Will Children Save Us at the End of the World?

Will Children Save Us at the End of the World?

Pedro Pascal, left, and Bella Ramsey in a scene from the series “The Last of Us” (2023-present).Credit…Liane Hentscher/HBO The noxious orange smoke that descended over New York this month reminded me of a parlor game I used to play with my husband: Would we have what it takes to survive the apocalypse? We abruptly stopped enjoying this thought experiment in March 2020 and when I had a child the next year, I became even less tolerant of blithely considering the end of the world. But now, suddenly, versions of our game are everywhere, in a new and near-unavoidable genre: stories that revisit our pandemic trauma via even worse — but plausible! — scenarios. Making these works doubly poignant, many of them have children at their center. There's “ Station Eleven ,” the 2014 by Emily St. John Mandel the aftermath of a swine flu, which was turned into a much-discussed 2021 HBO Max series, in which an 8-year-old girl manages to survive with the help of a stranger turned surrogate parent. “ The Last of Us ,” HBO's video game adaptation, which debuted in January, features a zombie-fungus pandemic; a seemingly immune teenage girl is humanity's one hope. “ Leave the World Behind ,” Rumaan Alam's 2020 novel — soon to be a movie — about a bourgeois family vacation gone very bad, features a vague but menacing threat of apocalypse. Also loosely belonging to this category are the shows “ Yellowjackets ” (2021-present) — a girls' soccer team turns to cannibalism after a plane crash — and “ Class of '07 ” (2023) — a school reunion coincides with a climate apocalypse — and the new-to-Netflix 2019 Icelandic movie “ Woman at War ” (a renegade activist tries to stop the destruction of the environment and adopt a child). These stories are, in various ways, about how and whether our children can survive the mess that we've left them — and what it will cost them to do so. In “Station Eleven,” post-pans (children who were born after the pandemic) are both beacons of optimism and […]

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