Thursday, February 14, 2013

What I would have done with Vanishing on 7th Street.

First off, Vanishing on 7th Street is nothing original.  Look at the Amazon review and you'll find that I'm not the only one who saw what it draws heavily on, specifically this part of the description, "this ambitious melding of the Left Behind series, Pitch Black, and any number of Twilight Zone episodes..."

Ever since the Riddick said, "Just one rule, stay in the light," in Pitch Black there's been an unstated call for a movie where the enemy isn't creatures that fear the light, but the darkness itself.  (Also a less straightforward unstated call where the rule was, "Stay out of the light," which I suppose applies to some vampire movies.)  The movie attempts to answer that call, how well it does I leave as an exercise for the viewer.

I was not overly impressed.  I could see the elements of a good film there, but they weren't utilized very well.  Also the Roanoke Colony needs a day off every once in a while, especially for this movie which gets even the most basic facts of the disappearance wrong.  Put simply, if the characters in the film really were at the site of the second Roanoke they wouldn't need to be nearly so frantic and hurried as they were.

Roanoke was not a flash disappearance.  The colonists appeared to have taken the time to dismantle the colony before leaving, they did not carve the distress sign but instead the name of another island, another island that never really got much investigation (there was a storm and stuff) but what little it did get suggests that, yes, they probably moved there for a time at least.  They'd been there for a time before, had decent relations with the natives there, and were long overdue for resupply from England so they may have simply decided to look for local help instead.

None of this fits the movie at all.

Introducing Roanoke is just a kind of fucky move that screws up the entire cosmology the movie is trying to project.

I actually came to the movie late, I thought I was going to see just the end but misread times and ended up seeing most of it but I was fortunate enough to come in after what appears to be the major internal plot hole. (The complete lack of understanding of Roanoke is external as it is a failure to understand the real world, not a contradiction within the movie itself.)  So that, at least, was nice.

Anyway, other major influence: Left Behind.  Of course I recognized that, I have an index for stuff related to that here.

Rapture theology is young, as theologies go, (300 years or so) and hasn't worked out all the kinks yet.  For comparison, if this were Christianity as a whole Gnosticism would be a widespread and widely believed alternate option that the now-mainstream beliefs had to fight tooth and nail against for supremacy.  Arianism would be alive and well, and the First Council of Nicaea would be due a bit over a quarter century from now (I rounded up to 300 years above.)

Actually, since the dating system is from the supposed birth of Jesus (search anywhere on the internet for why 1 AD is probably not the first year of Jesus' life) make that a bit over a half century from now.

Rapture theology is at a pre-Nicene Creed level of development at this point in history.  So there are, as one might expect, some pretty major differences of opinion.  Even with all the time Christianity as a whole has had to get on the same page we have how many sects?

Anyway, without even a creed to unite them, Rapture theologians have all manner of beliefs and the one in Left Behind, the one using Tim LaHaye's theology, is what I call a "naked Rapture" because those Raptured away will be taken right out of their clothes.  The person disappears, the clothing collapses with nothing to left to support it anymore.  The person taken doesn't leave a vacuum in their place, but instead what appears to be an equal volume of air, thus allowing the clothing to fall gently rather than be disturbed by the pressure differences that a vacuum would create.

This idea is taken for Vanishing on 7th Street.  I think it might also be argued that, whether it was intentional or not, the idea that the coming in question would be "Like a thief in the night," was also taken, thus explaining why the darkness has to engulf the people for them to be taken.  A thief in the night shies away from light sources.  Likewise the day is apparently safe time.

So while I don't recommend the movie in general, if you would like to see a really creepy really inclusive portrayal of a LaHayvian Rapture, I do recommend the movie.  Go up to the top of the page, click the link, get the movie.

I'm actually not a big "creepy" fan myself and I think the movie was misrepresented to me.  This is not, it should be noted, the movie's fault.  It was the guide's fault.  The description in the guide was something like, "Darkness clears a Detroit neighborhood except for a few residents who fight back with light," or something like that.

It made it seem like the people cleared fled, and the people who stayed were of a "I will not be driven from my home" variety and they were actively fighting against the foothold the darkness had gained in the neighborhood.  Sort of like the Twilight Zone episode where the darkness was limited to certain localities.

