Why are cinema fans so into apocalyptic films?

The fascination of the apocalypse. Or: How do I bring the catastrophe together with the kingdom of God? Lesson ideas for upper secondary level

The apocalypse is fascinating

Huge and impressive images of the impending end of the world, catastrophe scenarios, “pity and fear”, as Lessing once stated for the tragedy - at a safe media distance, from the audience.

The reason for the impending end of the world: ultimately the human being. The great hope: the hero who saves this world, restores justice after all the injustice experienced and lets mankind rise again, branded but purified from the apocalyptic scenarios. The roles of good and bad are usually clearly defined. And it is clear from the start: Even the good gets entangled in guilt, even a good person cannot and will not survive the catastrophe. The just cause demands sacrifices.

Young people are familiar with such stories and images from their media world. Whether it's a movie, a youth novel, a computer game: People like to watch the impending end of the world from a safe distance or even try to stop it with clever moves and become a hero yourself. www.moviepilot.de, for example, presents a list of the “best end-time films” [1]; 12 Monkeys and Children of Men are among the top three, as is a film for younger cinema-goers: Wall-E - The last one cleans up the earth. Classics like 1984 are just as rare as The day after Tomorrow and 2012, which "Die Welt" commented in its cultural section with: "2012 - Roland Emmerich destroyed like no other." [2] Analogue lists can be found for novels, comics and computer games.

The use of apocalyptic motifs has always been popular. Not only because it is fascinating to take part in the horror from a safe distance, but above all because these motifs address people's existential fears and hopes in equal measure. And because despite all the disasters they promise a hope for justice - through someone who can create it (from outside).

Apocalyptic motives must be able to be classified and evaluated

If one asks the question of the future with pupils of upper secondary level in class, an intensive and personal examination of their own fears and hopes and the attitudes and actions resulting from them is often possible. With a view to the future, the young people show an awareness of the threat to the world and humans as well as human community and solidarity.

Depending on their religious socialization, the students represent very different ideas of the personal and universal end. Here, judgments and punishments are surprisingly present - both from a conviction that one brings with you from family and community, as well as in the distant and unchecked reproduction of "what the Bible or the Church say".

Biblical apocalyptic images are not infrequently adopted without reflection and seem to confirm what contemporary culture is playing with. We have heard of the Johannes apocalypse before - at least since Marie tried to stop the apocalyptic horsemen in “Jesus Loves Me”. And Jesus' final judgment speech in Mt 25 is reminiscent of the medieval altarpieces that we know from Class 7/8, where we talked about Luther's Reformation discovery.

Theologically and religiously pedagogical it is absolutely necessary to be able to classify and evaluate these apocalyptic images of the biblical texts, if one does not want to see a hostile judgment in the minds of the students and a diffuse mixture of apocalyptic thinking and the talk of the kingdom of God in the high school examination Listen. [3]


Apocalyptic and talking about the kingdom of God

These are two different models of thought of the future that stand side by side within the Bible, even within one and the same gospel. While apocalyptic is convinced that the new aeon will replace the old aeon, which necessarily and inexorably runs towards its downfall and makes people passively wait for the turning point from outside that will happen through God [4] sees the thought of "Already now and not yet", as it is characteristic of Jesus 'speeches about the kingdom of God, a healing and community-creating work of God in the middle of this world, which also calls on people to live and work in the spirit of Jesus' discipleship.

Furthermore, apocalyptic thinks in the dualism of the just and the unjust; the former must endure suffering until the better world comes, and will be saved, the latter will be destroyed. The message of the kingdom of God, on the other hand, is clearly positive: it is open to even the most fragmented and imperfect human being. Here the parables “Of the entrusted money” (Mt 25: 14-39) and “Of the workers in the vineyard” (Mt 20: 1-16) can be compared as examples. [5] The author of the Gospel of Matthew places both models of thought side by side, the tension of which can only be resolved if the students realize that an attempt was made here to focus on the different audiences at the time: those for whom apocalyptic thinking was inseparable connected with their previous Jewish life and those who, for various reasons, got involved in the new “idea” of - theologically speaking - present eschatology.

Apocalyptic thinking arose and still arises today in times of oppression and suffering, out of the existential feeling of injustice and the wish that (a) God may resolve this injustice and remain true to his promise (cf. here M 6). The dualism of those who “deserve” salvation or annihilation appears correspondingly radical.

The images of the Book of Daniel (M 3) set this dualism between the Jewish people and the four great foreign powers, the Babylonians, Medes, Persians and Greeks, for whom the terrible animals are symbolic, and which then through the "who was ancient" and whose throne was flames of fire to be judged and destroyed. The Son of Man, who appears “with the clouds of heaven” after the judgment, is then given a new kingdom and all power by the ancient man on the throne. The writers of this biblical text were able to write (and then backdate) this vision much later because they knew that these four kingdoms had perished and failed to overthrow God's people.

