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Posted (edited)

Absolutely No Question : Christopher Nolan's Storytelling Genius In One Second


(1:22:35–1:22:36) Amid the fast-moving developing climactic Situation, in which over a dozen story strands are interacting and moving forward together, one second of screentime within all this exemplifies Nolan's extreme meticulousness throughout the entire film. Just here we see one example of how the storyteller encoded deep structures intentionally into his narrative. Since the storyteller has already set up throughout the entire film a thematic relationship between air and earth, up and down, light and dark, these two shots are highly symbolic.




Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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Another example of the storyteller’s meticulous genius


(1:15:37–1:15:46) One common storytelling technique is the close association between a conflict of characters and a disaster out in the world. Yes, this is an extremely common technique in cinema and literature, but consider how the technique’s deployment once or twice is usually enough for any narrative, but Nolan exhibits a wondrous painstakingness in Dunkirk. The entire narrative of Dunkirk engineers many such associations. Clarity : What is genius about Nolan’s deployment of a common storytelling technique is the many ways in which he deploys this technique here, so that its use in Dunkirk is not just a behind-the-scenes nuts-and-bolts phenomenon, but part of the thematic continuum, an element both Artist and Spectator must overcome : How long can we spin out this technique? In how many ways can we deploy it? This last question is one of the many endeavours the storyteller chooses to face on the way to telling the story to its conclusion. Dunkirk, the first-rate story.

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The virtuoso storytelling structure of Inherent Vice involves a compendium of genres morphing well-nigh hallucinogenically throughout the duration of the running time. The resonances can be far out, such as, for example (2:02:06) :


“Police Business!” Bad Lieutenant (1992), 9:43.

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The Wizard of Elswit : three rainbow lens flares in one shot.


"Psst., doper's ESP, Doc!"


(2:04:30–2:04:45) The first flare, visible over the car, is concentrated, fixated, by the character's head; as internal paranoia grows, and danger grows, the subsequent pair of rainbow flares, different in design from the first flare, grow to span the frame like the incoming percussive effect of a detonation.

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Elswit's Expert Out-of-Phase


(2:12:37–2:13:13) Looks out-of-phase for a colossal amount of screentime. Some noteworthy elements : it is outdoors; is meant to be daylight; is as subtle as the out-of-phrase moment in The Master referred to earlier; and a neat punctuation to the main character throughout the duration.

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Dunkirk (2017) in context of Christopher Nolan’s Filmography.


Dunkirk is a one-off in Nolan’s career : a full-blown historical epic. Story-wise, especially so. In Dunkirk, Nolan the author hit the bulls-eye. Some authors hit this bulls-eye once. Take, for example, Ralph Ellison and his novel Invisible Man (1952)—which, in one way of speaking, is his entire artistic output (as far as the public knows). Point is : An Artist only needs to create one great work. Creating one first-rate artwork is enough. Point of this post : No matter the past and no matter the future, the film Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan’s “one-off”. If all of Nolan's films vanished tomorrow into the abyss, yet Dunkirk remained, Nolan would be considered one of the great storytellers of our lifetime.


Now a big anticipatory reminder : Oppenheimer is an historical film. . . .

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Nolan’s Oppenheimer (2023) : What I Already Know


(1) This character is a creator. In this he is synonymous with the Artist. This must be kept in mind from frame one.


(2) This character is a creator of works about which, afterwards, contemplating them, he may re-evaluate his sense of achievement.


(3) “When a promise has been made here, there is no going back.” “What’s done cannot be undone.” “Things happen; we can’t take them back.”


(4) Creation's excitement blinds the creator to ramifications : no uncommon Situation.


(5) Observe the cover of Time magazine : “Beyond loyalty, the harsh requirements of security.”


(6) That line is gibberish. Shall I spend words elaborating? No, except to point out the obvious : No, an efficient extermination tool to wipe out the human race and contaminate the earth and envionment is not a “requirement”. This observation leads us to the curious phrase, “Beyond loyalty”. Is this Time magazine’s idea of heavy philosophy? By “loyalty” does Time mean—loyalty to Reason? And to everything that Reason means? Such grandiose rhetoric! Sounds like a movie poster, but since the context is “Real Life”, we may slot this cover into virtue-signalling propaganda.