But more than that it made it seem like they, I don't know, fight.

They don't.  There are two competing plans in the move:
1 Shelter in place
2 Run like hell

At no point is fighting the darkness even considered.  There's opportunity, it's visible when the darkeness tries to advance at the edges of the light, and forms, like shadows without people to cast them, can be seen in it, an attempt could be made to lure a part of the darkness forward through a dark corridor in an otherwise lit room, and then light something (stuff still burns) to cut it off from the greater darkness.  Then force it into a smaller and smaller area, cutting it further and further (also farther and farther but I'm more concerned with further here) from retreat, until finally it's finally extinguished with light.

That would be fighting the darkness.  Instead not a single Molotov cocktail is thrown (unless one was in the bit before I came in, but it looks like I really didn't miss that much.)  And these people are taking shelter inside a bar.

Someone, injured, is laid out on a pool table because it's a convenient flat surface.  Ok, makes perfect sense.  His life depends on the overhead lights powered by a dying generator.  Why?  Why not add to the lights with a back up plan of a fire made from a broken down pool cue.  If there's a pool table there's pool cues.  Why not have lightable objects everywhere, just in case.  Candles and lamps and whatever furniture can be broken down and lit?

Daytime is safe time to gather supplies.  They have, what appears to be, all of Detroit to work from.  They can't find anything to make fire with except for that one torch and medicinal alcohol gathered elsewhere?  They determine that only one truck within pushing distance has a battery with enough power for lights (but not enough to make the engine start) and thus only it can be moved at night.  But what about the gasoline in the tanks of all the other abandoned vehicles?  It burns.  Burning works.  The darkness can sap power from batteries, the exception being ones charged via solar power* but it can't stop things from burning.

That's why the generator in the bar works, the darkness can try to fuck with the electricity, but it can't get at the source, burning gasoline.  Combustion cannot be stopped by the darkness.

So it seems like combustibles, not batteries, should be what people are looking for.  Those other cars and trucks might not be useful as transport, but damned if they should be able to work as something that keeps the darkness at bay.  Siphon some gas out, light it.  Light source created.  Safe zone created.  Combustibility is your friend.

In their daylight hours they should be raiding candle stores, lumber stores, anything that fracking burns stores.  And as a last resort they should be setting buildings on fire.

But they don't.  Because the thing lied to me (again, not the movie, the description of the movie in the guide), they do not fight the darkness.  They have only two plans and neither one involves fighting back.  The two plans are, again:
1 Shelter in place (but the generator is dying and they never consider using the inflammables to create fires for light.)
2 Run away.


So we get to how I would do it.  Which is the point of this post, after all.

Stick to the basic premise: Steal, "Stay in the light," from Pitch Black and, "It wants your body, not your clothes/possessions," from Left Behind.

The confusion of the extent of the darkness was a problem with the description, not the movie, so I'd keep it at, "Unknown but assumed to cover a wide swath, possibly everything."

I'd have a small handful of survivors meet each other after the first mass taking.  Maybe as few as two people, and I'd have their attitude evolve as time went on.  They'd start out afraid and just trying to survive till the next dawn, but at some point they'd be sick of being on the defensive all the time.  They'd lure in the darkness, cut it off from the whole, force it into smaller and smaller spaces until it couldn't dodge their light anymore, and then extinguish it with fire at its center.

And that would be the turning point.  Because when the first slice of darkness dies the remainder would retreat.  Not far, but where before the darkness could be seen venturing into the edges of the light, now it would be seen to back off, the light would extend further than it naturally should.

And then it becomes not the story of rats in a maze but the story of people fighting against superior numbers. Light goes out and you're dead, but if you can box off a section of the darkness and make the light go in, then it's dead.

I imagine Molotov cocktails, I imagine lighter fluid, I imagine soaking rope in gasoline to make it flammable and then using it to cordon off areas, I imagine making houses airtight and leaving the gas on and then, once the darkness has been driven inside, shattering a window with a burning projectile and watching the brilliant bright explosion and hearing the screams of the darkness as it is killed off.

I imagine laying traps and trying to avoid traps that have been laid (if the darkness can sap a battery it might be able to charge it, it might be able to turn on the lights in order to trick the survivors into thinking another group has been located and then, once it has lured them in, turn the light back off.)

