The NPR Apocalypse
‘Knock at the Cabin’ and Progressive Armageddon
The apocalypse is back in Knock at the Cabin, the current #1 movie in America. This isn’t a zombie apocalypse, or a weather apocalypse, or a nuclear apocalypse. Or a post-apocalypse. No, this is an old-fashioned Armageddon where God judges humanity for its sins.
But this apocalypse lines up way differently than other apocalypses we’ve seen on screen in the past. The disturbing 1991 Mimi Rogers movie The Rapture and the Left Behind series hew closely to the fundamentalist Christian vision of the apocalypse, where true believers remain on Earth to bask in the glow of the Lord, while disbelievers descend into eternal hellfire. Even the ironic takes on apocalypse, like various episodes of South Park, Kevin Smith’s Dogma, and Seth Rogen’s This Is The End, which is basically Pineapple Express during the apocalypse, subscribe to what the Bible tells us the end of the world will be like. Not Knock at the Cabin.
Nowhere does Knock at the Cabin mention the Christian God, usually the sword-wielder of the apocalypse. Our main characters are two gay dads with an adopted Chinese daughter. Only they can save the world, and it’s not by going through conversion therapy. Pat Robertson isn’t steering this Armageddon story. Knock at the Cabin presents a cultural first, a progressive vision of the apocalypse.
The “Four Horsemen” show up. They are a gym coach from Chicago, a nurse from Los Angeles, and a single mother who somehow supports her son as a line cook in Washington, D.C. No one mentions their politics during the movie–they are too busy sweatily trying to save the world–but they give every impression of being kind, caring people from distinctly Blue State locales. They may be the Four Horsemen, but they are distinctly good, representing Service, Guidance, and Healing, a far cry from War, Pestilence, and Famine. The only morally questionable one, “Redmond,” played by Rupert Grint, is a working-class man from Southie who once committed a terrible act of homophobic violence against one of our gay dad heroes. He is, in every way, a Deplorable.
Gaze upon the misery that humanity must suffer because the gay dads refuse to make a choice: a tsunami, a virus, and airplanes dropping from the sky. These represent, in turn, our greatest fears apart from nuclear annihilation. They are climate change, pandemics, and terrorism. The good liberals come to the cabin asking other good liberals to make a sacrifice, to make a choice, to be communal, to not be selfish, so others may live.
This movie pokes at the fears and neuroses of liberals that they’re not doing enough. Wear a mask. Get rid of your gas stove. Reduce your carbon footprint. These are all small sacrifices that you can make now to preserve the world for the next generation. If you refuse, then other people will die for your sins. That’s not the text of Knock at the Cabin. But it’s certainly the subtext.
Fundamentalists are still out there preaching their fire-and-brimstone nonsense. But that culture is in a sunset phase, whereas progressive millenarianism is fully ascendant, its tenets and tendrils spreading invasively throughout the culture. It’s the apocalypse brought to you by NPR. You see it in the joyless Sunday night HBO death watch of The Last of Us, and you read it in “quality” literature. Emily St. John Mandel, the high fictional priestess of the NPR Apocalypse, created a post-calamity world in Station Eleven, starring a troupe of traveling Shakespearian actors, trying to keep a shred of culture alive in the face of godless decay.
In St. John Mandel’s latest book, Sea of Tranquility, set in the future, a novelist who wrote a novel about a pandemic goes on a book tour during a pandemic, where people are refusing to wear masks and are denying the end of the world. The novelist barely escapes to her home on the moon by triple-masking and then locking down for three months. She’s willing to make the sacrifice, to do what’s necessary, to stay safe.
Our current Book of the Moment is The Deluge by Stephen Markey, which spells out in perfect clarity that the climate is about to collapse, killing countless millions. So a group of well-meaning but troubled liberals from all over the country gather to make the ultimate choice:
“From the Gulf Coast to Los Angeles, the Midwest to Washington, DC, their intertwined odysseys unfold against a stark backdrop of accelerating chaos as they summon courage, galvanize a nation, fall to their own fear, and find wild hope in the face of staggering odds. As their stories hurtle toward a spectacular climax, each faces a reckoning: what will they sacrifice to salvage humanity’s last chance at a future?”
The NPR apocalypse doesn’t condemn non-believers in Christ. Instead, those not willing to sacrifice themselves, at the cabin or elsewhere, will pay the price, and we’ll all have to pay alongside them. Our Progressive Armageddon narratives all demand we behave selflessly. All Things Considered, what choice do we have?