(7) Yes, an artist gets carried way by the excitement of the momentum of the work.


(8) Afterwards, the work exists, and how it is applied is not the artist’s responsibility—or is it? This is one of those riddling questions that cannot be answered, such as the question at EWS (8:08). Let's say a “Whatever” happens as a result of the artwork; say, fifty years down the line, a person is inspired by the artwork for good or ill to create a Situation of their own. Sure, the artist’s comeback is, “If it wasn’t my creation that inspired, it would have been someone else’s.” So what? As Real Life would have it—and that’s just the way it is—it was the Artist’s artwork that inspired the Whatever, and not someone else’s. This contemplation leads us to thinking on Taking Responsibility.


(9) But why take Responsibility in a World Beyond Responsibility? In a World already Lost, what does Responsibility mean?


(10) Meaning is found in those with a Personal Code.



Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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5. We Interrupt This Novel For A Special Bulletin


Before I even had a chance to get a change of underwear, a nuclear war broke out.


Ariana and I had been given no warning. We were sharing a companionable silence up on the roof deck of the LEV under the stars, breathing in the temperate night air, communing tenderly with our unspoken feelings spicing the air around us. There was no need for speech, the warmth of our bodies sufficed to soothe our unquiet minds, our raving thoughts. My heart told me this would be a night I would never forget. Basking in her presence I entertained the thought—anything but accurate as fate would have it—that everything would turn out all right for us. I had hoped we would have stayed out here in the tranquillity of Mulholland Drive until the early birds sang the sun up.

And then the night intensified, everything went haywire and nothing has been right since. I have survived to tell the tale, yet wonder who is left on Earth to read my words. And yet a compulsion drives me to continue with this historic memoir, this amazing story which in another world would have been a Hollywood blockbuster.

Doomsday began not with a bang but a flash. A blinding soundless flash, brighter than the sun, blotted out the visible world. It lasted only a millisecond. I wouldn’t have been certain that I'd seen anything if it weren’t for the red spots dancing before my eyes. Temporarily blinded, unsure of what had just happened, I didn’t yet feel the fear which was about to flood through my body.

“Ariana,” I whispered, “did you see that?”

She had been resting her head, eyes shut, against my chest. Drawing herself upright, she answered distractedly, “I think—”

My eyes, though blurry, beheld something strange and hallucinatory : a bloody red sun blooming over the fantastic outlay of L.A.


My pulse began to race.

“What in the Mr. H.T. is that?”

“Culver City?” Ariana clutched my arm, alarmed. “NATHANIEL—!”

It had taken a couple seconds, but then it came—a thunderous blast hammered my eardrums, sounding like the end of the world. The ground shook under the wheels of our Living Environment Vehicle. I grabbed for Ariana and we held each other tight. Far in the distance an incandescent fireball expanded at a horrifying pace; within seconds it had already shot a mile up into the atmosphere, sucking up millions of tons of pulverized earth and city debris with it.

“Oh, no, no,” Ariana whispering. “Come inside,” tugging on my arm, “now!”

“Ariana... !”

“Flashblindness, it’s temporary. Come on!”

Still I hesitated. I was hearing an even more terrifying sound. As the thermal pressure released from the nuclear detonation radiated out in all directions from ground zero, its expanding radius catching up with buildings on its destructive path like a tsunami wave inundating the city, window glass kept shattering, doors were blown off hinges, telephone and utility poles were snapping off and flying through the air like crazy missiles. The insane shattering sounds were coming straight at us—

“Hurry!” Ariana yanking me up, “I’ll help you!”

She hustled me to the hatchway, where I lost my footing and fell through into the LEV, hitting the tiled floor hard beside the Personal Spa. Ariana sealed the hatch and slid down the ladder, landing solid on her feet beside me, while I squirmed there in pain.

“We’ll be okay in here,” she said, hoisting me up with surprising strength. “The shell of the LEV is as safe as six feet of lead.”

“Safe?” She thwacked me in the butt to hasten me into the Living Area. “From what?”

“The shock front, Nathaniel! Get down!” She thrust me onto the couch and pulled straps across my torso, then buckled them tight.

Then Ariana rushed through the LEV, closing all the air vents. At this, an internal oxygen supply, cooled by an air conditioning unit, kicked in.