I imagine not hide/runaway but fight.

I imagine flame as a central component, rather than electricity.  I think I would keep that the darkness can't sap solar powered batteries, and maybe the musing about the vegetable oil powered car below in the footnote because it places clear limits on what the darkness can do, the closer something is connected to the light, the less power the darkness has over it.  The further disconnected the more power the darkness has.

Combustion is a process of light, so the darkness can't stop it.  But it's not a process of The Light (that being the sun) so the darkness can have it's way with batteries charged by it, but only after they've stopped being charged.  And the closer the combustion charging the battery is to The Light (this tree that was alive and photosynthesizing until I cut it down today is very close, the gasoline from crude oil millions of years in the making is very far) the less power the darkness has over the battery.

If I were to set the movie near a field, then I would imagine a scene where a large portion of the darkness is herded into the field, the field cordoned off with walls of flame so that the darkness couldn't escape, and then the field lit.

I would make it a movie about insurgents in a world that's occupied half of every day.  It would alternate between days when planning and preparation and sleep could take place which were calm and uneventful and nights which were filled with fire and darkness.

I left something out.  In the actual movie, if the darkness is great enough, and the light is small enough, the darkness can extinguish light.  It was candles in that case, and I'm not sure if it was doing it by blowing them out, or just by overpowering the light.  Whatever the case, it couldn't manage the last candle (possibly due to force of will on the part of the person protected by it.)

That would probably play a role in what I would do somehow.  If people are fighting back against the darkness and winning (and they should be winning because they should be smart and always have combustion on their side which should protect them) the darkness should respond with greater force than it normally uses, which should lead to escalations: bigger fires are needed to keep the darkness at bay because it'll kill off candles.  But since the darkness is such a superior force to the survivors bigger strikes against it would also be needed for them to feel like they're accomplishing anything, because however much they kill off, there will always, for the movie at least, be more.

Clear an entire street and that still leaves every other street occupied territory.

Also, if the characters make the connection that solar power = power that the darkness can't sap, they should probably at least try to make their way to somewhere with solar power.  I disbelieve the idea that they've never seen a place with solar panels on the roof.

And I think I'd end the movie with a long planned and prepared for (during the day, don't want the darkness listening in/watching) offensive killing off and driving back enough of the darkness that a Tunguska reference could be made.  Unlike the Roanoke reference it doesn't matter if this is true or false because it plays no role in the plot, it's just a character saying, "I heard," and the thing she (?) heard is in popular culture.  Specifically, "I heard that after Tunguska it was bright enough to read a newspaper in the middle of the night," as a comparison to what it looks like after the darkness fell back.

Or, failing that, every book of Dante's Divine Comedy ends with the stars.  So the offensive described above drives back enough of the darkness that the characters can see through it to the starlight, and possibly moonlight, above.

Not an ending of, "We win," but an ending of, "We finally have a major victory."  Doesn't answer the question of whether there are other survivors out there.  But it does indicate that those who have survived the movie are doing a good enough job that they'll likely go on surviving.


* I wonder if the truck was powered by vegetable oil, it's still removed from direct sunlight, but power from fresh vegetables recently served in a restaurant is a lot closer to the original source (the sun) than power from gasoline that's been refined from crude oil that's been in the ground for millions of years.

Being closer to the original source, light, might make it harder for the darkness to sap.


  1. As I understand Rapture myths, the major distinction between them and this film is that a Rapture happens everywhere at the same time - so there's no running or hiding or being heroic, there's just being killed or not being killed. (I strongly suspect that this is why LaHaye espoused, or invented, it's not too clear which, the specific heresy of post-rapture salvation - otherwise it doesn't make for interesting books.)

    I'm seeing blatant magic in the solar power thing - if I've got electrons wobbling back and forth at 110V*50Hz, there really is no way of telling where they got the oomph to do that. You'd need some way of attaching tags and metadata to individual atoms. Like the quacks trying to sell special "aligned" water.

    Of course what you really want in this situation is a fusion reactor. :-)

    1. There is so much debate about the Rapture, from LaHaye's belief in a body only Rapture that leaves the clothes behind which most others don't hold* to when it happens (I can give you four answers), to what happens after it, to ... well just about everything else, that I honestly don't know how to check if there's any disagreement on how long it will take.

