After The Dark

I know that lawyers often hate watching legal dramas because of how much they get wrong about the legal system, and doctors often can’t stand shows about hospitals for the same reason. However, I know nothing about the law or the human body because I work at a dumb office job. Furthermore, because movies that take place in offices generally nail the tedious details that define my tedious profession, I rarely get the specific mixture of joy and pain that comes from watching something boneheaded about a field you know a lot about. But I majored in philosophy when I was in college, and After the Dark is supposed to take place in a philosophy classroom, so for once I got a chance to be dumbfounded at how many things one movie could get wrong about a job that's pretty easy to research. 

The set up of After the Dark is simple: a teacher proposes a “thought experiment” to his class: all twenty of you are next to a bunker when atomic bombs start to fall. Only ten people can fit into the bunker and you have one hour before the radiated wind hits your area. In the limited time left before you have to get inside and lock the door how do you decide who gets to come in?

If I had been in this class I would have raised my hand at this point to add: that isn’t a thought experiment, that’s an exercise in fiction writing. It doesn't illustrate a broad principle about the way that the world actually works and it’s such an unlikely set up that it isn’t going to be able to say anything about how the world should work. (And if the teacher is saying that we need to be able to judge which people are superfluous so we can be prepared to kill them he needs to be fired.)  I understand that the idea is that this is “philosophy” because it’s asking people to use “logic”, but that's like saying that the guy who dumps raw grain into a barnyard trough is a "chef" because he's working with "food".

This paragraph is only for people who are really into nitpicky details, but as a philosophy nerd I am that type of person, so deal with it. The scenario is set up in a way that it has to be arbitrary on a fundamental level. The twenty people in the group have to have specific characteristics for anyone to be able to pick and choose between them, but whatever characteristics they have assigned to them could be easily swapped out because they were given those traits on a whim in the first place.That arbitrariness is a problem because an actual thought experiment has to be rigorously defined; every opening is a chance for someone to attack your premise and ultimately debunk your conclusion. Basically, by creating a scenario where you can make up the rules as you go along the professor has created a scenario which has no value as an exercise in logic.

And boy does this professor make up the rules as he goes along! This guy– who absolutely deserves to be fired, even before it’s revealed that he’s sleeping with one of his students – is constantly playing Calvinball, adding stipulations which make things more difficult but don’t illuminate anything. At one point he tells his class that one of the students is now gay in this world, therefore they shouldn't pick him because he won't want to breed to repopulate the earth. (That must be news to all the people with gay parents; also with only ten people left breeding might not be worth it.)

Later the professor informs his class that the "opera singer" is going to get a throat cancer in three years that will turn her mute but stop growing before it kills her, so they can still pick her for humanitarian reasons, but they shouldn't pick her just because they like art. First of all, it’s a post apocalyptic wasteland so EVERYONE is getting cancer. Also, cancer doesn’t grow to a magical size and stop; the definition of cancer is unregulated and dangerous growth. But most importantly there is no valid principle behind this because of course there are going to be unforeseen future complications behind any choices that they make, that’s how life works, especially in a post apocalyptic hellscape.

I have to give After the Dark this much credit: it was entertaining enough that I kept going long after it was clear that it was just going to be a frustrating mess. I could've bailed at the beginning, when it referred to the “infinite monkeys typing on infinite typewriters for eternity will eventually write Shakespeare” scenario as one of the first things a student would study in a philosophy class. (No. Just… No.) But no, I continued on through the middle, where the professor wouldn't tell his students what his character's skillset was in the scenario, then when they left him out of the bunker in favor of a more known quantity he told them that he was the guy who built the bunker and now they were going to be permanently locked inside because he was the only one who knew the escape code. (Like I said: Calvinball; that's the sort of comeback a child would create.) In fact, I kept watching all the way till the end when the professor pulls open a drawer to look ominously at a gun (a sentiment I could empathize with.)

And I didn't watch the whole thing entirely out of a masochistic streak – I was legitimately curious as to what the next batshit crazy left turn would be, and when the next turn did come, sure enough, it was batshit crazy. (This movie is so crazy that I still haven't found a convenient place to mention that this movie's anonymous classroom is located in Jakarta for some reason, even though the cast is almost all white.) If a movie is going to be bad the least it can do is not be boring, and After the Dark wasn’t boring. So I guess it does the bare minimum that it could do to not fail my class? 

Winner: Draw?

After the Dark on IMDB