Inside the LEV, tied to the couch, I heard massive chaos erupting outside. Filling the sky shrilly rising to deafening intensity was a cacophony of shattering glass, as the pressure wave shot in our direction, northward—Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Hollywood—heading right for us—us

Ariana long-jumped onto the couch beside me and strapped herself in. “HOLD ON!” she screamed.

The blast wave reached us fifty seconds after the flash, a wall of compressed air hitting us like a hurricane. The LEV was shoved sideways out of control into the road. Shaking like rag dolls, caught in the foul breath of the apocalypse, we rode our LEV bouncing around on its tires.

“ARIANA!” I yelled, squeezing her hand. This, I thought, was it.

The roaring nuclear wind lasted three terrible seconds. Dirt and stones dislodged from the ridges tumbled down and pelted the LEV and the road around us. Then, silence. The LEV rocked to a stop in the middle of Mulholland Drive.

Everything, eerily quiet.

“Hey,” I marvelled, looking down at my body. “We’re alive.”

“Everything’s okay, Nathaniel.” Ariana extracted her hand from mine. “Close your mouth.”

I looked at Ariana and everything was dreamlike, as if seeing it all for the first time. She had a hand up between her breasts, as if to still a racing heart.

I whispered, though speaking felt as strenuous as lifting a heavy weight : “What do we do now?”

“What we’ve always done,” Ariana said. “We use our time till there’s no more time.” She unbuckled herself. “Come on.”

I followed her forward to the cockpit, knees wobbling, staggering in after her to behold a terrifying view through the windshield.

Ten miles to the south, a vertical column of smoke was blooming into a gigantic white mushroom cloud overawing the wide expanse of the city.


Meanwhile the thermal radiation was still igniting fires leaping from building to building even twenty miles out from ground zero.


Compounding the horror, all city lights at once went dead.

 “Oh shit,” was all the genius I could muster.

Ariana harnessed herself in behind the wheel, serious and focused, showing no fear. “Electromagnetic pulse from the blast,” she told me. “The power’s gone for good for now. All electrical equipment down there are now knocked out, all tele-technologies, including mobile phones.”

The scattered fires made the dark city glow an ominous orange. I swallowed hard, my mouth dry. Terrible things were happening to people down there.

“We’re safe in here.” Ariana coaxed me into my seat. “We have EMP shielding. Sit.”

She tapped some buttons, then panels in the dash slid back to reveal computer monitors. The LEV was more than a living space, it was a mobile technology lab. Acting with the coolness of a general with a brace of military campaigns under her belt, Ariana monitored atmospheric physics radars for the present meteorological conditions, including vertical wind speed and direction profiles; then scanned the data from a dosimeter.


“There’s 3,000 REMS of radioactivity out there,” she said sternly. “A lethal measure. Thousands of people are going to die within hours.”

Ariana started up the LEV and rolled us off the dirt shoulder and onto the road, then took her foot off the gas and left the engine idling.

“Ariana?” Sweat ran down my forehead. “Aren’t we getting out of here?”

“Not yet,” she said. “I need information. Our internal air circulation system will protect us from the lethal air spreading over the city.”

“A mobile fallout shelter!”

She nodded impatiently. “Open the glove compartment.”

I followed her orders and took out a leather carrying case; inside were a pair of military-spec electronic binoculars. This optical instrument—twin aluminum lens barrels with extra-wide lenses—weighed close to eight pounds and was at the bleeding edge of digital features.

“Take a look and tell me what you see,” Ariana directed me. “I think Culver City’s been obliterated.”

While Ariana, shrouded in a strange peace, analyzed advanced atmospheric chemistry data, calculating what I hoped was our best escape route, I surveyed the blast scene, holding the binoculars in my trembling hands. What I saw was Hell at ground level. Culver City was an open-air arena of death. There was a deep crater that looked an incredible one thousand feet wide where The Astrotron Corporation once stood. A Zone of Complete Destruction surrounded the crater for a couple of miles, after which the devastation continued for another seven miles outward from the epicenter. Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Hancock Park, Inglewood... This terrible scene looked all the more eerie through the green glow of my night-vision lenses.