      One of the more heart rending stories on Right Behind posited a Rapture wave. Instead of happening at a single instant it would happen when the first rays of the morning sun hit a spot, so a couple jumped in the car with their baby and drove west as fast as they could because they didn't know what else to do, and it just sort of got more sad and hopeless from there.


      I'm seeing blatant magic in the solar power thing

      Oh definitely, but since there's blatant magic in the, "The darkness will take your body in the twinkling of an eye if it gets to you," thing I don't see there really being with a problem with there being blatant magic in the limitations of the darkness.

      All power on earth ultimately comes from the sun** so the only question is how far removed it is. And like I said: since the enemy, the darkness, is blatantly magical I don't see why its limitations shouldn't be blatantly magical as well. Sunlight imparts a magical quality on things, one which limits the effect the darkness can have upon the thing, that fades over time.


      Also worth noting that the actual movie did point out, "Hey, blatant magic here." I don't remember exactly what was said, but I'm going to paraphrase as, "For fuck's sake, the laws of physics stopped applying here three days ago."


      * Thus accounting for all the stories of fundamentalist children waking up alone in their house and fearing they'd missed the Rapture. If they thought piles of clothes would be left behind then they could look around the house, see that there were no piles of clothes, and not be afraid anymore. But instead they thought people would be taken with their stuff, thus leaving not a trace, and so were left afraid they missed the Rapture until someone came back.

      ** With the possible exception of something like geothermal, but then we have to get into a debate on what we even mean by the word "sun" when talking about the time when the solar system was still forming.

    2. Intentionally split off into a different post because of different topic.

      (I strongly suspect that this is why LaHaye espoused, or invented, it's not too clear which, the specific heresy of post-rapture salvation - otherwise it doesn't make for interesting books.

      LaHaye caught flack for that from the people who don't believe in post Rapture salvation. He may also have caught flack from people who believe in post Rapture Rapture.*

      Anyway, the belief in post Rapture salvation is not, so far as I know, invented by LaHaye. It's a result of a series of corrections, and I use the term loosely, to the theology.

      Step one: And there will be a great and horrible Tribulation.
      Step two: I cannot believe that God would put faithful believers through that.
      Step three: He won't. He'll snatch all the believers off earth first.
      Step four: Ok that makes sense but... what purpose does the Tribulation serve again.
      Step five a: To hurt all those bastards who laughed at me at university!
      Step five b: To give the unsaved one last chance. Every generation before the final generation got a full natural lifetime to be saved, but the final generation is going to have less time because the world as we know it is ending, so in the lead up to that end God will try to catch their attention with bigger and bigger signs that there really is a God and they should convert.
      Step six (in the line of b): Ok, I guess that makes sense. But why doesn't he do it with fluffy bunnies instead?
      step seven: Because we've accepted for years now that this great and terrible Tribulation will come. See "Step one".

      And this happened, I believe, over generations.

      First came the idea of the Tribulation, but then to deal with that came the idea of a pre-Tribulation Rapture. (Don't ask me where the mid-Tribulation and post-Tribulation Raptures came from, I don't know.) But then came the question of what purpose the Tribulation served. If the saved are already in Heaven why all this terrible deadly theatrics on earth? And from that questioning came the idea that the Tribulation was designed to be something so terrible and in your face that you can't possibly ignore it. Something that forces you to realize, "Oh, there is a God, the end is nigh, I'd better choose a side."

      If I understand correctly Timmy comes out of that tradition, but I don't think he grasps the profound moral uneasiness that created it. The idea that you can be saved after the Rapture is an idea that comes from a need to justify the wrongness that is God beating the world with a stick in the Tribulation. The justification being that God is desperately trying to wake people up to save them from the even worse fate of Hell.

      [Apparently I need to split for wordcount.]

    3. The holes in the idea are many and huge but it stems from compassion. It stems from the idea that the only way to justify the horrible thing that is the Tribulation is if it is the only way to save those who experience it from something even worse. Sort of, "I know this shot is going to hurt like Hell, but it's much better than getting [whatever disease the shot inoculates against]."

      It's not a particularly well thought out or strong theory, but it is one based on the simple desire to not see people hurt without a damn good reason.

