The Post-apocalyptic Film Genre in American Culture: 1968 – 2013
thesisposted on 29.11.2016, 12:40 by Emma Anne Harris
This thesis examines post-apocalyptic films in American cinema in the period 1968-2013. These films will be analysed in relation to their status as a genre, their underpinning narrative structures, the influence of religious myths, and their relationship to American national identity. Three representative films will be analysed as case studies: The Ultimate Warrior (1975), Steel Dawn (1987), and I Am Legend (2007). A combined methodological approach will be used to study the post-apocalyptic genre. This approach utilises a ‘bottom-up’ thematic content analysis followed by close textual analysis of the case study films. This analysis is interpreted through a structuralist critical framework within a historical context. The analysis chapters in this thesis will focus on three main stages within the overall time period: 1968-1976, 1982-1989, and 2007-2013. In each of these stages elements in the post-apocalyptic genre shifted because of cultural and social developments. However, this thesis also examines the patterns and themes that have remained consistent and stable in the genre across time. One of the main aims of the thesis is to analyse how the post-apocalyptic genre overlaps, repeats, and is disrupted over time. This thesis demonstrates that the post-apocalyptic genre functions as a unified group of films. The chapters explore how the genre blends with others (e.g. the western), but also retains a coherent narrative. Additionally, the project establishes how the post-apocalyptic genre articulates aspects of American national identity. Primarily, this is through expressing a discomfort with modernity and depicting a pastoral utopia. The values that are conveyed in post-apocalyptic films are connected with conservatism and Evangelical religious doctrines in American popular culture. These broader themes are intertwined in the development of the genre with dominant historical influences, such as the Women’s Rights Movement, Reagan’s Presidency and nuclear anxiety, and the legacy of 9/11.