The New Testament apocalyptic texts were also created in a time of existential distress and above all in the expectation of parousia: “Tell us, when will that be? By which signs do we know that you are coming again and that the end of the world is imminent? ”The disciples ask Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (M 4). Now the Roman occupying power is “the monster of desecration” that “stands in the sanctuary”, destroys the temple and attacks Israel's self-image. And it is the persecution of "those who profess my faith" that paints drastic images of doom.

Ideas for teaching

Basically, a sequence of lessons that deals with forms of apocalyptic thinking should be in the context of the talk of the kingdom of God. Only if students can distinguish between the two can basic biblical texts such as Mt 25 (On the Last Judgment) and Rev 21 (The New Jerusalem) [6] and binding basic concepts such as “present and futuristic eschatology” and “justice” [7] be properly understood classify.

Pupils notice the contradictions of the biblical texts in this context by themselves. Experience has shown that they try to somehow reconcile the various ideas of the future and also the very different images of man and God in these schools of thought, but they notice that this is difficult to do and “Bible “Makes it untrustworthy from their point of view or has to be accepted unquestioned. The historical-critical perspective on the corresponding pericopes motivates the students and also enables a new and reflective look at the use of apocalyptic motifs in contemporary culture.
Ideas for dealing with apocalyptic thinking are presented below. The embedding of these building blocks in the overall context of Jesus' message of the kingdom of God must be decided for the individual course of instruction.

Entry opportunities

Two different examples that start in the pupils' world are Suzanne Collins ‘dystopia“ The Hunger Games ”and the film“ Children of men ”from 2006 (director: Alfonso Cuarón; FSK 16).

"The Hunger Games"
This movie poster (M 1a) shows Katniss Everdeen: with a bow and arrow, the weapon she has mastered excellently, armed for the battle against the Capitol. The viewer stands directly behind her and feels involved in this scene, on the way through the audience, who are waiting for great entertainment: "The world will watch you."

Anyone who knows the novel and film knows that both the road to the Capitol and the road to the deadly arena can be read here. The Capitol rules over Panem, the "post-apocalyptic surveillance state" [8], which consists of 13 districts. In order to keep the power of the inhuman regime under President Snow present, the annual Hunger Games take place, in which two young people from one district are sent into the arena and fight against each other until a winner remains. Game makers ensure that the audience in the Capitol is well entertained: They influence the conditions in the arena from the screen. Associations with gladiator fights in ancient Rome are no more random than those with casting shows and jungle camps on private television. Suzanne Collins has designed a terrifying media satire that not only poses the question of media power, but ultimately also that of media reality and truth.

The power of the Capitol is threatened by Katniss, protagonist of the novel trilogy and can be seen on the side banners of the poster scene with Peeta Melark, her ally. The novel and film tell the story of a revolution against an inhuman regime that exercises injustice with all means and possibilities of the media world and is also entertained by it. "The real weapons" remain, "intellect, intuition and the knowledge of the power of gestures and images". [9] The symbol of the burning mocking booby, the eye-catcher of the poster, is a symbol of Katniss and her struggle for justice. [10]

Your struggle has consequences. The extract from the novel (M 1b) shows Katniss at the beginning of the third part: President Snow's revenge is obvious: District 12 has been destroyed. Katniss recognizes her own involvement in guilt: for the death of numerous people, for the few survivors being forced to flee, for the fear of death in which everyone has to live from now on. The reader knows: She is one of the good guys, she is the heroine who is supposed to destroy the power of the Capitol and make a just rule possible. At the same time she bears her own wounds and cannot remain free from guilt: “I killed you. And you. And you."

"Children of men"
An alternative introduction to the lesson sequence would be to deal with Alfonso Cuarón's dystopian science fiction thriller “Children of men” (trailer text under M 2), which is featured in the novel of the same name by P.D. James has his template.

The viewer is in the year 2027 and the end of mankind is in sight. Women have not had children for 18 years, the world has sunk into hopelessness and chaos. In contrast to the rest of the world, Great Britain does not want to surrender and is militarily demarcating itself. Refugees who seek refuge there are declared enemies, persecuted and locked away. Police violence and terror prevail within the country.

The underground terrorist organization "Fishes", led by Julian, fights against police terror and for the rights of refugees. And when it is Kee of all people, one of the illegal refugees who is the first woman to be pregnant after 18 years, it is in the hands of the Fishes to bring Kee to the rescue boat of the Human Project. Behind it are, it is said, “the greatest minds in the world” who “work for a new society”. Who exactly that is and, above all, where this new society should be, is not answered in the film. It only becomes clear that it will not be conceived in an entirely apocalyptic way in the present one. The boat disappears at the end with Kee and the newborn on the sea.

Theo, from whom Julian separated 20 years earlier after they lost their son, becomes the central savior figure of the plot. Julian asks Theo for his help, and the task of saving Kee and the baby turns his resignation and bitterness into the will to oppose this world with hope. In this modern Christmas story he becomes a parallel figure of Joseph. Kee, Theo, and the baby escape the theater of war where the fighting is coming to a head and reach the boat. Theo himself dies at the end of the film and, like the audience, will not find out where (and whether) the promising boat will arrive.

