Last night was the Supermoon, that time in the moon’s elliptical orbit when it is at its closest to earth and looks about 14% bigger. Last night was also a full lunar eclipse, which happened within 3 minutes of a full moon, and the sky was absolutely clear. It was also a family friendly double bill at the Drive In. And, if you think the coincidences could not continue, it was the “trunk or treat” special night at the Drive In. How cool is that?
This perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system—we call it a “Supermoon” because saying perigee-syzygy makes it sound like our lips are frozen shut—combined with an eclipse is a pretty rare event. The odds of this event in the heavens being combined with a family fun double feature with free candy thrown in are astronomical.
It was quite a night. An amazing night. An apocalyptic night, really.
There is a lot of serious stuff happening in our family right now. In the elliptical orbit of human lives, our family’s is at its apogee. Things are intense in a lot of adult ways, so my partner and I decided that we needed to do something Superfun on Supermoon eclipse night.
We were visiting family in Nova Scotia yesterday when we cooked up the plan. We bought 300 tootsie roll suckers for $10—key to most heinous plans—said our goodbyes quickly, and hopped on an earlier ferry to our Island home. The boat tossed and rolled in the Supermoon tidal shifts, but we arrived safely to shore.
At home, Nicolas’ job was to find a costume. As Kerry is a Kindergarten teacher, we have a great tickle trunk ready. Within minutes Nicolas was a Jedi—convincing enough that the children at the Drive In called him Anakin, which doesn’t bode well for his future. Kerry threw together a picnic supper—a kale and spinach salad with feta, strawberries, mandarin oranges, almonds, and Portuguese BBQ chicken (I know!). And I packed the car with sleeping bags, lawn chairs, blankets, pillows, and drinks. It’s my fault we forgot the toques.
Prince Edward Island is a small place, so we knew five or six families at the Drive In. Nicolas took his environmentally friendly reusable shopping bag from car to car as I handed out our pretty lame suckers. And as we all milled around, laughing and meeting people, the Supermoon rose between the trees. Its clear light pierced the lingering dusk.
By the time the Supermoon had cleared the trees, the first film had begun. It was a fun sequel to Hotel Transylvania. Filled with a Supercast of voices, with a cameo from the indelible Mel Brookes, Hotel Transylvania 2 made the mistake of many soft sequels: it leaned too heavily on message and didn’t allow the characters to find their story. It lacked the spontaneity and “blah-bu-blah-bu-blah” of the first film. Still, a great night out and a good pairing with “trick or trunk” night at the Drive In.
The second film, begun just as a shadow was nudging its way across the Supermoon, was Pixels—coincidentally another Adam Sandler film. His films are risky, as they walk the fine line between Superlame and popcorn-shooting-out-of-the-nostril funny. This one played on nostalgia pretty heavily, so it came off all right.
Pixels is the story of an alien race that mistook film footage of the 1982 World Arcade Championship as an act of war. Naturally, the alien race created an army of classic video game characters to invade earth. It is now up to a group of Superlosers, and one pretty competent soldier who looks great in a uniform, to save the planet. The plot is crowded, the pace is manic at times, and there is one character who is so bad and out of step with the film, that he almost ruins it. But it was fun film overall, and squeaked by with only a few cringe-worthy moments.
And, of course, apocalypse is averted.
My first apocalyptic film memory was Demi Moore in The Seventh Sign. This 1980s horror show captivated me. It wasn’t Demi Moore’s best role. It pretty much butchered all the best parts of apocalyptic legends, mashing them together with the skill of a chef that puts a cheese slice on Atlantic lobster. But I still remember her enocunter with the rabbi, the moment we meet a servant of Pilate cursed with eternal life, and great chunks of ice falling from the sky. In this film, apocalypse is averted when someone does something nice for someone else.
Sophisticated, I know.
It could be that Adam Sandler and the creators of Pixels stole their narrative arc from The Seventh Sign. There is certainly more GenX angst about fullfilling one’s own life path in Pixels. But, otherwise, they dance the same dance, each with its own awkward, loping gait.
Last night was a night to think about apocalypse.
After the second film, just as the shadow was about to eclipse the moon, we pulled out of the steeplechase that is the post-Drive In commute back to Charlottetown. Instead, I drove through the back roads, away from the light pollution of city and traffic. In the quiet and the dark, my family huddled in the cold on an old country road, heads tilted to the heavens. We watched as sun and earth and Supermoon aligned. Instead of blacking out the moon, though, the eclipse caused the moon to take an orange-red tinge. It was quite beautiful.