      So Tim LaHaye has this idea that's presumably been taught to him, but I don't think he understands it. He revels in the sufferings of the Tribulation. Even when they get to be too much for Rayford Fucking Steele, theoretically the stand in for LaHaye, the text is quick to have another character point out, "Nope. They deserve it."

      The idea of post Rapture salvation was born of the desperate hope that something good could come from all that suffering. But LaHaye doesn't seem to get that, he seems to see the suffering as an end in itself.


      * Some people believe that post Rapture salvation is possible, but that when it happens you get Raptured, though I'm not sure if it's supposed to be immediate or at set times. I.e. if you are saved two minutes after the initial Rapture I don't know if you have to wait for the next installment of the Rapture to come by (which might be at the midpoint of the Tribulation) or you get Raptured then and there.

      It's possible that both views exist.

      And the thing to remember when discussing all this diversity of opinion is that it's taking place within a relatively small groups. Other, much larger, portions of Christianity may believe in something that they call sometimes call, "rapture," but it has nothing to do with the disappearing thing LaHaye et al. are talking about.

    4. I fear that much of this comes down to "God is much much smarter than us, and we are simply incapable of comprehending why he does things; we just have to assume that he's Good."

      For some religious people that's enough, but it seems to me that it's a bit of a non sequitur. I'm back to my field mouse example (which I usually use when discussing Cthulhu). Yes, the farmer is much smarter than the field mice, and his motivations are incomprehensible to them, but that doesn't mean that he has their best interests at heart.

  2. I finally saw Pitch Black and it really lived up to/exceeded all my expectations. Just an excellent sort of reasonably-hard scifi that seemed awfully feminist in comparison to so many others.

  3. El Durazno de la MuerteFebruary 16, 2013 at 12:56 AM

    This would definitely be a lot more interesting movie than Disappearance, but I'm not sure these tactics would work to oppose the darkness as depicted there. Early on, one of the characters notes that it's 11 in the morning and pitch black outside; for some reason, the days are getting shorter and shorter. "Solar power is still working," Rosemary points out later. "Yeah," whatsisface replies, "Too bad the sun isn't."

    ...I really wonder what's going on in space, then. Some kind of shroud?

    You know, the menace here seemed like an odd cross between the ghosts in Kairo (Pulse) and the Weeping Angels... but not nearly as fun as either of them.

    1. Big thick dust cloud in space would do it. (Or in the upper atmosphere if you want the effect to be more localised - and that would probably be the only way to bind it to Earth's rotation, i.e. day length - normally I'd expect it to be a constant reduction in intensity.)

    2. See I missed the thing about the sun being missing.*

      That really screws with the ending where, if I recall correctly, we are shown both dawn and sunset. If the darkness is global then that is so very much not possible. It could be that the darkness could keep the sunlight at bay for a while, but then you wouldn't have sunrise and sunset, it would gradually start getting lighter at sunrise, and then when the sunlight was powerful enough to break through the darkness the sun would break through it already risen. Similarly it would fade to darkness before it actually set because the thing stopping the sunlight from getting to you at the end of the day (or before the beginning of the day) would be the darkness itself, not the surface of the earth.

      If the darkness is strong enough for it to be pitch black at 11 AM then the ending of the movie is completely impossible. The sun should never be visible at all. It should, at the absolute most, be slightly less dark for an extremely short period around noon.

      So combine that with the Roanoke fail and the other fails as, "This movie is so very bad it can't even take itself seriously."


      There is another option though, but not a good one and not an 11 AM blackness explaining one. If they really wanted the days to be getting shorter and still end with sunrise and sunset, they could have had the axis of the earth tilt more than it already is. The reason we have shorter days at all is because of said tilt, so assume that it's shorter day season already, increase the tilt, and the days will be getting shorter and shorter while still allowing for sunrise and sunset. Mind you that only works for one hemisphere. To semi-salvage the filmmakers blatant stupidity in Detroit we'd need to make it so the days are getting longer and longer in the southern hemisphere.


      * Which makes main doomed character's concern that there might never be another dawn make more sense.

      Also, I did catch the thing about solar working even when the sun wasn't but didn't know what to do with it. In isolation it made it sound like solar power was working even at night, whereas given what you said it might mean that solar power works when the sun is out even when the people are not able to see that the sun is out.