After an approach via the trailer (text) of the film, which can train schoolchildren to recognize motives and anticipate options for action, the film can be viewed and worked through with observation tasks based on the division of labor. Here it is particularly worthwhile to take a look at the adaptation of the biblical Christmas story (central here is the stable scene in the film); on the symbol of the boat, behind which the goal of a new society stands, but of which it remains open whether and where it will arrive; on the naming of people and organizations. Ultimately, the current dealings with refugees are also asked about the modern Christmas story.

Look at the biblical texts

In order to be able to classify the apocalyptic motifs in the novel and film [11], a look at the corresponding biblical texts should follow. Due to its impressive imagery, an excerpt from Dan 7 is appropriate here (M 3). After exchanging their first impressions of the visions, the students can independently continue the text in v. 17 and try to decipher the prophetically narrated images and make the apocalyptic character of this text explainable. A look at the rest of the text and the context in which it was created will confirm possible assumptions made by the students that this is in some form about images for threatening enemies and the desire for a just judge to end the tribulation.

In comparison, for example, with Jesus' end-time speeches in Mt (M 4), it can be clear that apocalyptic thinking was still present, but that the gaze is shifted from the question of ethnicity to people themselves. In the classroom it is necessary to clarify the place in life for the selected apocalyptic texts of the Second Testament and to make it clear how speaking about the kingdom of God stands in relation to apocalyptic. That this is not about a hostile, destructive message, but about the “cry for justice” (Söding, M 6).

Recognize basic anthropological patterns

Depending on the time and focus, students could take a walk through (cultural) history. You would recognize that apocalyptic ideas always appear (d) when the person feels threatened. Dystopias in film and books, but also art, have always been a mirror of fears and hopes for the future. One of Max Beckmann's stone drawings of the John Apocalypse is shown as an example (M 5). Almost like in a medieval scenario, one sees Christ adorned with a crown and sword, proud and sublime, apparently ruthlessly riding over the dying or already dead people. He defeated the chaos. Beckmann's stone drawings are from 1941. Of course, a time when the hope that justice would prevail in the face of inhumanity was omnipresent.



  1. See www.moviepilot.de/filme/beste/genre-endzeitfilm?page=3.
  2. See www.welt.de/kultur/article5132105/2012-Roland-Emmerich-zerstoert-wie-kein-Zweiter.html.
  3. With regard to teaching, the focus is on promoting the following skills in particular:
    a. process-related: identify religious motifs and elements in texts, aesthetic-artistic and media forms of expression and explain their meaning and function; interpret biblical texts that are fundamental to the Christian faith in a methodically reflective manner; appropriately develop theological texts (core curriculum, 18);
    b. content-related: explain the message of the kingdom of God; show to what extent biblical images of hope change the perception of the present world (core curriculum 25 and 27). With recourse to the core curriculum of secondary level I, reference should also be made to the distinction between life-promoting and life-hostile forms of religion, in which the interpretation of apocalyptic is an essential aspect.
  4. Here, for example and in detail, a comparative overview in Nocke: Eschatologie, 30-39.
  5. This comparison is included under task 3 to M 4.
  6. Core curriculum, 26.
  7. Core curriculum, 24.26.
  8. David Kleingers: The Hunger Games, Spiegel-online from November 17, 2013.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Interesting here is the news on Focus online from November 15, 2014: The message of the film, the fight for "human rights and a fairer distribution of wealth between rich and poor", led to demonstrators in Thailand the gesture of the insurgents Film, the three-finger salute, used as a protest against their own military.
  11. If you do not want to choose a fictional entry, you can alternatively have current news examined for their use of apocalyptic vocabulary. Journalists like to use these images without necessarily making it clear that the concept of apocalyptic originally always included a metaphysical level.


  • "The Hunger Games - Mockingjay". Call for insurrection: Post-apocalyptic action spectacle in the cinema (Focus online from November 15, 2014)
  • Dunn, George and Nicolas Michaud (eds.): The philosophy in The Hunger Games. Hunger Games - Love, Power and Survival, Weinheim 2013
  • Kleingers, David: "The Hunger Games - Catching Fire". She shows the mighty the bird. (Spiegel online from November 17, 2013)
  • Lower Saxony Ministry of Culture (ed.): Core curriculum for grammar school - upper level, comprehensive school - upper level, vocational high school, evening high school, college, Hanover 2011
  • Nocke, Franz-Josef: Eschatologie, 7th edition, Düsseldorf 2005
  • Spreckelsen, Tilman: The endless fun of the apocalypse. The end of the world, wherever you read: the American author Suzanne Collins completes her “Panem” trilogy. The book shows a gloomy world that not only young readers are enthusiastic about. (faz.net from January 19, 2011)
  • Zeitzeichen 11 (2012): Apocalyptic