I would like to speak to Earth’s manager
GREENLAND is what happens when the most sheltered people write a disaster film. It’s a story about insufferable one-percenters surviving at the cost of those less fortunate than them, released into a global pandemic where the white upper class is perpetually outraged when they have to make minor adjustments to their lavish lifestyles. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so insufferably dull.
Gerard Butler plays a wealthy architect whose marriage is on the fritz. His wife, played by Morena Baccarin, is estranged from him, and their precocious child is in the middle with his comically convenient diabetes. They have names, which are repeated often in the film, but I kept referring to them in my notes as Karen and Kevin, so that’s who they’ll be.
Karen and Kevin live an extremely comfortable life. They have a massive house in a rich cul-de-sac, two kitted out cars, and technology for days. Their neighbors look like they’ve leaped from the pages of catalogs that only get distributed to certain postcodes. If it weren’t for pesky marital troubles, everything would be perfect.
Except for the giant comet passing by the earth, which will wipe out all life on the planet in 48 hours.
No soul, no service
Against all odds, a message arrives selecting Karen and Kevin for evacuation, requiring them to head for the nearest airport for transportation to Greenland. The only location suitable for underground silos to shelter human life. Because America, Hawaii, or any of the bases around the world don’t have those.
So Karen and Kevin pack their things and head for the airport. On the way, they observe frightened people of lower economic status loot stores in fear. “Well, that didn’t take long.” Kevin scoffs. They, after all, are good people. They don’t do stuff like that.
But tragedy strikes! Karen and Kevin lose their passage because their son has diabetes. No pre-existing conditions, the eugenicists say. There’s no indication why any of that makes sense, considering they’re already trying to evacuate enough people to restart the population after a global extinction event, but let’s go with it anyway.
Thus begin the heroics. Karen, with all her might, demands to see the military’s manager. She yells and wails until they bring her to the person in charge. At which point Karen demands that her child, her young child, is an excuse enough that all rules should bend for her. No such luck. The cruel people refuse her entrance, and they’re on their way.
At this point, Kevin, in all his impotent rage, promises Karen that he’ll get them to Greenland one way or the other. After all, they have tickets.
Every major obstacle in this film is either Karen or Kevin demanding special treatment and then throwing a fit until they get it. During the apocalypse, they cut in line, use their child as a bargaining chip, buy a way to get ahead, and complain about how hard they have it.
In one of the most horrifyingly insipid scenes, Karen and Kevin hold the lives of countless families in jeopardy, demanding a seat on a plane already too full. It’s supposed to be a heroic moment for the family, but for anyone who isn’t a sociopathic monster, it just feels like the villains winning at the cost of others.
What’s worse is that the film pretends like these actions aren’t just justified but celebrated. Every act of whining, demanding, and screaming gets not only results – but over the top assurances that their demands are heard and catered to them in every way.
Talking about the entire third act would be a spoiler, and I won’t do that if someone wants to see this mess. But let’s just say it involves a boomer fantasy so over-the-top, it will make any millennial laugh heartily by the end.
From our apocalypse to yours
Most infuriatingly, the film minimizes the destruction of the planet as something utterly trivial in the face of Karen and Kevin’s feelings. Kevin has cheated on Karen, and that makes both of them sad. Luckily for Kevin, the end of the world is the best time to prove yourself as a real man again, allowing Karen to admit that in the end, the cheating is also her fault – because that makes sense.
GREENLAND arrives to theaters in the middle of one of the worst pandemics in modern history. At a time where climate change is decimating entire regions of the planet, causing hundreds of millions of people to die or become homeless. A weak finale tries to tie all this together into a neat little ribbon, but since our focus is squarely on the frail shoulders of boomers, nothing matters anymore in the end.
What’s more is the casting works counter to the message of the film. Making the leads as wealthy one-percenters of an extremely priviliged class instils no sympathy. It’s an oddly intentional move, one that hangs over the entire picture. The same way as the intentional scene depicting terror in our leads’ hearts, which expressly features a minority gang blindly shooting older people in a pharmacy. It means the film intentionally features selfish acts as praiseworthy means of survival, as long as it serves the survival of the American family unit.
If this film were on the Titanic, it would be kicking others off the lifeboat because there’s not enough room to be comfortable.