The recent supermoon loomed on the horizon like a gigantic orange balloon, bigger than most of us had ever seen it before. The concurrent presidential election of the orange-hued Donald Trump, and that moon, bring to mind two psychological sci-fi movies that may help explain the fears and insomnia so many of us are suffering.
In Melancholia, written and directed by Lars von Trier, and released in the U.S. in 2011, a huge, previously unknown planet hurtles toward a collision course with Earth. It keeps filling up more of the sky, until ... well.
The haunting film focuses on two sisters coping with the approaching doomsday in different ways. The rational sister is aware of the horrifying reality that nothing can be done to stop the gigantic planet from crashing into Earth; the other sister is upset by life's smaller problems and her messed up wedding. In the end it is Claire, the calm, rational one, who panics; for depressive Justine, the apocalypse is an ecstatic relief.
The film pretty much sums up how so many of us feel right now, as we wake in the dark of the night as if from a nightmare: dread, helplessness, confusion, panic, melancholy. We can imagine endings of the world as we knew it -- our rights, our constitution, our country, and perhaps the planet itself.
The other frightening sci-fi thriller is from my childhood. Invaders from Mars was released in the 1950s, when the Cold War and McCarthyism were at their height.
A remake of the film was made in the 1980s, but it is the 79-minute original that remains more horrifying, because it reflected the scary years when some people were blacklisted and others were snitching on supposed communists, and the mood was suspicious and bleak. Some seemed to lose constitutional rights as others, led by government officials, turned on them.
The film's screenplay is basic: A curious adolescent boy confronts aliens in his backyard who intend to use mind control on the local townsfolk. The Martians have already co-opted the boy's father, and the boy eventually loses his parents. It seems too late to stop the invaders but the boy finally joins two scientists to repel the extra-terrestrials.
The finale involves bullets, grenades, TNT, and a ray gun that can melt stone. But the scariest aspect of the film is when a policeman listens to the frightened boy who is desperate for help. You feel some relief. But you see that there is a tell-tale mark on the policeman's neck. He has already been invaded.
Relate this to how so many of us feel today: Can we trust the police? Friends who voted for a racist? Our government? Our president-to-be? Our own family members? Can we tell if that new neighbor at our Thanksgiving table has the equivalent of a mark on his neck? Should we even try to find out?
And what can we do? Should we team up with like-minded do-gooders to solve our problems against bigger, stronger foes who wield insidious power? Is there a chance of winning without a dangerous confrontation?
One thing for sure: more of these frightening movies will be produced in the coming years to vent our justified fears.