The screen fades to black.
Audiences hated it. Everyone involved with the film was lucky there were bigger problems in the world than an ending equivalent to being given the middle finger; if mankind hadn’t been dwindling away, the producer and director might have been charged with some sort of indecency crime, or, more ironic yet, simply shot dead. I still watch that movie every once in a while. From a technical perspective, the film is a masterpiece—excellent character development, cinematography, editing—although I only watch the ending when Andrew isn’t in the room with me. He shouldn’t have to see that kind of hopelessness. He stayed one time when I was tired and I didn’t feel like wheeling him out of the room just for the final two minutes of the movie. I had his wheelchair turned away, though, so he wasn’t looking at the screen and couldn’t see what was happening. When the final gunshot sounded, I looked over at him to make sure he didn’t give a reaction. If anything could make him groan with discouragement, it might very well be the desperation in that anti-climactic scene. But of course he didn’t complain: he has never had a voluntary movement or spoken a single word. No, Andrew didn’t get upset about the ending. He didn’t even blink. When the credits started rolling, I got up and turned the DVD player off, then the lights, and moved Andrew to the sofa so he could sleep there while I slept in my bed.
Every other time the movie’s ending is near, or if I watch a similarly upsetting movie, I wheel him out of the room. Even without the ability to offer a response, he shouldn’t have to see the worst that people are capable of. He’s 79, only a couple years my junior, but in my head he is still my baby brother. Nothing can ever happen to make me think of him any other way. The day he can speak for himself, say, “Hey, I’ll wipe my own ass from now on!” is the day he can start being thought of as a grown adult.
With the lights off, the sun having set for the night, I find myself sitting here thinking again about the end of that movie. Why not press the red button and save everyone? Why not give the people an ending that would allow a little bit of hope instead of a critical commentary on the state of mankind? Did the writer or director lose faith in people because of what had started happening in the world, or did the movie end that way because he had already become indifferent, prior to the Great De-evolution, and thought mankind deserved nothing better?
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