With crystallized matter-pixels falling from the sky in the film and the moon turning red in real life, I thought of Joel’s prophecy, as told by the Apostle Peter so long ago:
17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
This is the earliest vision of the apocalypse in the Christian era, retold just weeks after Christ’s death and resurrection on the Jewish feast of Pentecost. This passage drips of prophecy. The imagery is bracing. There is something deep and mythical and ominous about the twinned transformation of nature and social class. While the revolution of the planets seems to still, the revolution of human culture begins. No longer is the Spirit of God for the elite. Instead, the very words of the Creator of the Universe are found on the lips of page boys and washer women and the old lady across the street with all the cats.
See, although so much of our apocalyptic imagery roots itself in this moment in the book of Acts, it is there that Peter says this moment is fulfilled. Why are the Disciples speaking in tongues? Because this is what Joel said would happen, all those generations ago.
We are living in the last days. We have been for nearly two millennia.
With all due respect to the Left Behind producers, the sensationalist approach to the idea of apocalypse misses much. I agree with many that the awkward acting of Nicholas Cage—in honour of the same performance by Kirk Cameron a generation before—paired with painful penmanship by the Left Behind writers could be interpreted as End Time signs.
Still, though, when we forget the root of biblical apocalypse, we miss much about the dangerous beauty of this genre. “Apocalypse” literally means “unveiling” or “uncovering.” It is the Greek word for the book of “Revelation.” Perhaps it is that we have forgotten what “velare” used to mean, so the “re” in “revelation” has no meaning. The word “apocalypse” goes back to the Greek nymph named Calypso. I would translated “apocalypse” as “un-hiding.”
Apocalyptic literature in the Jewish world was about hiding and un-hiding. At its root, it is best understood in the way that we watch movies. In Hotel Transylvania 2, “VamPop” (the vampire grandfather) and the mom are talking on facetime. Everything is fine when we are just staring at his vampyric nose. But when the camera pulls back, it is a scene of flame and terror and sirens and disaster. VamPop is in trouble.
The ability of film to pull the camera back to see the big picture is one of its greatest qualities. The novelist can do this too, as the poet always had, but I want to stick with the camera for a moment. Apocalypse is like that wide angle lens on the boom. Apocalyptic literature helps us look at what is going on in the world from a cosmic angle. What happens when the Spirit falls in Acts 2? We see the results of the Spirit in that anyone can speak the word of God, regardless of social class or gender. Joel’s prophecy fills that moment with spiritual significance: it looks like a normal festival morning in Jerusalem, but there is a cosmic revolution taking place.
This is what I think about as I look up at the sky with my family. The sun is darkened. The moon turns to blood. These are the wonders in the heavens above that we have in the moment. As a shooting star cruised through the star-crowded sky—why not throw in a shooting star while we are at it?—I felt like a little bit of the veil was lifted. All the busyness and discouragement and struggle of my “adult” life came into focus. My 10 year old said, “I have never seen a sky like that in my whole life.”
Our sons and daughters will prophesy, after all.
I don’t doubt that the apocalyptic literature has some future meaning too. But when we miss the “un-hiding” aspect of these images, we miss much. Revelation 12, for example, is the story of Christ’s birth shown from the cosmic angle—the camera is pulled way back from the manger to view the moment of Christ’s birth across all the spiritual universe. Every Christmas is about spiritual warfare on an intergalactic level, though we sometimes forget.
When we take apocalyptic and make it only earthquake and lightning and heroic struggles against interstellar foes—whether on film or in pulpits—I think we miss much of what apocalypse teaches us about every day. We are a culture that delights in the fall of the mortar shells and forgets the lives snuffed out at the end. We chase celebrities and leave our lovers lonely. We vote by scandal, work for money, and mate according to the expectations of Hollywood. We are a culture bent on taking the shell of an idea and losing its heart. We are determined to throw the baby out with our distilled water.
Looking up at the night sky, stopping for these once-in-a-lifetime wonders, brings us back to the heart of things. Briefly on that clear night, the foggy state of my heart lifted for a moment. The truth of God’s strength stilled the frenetic revolutions of my worried mind. For that is the base message of all apocalyptic literature: God is in control.
I think that is Supercool.
It really was a beautiful night for an apocalypse–a tiny bit of unveiling in my cloudy world.
Note: none of these awesome photos are mine. I loved the CBC and Guardian articles on it with great slideshows.