I zoomed in even closer with the high-powered binoculars. The buildings of Culver City were gone, pulverized to dust. Only some foundations remained. A little further out, demolished wood and concrete structures were collapsed into heaps, while the naked skeletal frames of steel buildings stood twisted and warped. A couple of miles beyond that, buildings were still standing, but, incredible to see, they were leaning outward from ground zero, having been shunted into improbable positions by the pressure wave. Everywhere cars and trucks were overturned and wrecked. Many fires smouldered along the vast plain of rubble radiating outward from the crater in Culver City.

Angelinos caught in the epicenter of the blast zone had been instantly cremated by the tens of millions of degrees of the initial explosion.


Skeletons on the sidewalks were evidence of vaporized bodies, flesh having turned to instant steam.

Ariana looked up from her computers. “Astrotron has just experienced a one megaton nuclear explosion,” she confirmed for me.


I met her solemn gaze and shivered. “A surface blast?”


“Data suggests a portable nuclear device.”

“A suitcase nuke? One of those gone missing from Russia?”

“Maybe even smaller. Syncorp engineers golf-ball-sized micro-nukes with explosive yields in a megaton range.”

“Oh... no."

“Syncorp’s an industry leader in the micronization of nuclear weapons. Everyone knows that.”


“Yeah. Mega-bombs fitting in coffee cups and backpacks. Small atomic demolition munitions, ideal weapons for nuclear terror. Perhaps even a nuke in a Quasar Cola can.”

Ariana sat back in the driver’s seat, momentarily stilled by the magnitude of her thoughts. “This may very well have been Syncorp’s doing. A decapitation strike on Astrotron.”

Speech came out of me only with difficulty, arduously out of the deep muck of my shock. “Syncorp has just bombed one of Mr. H.T.’s companies? Why the hell why?”

Ariana ran a hand through her hair and let out a deep sigh, disappointed with the world she had inherited. “Global unilateralism,” she grumbled. “The Corporation Wars have just bumped up to the next level. It was an inside job, that much is inarguable. If the nuke had been a coordinated enemy attack coming from outside the continental United States, we would have had ample warning, fifteen minutes at least, to prepare ourselves. The LEV’s operating system would have been notified via the National Warning System.”

“Operatives from a rogue state, perhaps, or nonstate terrorist?” I knew the ropes by now. “That’s what we’ll be told anyway.”

Reaching for the dashboard radio, Ariana added, “When, or if, the power comes back on.”

We heard nothing but static from one end of the FM band to the other.

I peered through the binoculars again at what was left of Culver City. When I operated the center focus wheel the scene sharpened to a terrible precision. I saw sights more ghastly and intense than the aftermath of the bloody Globotainment massacre. Kneeling in the streets were people with eyeballs boiled out of their sockets, bellowing uselessly for help. I saw a woman’s flesh slip off her body in whole sheets of skin. Blown-off body parts covered all available spaces. I panned right and zoomed out, picking out other images of horror through the scrim of airborne dust. On the Hollywood streets, buildings stood with their walls collapsed. Citizens were crawling dazed out of demolished nightclubs, their bodies wrecked by blast injuries. Along the boulevards and the 10 Freeway, people tumbled out of their overturned automobiles with their clothing in flames.

“Hold on, I got something.” Ariana homed in on a signal on AM radio, a harsh grating two-tone noise anticipating the broadcast of a Local Area Emergency Alert System Message. It cut out and a drawling voice began to speak :


“We interrupt this program for a special announcement. We have received unconfirmed reports that something just happened. We have no further information at this time. This important announcement has been brought to you by Alpha Male Lemonade, now with Potassium Iodate!”


In place of the ear-splitting EAS Attention Signal came The Doors’ “Peace Frog” from Morrison Hotel.

“Okay, let’s move,” Ariana said decisively, accelerating us along Mulholland Drive in the direction of the San Fernando Valley. I was grateful to be leaving the awful destruction behind us.

Suddenly the sky lit up with a new type of illumination. Far north of us the air came alive with an aurora borealis of purples and greens.

“Ariana! Look at that!”

The girl hit the brakes, screeching to a stop in the middle of the road. “A high-altitude multi-megaton burst.”

We sat side by side in the idling LEV, waiting (Ariana calm, I intense) for the approaching sound of an apocalyptic blast. We looked into each other’s eyes and wondered if this sight would be our last.

For two minutes we waited with queasy expectation. But there came to us no sound of a blast, nor blast wave.

