Disaster films have become an uncommon ware among recent Hollywood offerings. Gone are the days when at least a couple of epic disaster films used to release every year. This is why Ric Roman Waugh’s ‘Greenland’ is special. He and the main star Gerard Butler (also a co-producer) have previously worked together in ‘Angel Has Fallen,’ the 2019 third installment in the ‘Has Fallen’ film franchise.
The comfort that Butler and Waugh feel while working with each other is quite evident in Butler’s performance. The movie revolves around John Garrity (Butler), his wife Allison (Morena Baccarin), and their son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd) as they try to make their way to an underground shelter in Greenland before an extinction-level piece of debris from an interstellar comet hits the earth. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Greenland Plot Synopsis
The film begins by marking John’s return to his home after what must be a considerable period. He and Allison had to deal with severe marital issues, and as we later learn, John cheated on his wife at one point. They are now trying to put all that behind them. Although Allison denies it when John asks her point blank, part of the reason she lets John come back must be because Nathan misses his father. As the Garritys deal with their internal problems, an interstellar comet, which is named Clarke by the scientists, enters the solar system.
On the day it is supposed to pass by the earth, the couple has arranged a get-together with friends from their affluent neighborhood. It is revealed that Clarke is actually a massive cluster of traveling debris. Due to the Sun’s gravity, numerous pieces of debris change their trajectories towards the earth. While most are harmless, burning out before they even reach the ground, some can potentially destroy cities. Right before the disaster strikes, John gets a pre-recorded message on his phone (a similar message appears on the family’s TV), telling him that he and his family have been selected for evacuation.
It also instructs them to go from their home in Atlanta, Georgia to Robins Air Force Base, where planes are waiting for them and others like them. With no idea where these planes will take them, the Garritys realize that it’s still their best option. However, when they get there, John gets separated from his family after he goes back to their car to retrieve Nathan’s diabetes medicines, and Nathan is not allowed to board the plane because of his condition. Through a note left on their car’s windshield, Allison tells John that she and Nathan are heading to her father’s home.
On his way there, John learns that the planes were meant to take them to Greenland, where an underground bunker is going to be used as a shelter when the largest piece of debris, bigger than the meteor that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, hits Western Europe. He also learns that there will be last-minute flights to the bunker taking off from Canada. After they finally reunite, John and Allison decide to make one last effort to catch one of the planes and get to Greenland.
John is initially baffled as any of his neighbors about why he and his family were selected for relocation. As it is later revealed, it was for his job as a structural engineer. He builds high rises, and the government will definitely need people like him in the post-apocalyptic world. That privilege has been granted to a very selected portion of the total population. Doctors, engineers, and people belonging to other professions that can actively contribute to society building in the future have been selected.
Knowing that they can’t save everyone, the government has only focused on ensuring the safety of those who will, in turn, ensure the survival of humanity. The families of 99% of the armed forces were not selected for the evacuation. Predictably, law and order have been swiftly replaced by anarchy and chaos. People have begun giving in to despair, but fortunately for the Garrity family, there are still people in the world who are clinging to their integrity and compassion.
On their way to Allison’s father’s home, both she and John separately encounter the best and worst that humanity has to offer. One of the looters helps Allison and Nathan get out of a pharmacy after shootings begin in there. On the other hand, a couple (David Denman and Hope Davis), who, although initially seems kind and offers the mother-son duo a ride in their cars, steals Allison’s band which recognizes her as one of the selected people, throws her out of the car, and takes off with Nathan. It’s through the help of several military personnel that she later finds him.
A medical professional gives her enough supply of insulin and other drugs for Nathan to last for a while. None of these people have to be there. And yet, they have volunteered to serve and act with empathy and understanding as humanity faces its twilight hour. The privilege granted to the Garritys because of John’s education and accomplishments is abruptly taken away the moment it is revealed that Nathan has diabetes. So, they are left to wonder about their fate, like most of the people on earth.
Desperately hoping that what he heard about the flights in Canada is true, John races against time as he drives towards the airport. Fortunately, the plane is there. The family convinces one of the pilots to let them board it. When they finally get to Greenland, a shockwave caused by the impact of one of the fragments crashes the plane, killing the pilots. The Garritys and other passengers make it to the bunker right before the collision.
A Family Man
As the family waits for the impact, Nathan tearfully asks his parents why he isn’t getting the flashbacks he is supposed to before his death. This is something that he mentioned earlier, as he heard it from one of his friends. His father consoles him by saying that he and Allison love him from the bottom of their hearts, and the most important thing right now is that all of them are together in this moment. John has known that there is always a possibility that they might not get to the bunker in time, and even if they do, it might not withstand the impact.
All he has wanted is to be with his wife and son when the great disaster happens. There is always a scientist archetype in these types of films, delivering expositions and often serving as the main hero. ‘Greenland’ is devoid of all that. It exclusively focuses on the Garritys and their journey to the bunker. John Garrity is not an overly heroic character. He never informs his neighbors about Greenland despite making a promise, and correctly and pragmatically refuses to take one of their daughters with them, knowing at the time that they will have to leave her behind at the airport.
However, considering how everything turns out, that girl may have survived if he had agreed to take her. Later, he saves a passenger from a burning car. As the entire planet is slated to soon go up in flames, this random act of courage seems somewhat futile. John is not the classic disaster film protagonist who saves the entire humankind. But he is, without a doubt, a man who will go to any length to protect his family.
A New Dawn
The impact happens, and the walls of the bunker somehow manage to hold out against the waves of destruction following the blast. When Garritys and others emerge from the bunker, nine months have passed, and ash and radiation have receded. The world is in complete ruin. The extent of the destruction is demonstrated through the images of ruined cities like Sydney, Mexico City, and Paris. An orbital view of the planet shows the massive crater where the largest piece of debris from Clarke hit.
There are also numerous smaller craters dotting the entire planet. As the survivors take in the new landscape, they find hope upon seeing a couple of birds flying. Despite the absolute destruction of human civilization, life at large has found a way to continue existing. The Greenland bunker hears back from those in Helsinki, New Delhi, Beirut, Kathmandu, Moscow, and Sao Paolo, learning that pockets of people have survived in those places as well.
What is going to come afterward is a monumental task for John and his generation of survivors. They have to rebuild the foundation of civilization and ensure that it is strong enough to hold the weight of whatever posterity builds upon it. Humanity will not likely return to its previous state for at least a thousand years, which can potentially be a good thing. The reconstruction doesn’t need to have the shortcomings of the original one. There can be less pollution, war, over-reliance on fossil fuel. After being on the brink of extinction, people might finally learn how to co-exist with each other.
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