We are pleased to present you our 6th issue. In this issue, we examine the dynamics of human behaviour underneath the apocalyptic conditions presented by different pieces of fiction, to tease out what these texts have to say about the traits and qualities that make one human. A selection of articles has been carefully curated to discuss various perspectives and aspects of human social interaction when confronted with apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic circumstances. By subjecting their cast of characters to the tensile test of catastrophe, the texts analysed by our selection of articles discuss situations where the primacy of mankind has been displaced, and a new social order is precipitated. The changes in the behaviour and interactions of different characters in these texts evince a statement of what it means for one to be human when placed in these circumstances. For example, if we differentiate humanity by its sentience and capacity for reason, does it mean that a species which usurps this preeminence becomes more human? And if we define humanity by our unique set of emotions, how do we then account for instances where human characters become less emotional than machine characters?
The first opinion article, The Apepocalypse, by Goh Wei Shern, explores the topic of sentience, an attribute that uniquely identify humans from other beings. A sentient being in this article refers to one that possesses cognitive and emotional intelligence that allows oneself to achieve higher order thinking. The Apepocalypse examines the depiction of sentience among the super-intelligent apes in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), who are genetically enhanced by a virus that wipes out most of the human population. Dawn portrays the apes’ fleeting success in establishing a harmonious civilisation as it is soon sabotaged by a spiteful ape who seeks retribution for the harm previously inflicted upon by the humans. The article discusses how the apes, with the help of anthropomorphic characterisation and computer-generated images, have achieved a level of sentience comparable with that of a typical human being. It also explores the constant juxtaposition of the ape civilisation against human civilisation in the film which illustrates the subversion of nature and to some extent, the role reversal between humans and apes. This further reinforces the article’s thesis that apes have indeed acquired human-level sentience.
The second article, The Reversal, by Neo Wei Bin Kelvin touches on Artificial Intelligence, a subject matter which directly addresses the issues revolving the malleability of humanity. The Reversal discusses the underlying convergence and overlap in the distinctive features of Neo and Smith in The Matrix (1999). Set in the context of a post-apocalyptic world, humans are unknowingly enslaved by sentient machines in a simulated reality. The film focuses on the protagonist Neo, the promised Messiah who eventually liberates humankind. He is opposed by his nemesis Agent Smith, a sentient computer program in the Matrix which tries to stop Neo from revealing the truth about the Matrix. Challenging the pre-established notion that Neo and Smith are opposites and antithetical, the article explores how there is an unnoticed role reversal mechanism in the film through Neo’s dehumanization and Smith’s humanization. The line between what makes man and machine different eventually becomes blurred – we see a human becoming machine-like. Through the declination of his emotion, loss of his agency and becoming an overpowered program, viewers find it difficult to identify Neo as a human at the end of the film given the absence of conventional human traits. Lastly, the article also touches on the modern paradox of AI which further reinforces the fact that humans might not be as unique as imagined.
The third article, The Second Coming of Klaatu, by Samuel Lai, switches gears by examining how reactions of religious institutions to real-world apocalyptic threats have been reflected in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and its 2008 remake. Although both films share the same basic narrative, the themes of nuclear warfare in the original have been altered in favour of environmentalist themes in the remake. These changes are observed by the article to coincide with the changing emphasis with which religious institutions, such as the Vatican, discuss these issues. Furthermore, noting the copious use of religious allusions in both films, this article discusses how certain elements of the film may resonate with the religious sensibilities of the audience. In a similar vein to The Reversal, by Kelvin Neo, this article explores the variability of human behaviour and belief when confronted with different existential crises through a study of how the reaction of religious communities is reflected by these films. The fact that the same Biblically-driven rhetoric can be applied to two disparate real-world concerns suggests a certain adaptability in human religious belief to be made applicable to these issues.
Last but not least, the fourth opinion article, Mental Deterioration, by Lee Shin Yi, examines the South Korean zombie apocalyptic film, Train to Busan (2016). The film depicts an abrupt transition from a pre-apocalyptic to a post-apocalyptic South Korea due to an unforeseen viral outbreak that transforms sane individuals into mindless bloodthirsty zombies. This article will round the issue off by offering a thought-provoking discussion on how individuals’ mental well-being is likely to deteriorate in the face of such devastating pandemic. Mental Deterioration identifies prominent moments in the film that strongly hint at a deteriorating mental well-being of the survivors while placing greater emphasis on analysing two memorable characters, In-gil and Yon-suk. This article establishes the manifestation of pessimism within the community of survivors and focuses on justifying how pessimism is portrayed in In-gil and Yon-suk. By studying the emotions and pessimism in these two characters, a greater understanding on the repercussions of pessimism can be achieved. Subsequently, a link can be drawn to justify its detrimental effects on the mental well-being of both In-gil and Yon-suk.
Goh Wei Shern
Lee Shin Yi