“Well,” Ariana concluded, “whatever just happened might have been, I don’t know, up to seven, eight hundred miles away. It could have been San Francisco.”

“Syncorp and Mr. H.T. are going to destroy all of America!”

“Might have been a copycat detonation by some psychopathic organization.” She turned once more to her weather computers. “I assume we’re now experiencing coast-to-coast panic and pandemonium.”


Ariana spun the wheel and steered the LEV into a U-turn. “We got to get moving before everyone gets it into their heads to do the same thing.”


“Do what thing?”


She didn’t hear me. “If we hurry we can get out of here before the roads fill up with the panicked. If we stay we’ll be stuck.”

We picked up speed on the summit ridge of Mulholland alongside a sheer drop-off overlooking the destroyed dark city. Ah, that stupendous catastrophic spectacle suspended in the air—Was the mushroom cloud the punctuation marking the end of history?

“It’s not the end,” Ariana remarked, reading my mind while driving much faster than I’d’ve deemed safe. “It’s just another historical event, another object of analysis. In time the monstrosity will be assimilated and relegated to archival memory.”

Tires squealing, we took a hard right and started down along Laurel Canyon Boulevard. We drove along a winding corridor of flames, houses everywhere engulfed, their curtains and upholstery ignited from the initial thermal pulse. The burned and bloody panicked were staggering onto their front yards with shrapnel wounds, concussions, broken bones, internal hemorrhaging, ruptured eardrums, retinal burns....


Meanwhile, up high over everything, dark radioactive clouds more heinous than smog were spreading out across the sky.

I heard not a single rescue siren. Out there in the dark the emergency services had evidently closed up shop.


I saw we were descending through the fires all the way to West Hollywood. Ariana was steering us straight into the catastrophe.


“We’re not going all the way down there,” I asked, “are we?”

“We need supplies and we need them now.”

I was pleased with her quick-thinking till I saw that her forehead was wrinkled with worry.

We took a tire-squealing turn left onto Sunset Boulevard. Civilian chaos had broken out across pitch-dark L.A. Example : Wealthy thugs in a Rolls Royce hurled Molotov cocktails at the Director’s Guild of America. Veering off erratically from the flaming building, the crazed driver slammed into two women standing weeping on the sidewalk. The women bounced off the windshield, cartwheeled up into the air then thudded down on the street. Regaining its bearings the Rolls Royce screeched away around a corner.

Ariana then said something that chilled my blood.

“We’re living this second,” she told me. “Make the most of it.”

Alarmingly, the LEV began to slow down.


Ariana barked out, “No!”


“No? What do you mean, no?”


We came to a stop in the middle of Sunset by the two fresh corpses, their eyes still leaking tears.


Shaking her head angrily and sighing in frustration, Ariana skim-read the text scrolling up a monitor mounted by the speedometer.

“Yes, yes, I’m sure!” Ariana hissed at the LEV. “I want to go this way!” 

While Ariana argued with our vehicle, high-powered muscle cars spray-painted in gang graffiti whizzed past us, honking and flashing their headlights. The explosion had unleashed an army of bogeymen—the criminal underclass of the city was hitting the streets, armed homeboys massaging the cataclysm by migrating westward, speeding toward the mansions of Beverly Hills, Pacific Palisades, Malibu. As the juvenile gangsters sped past us hooting and hollering, they levelled their automatic weapons at the LEV for the sheer hell of it, but, surprise, our vehicle’s exterior panels were bullet-proof. In a matter of seconds Los Angeles had regressed from the rule of law back to the wild west.

“Ariana, I think we should get the hell out of here.”

Ariana overrode the operating system and floored the accelerator, ignoring the LEV’s concern for our safety. Under the shadow of the mushroom cloud we rode into the heart of Hollywood, which was revealed for what it had always been: a nightmare realm. Raging flames flickered up and down the shadowy streets strewn with the dead in various degrees of mutilation. Looters were spilling out of retail shops with armloads of liquor, gumball machines, televisions, stereo equipment, kitchen appliances, cartons of donuts, sneakers, video games consoles, as if the new normal of the now post-apocalyptic world was all right with them. Gun battles were breaking out all over. Example : Doormen at the entrances of swank hotels versus oncoming urban predators. Any building still standing had no business standing. We passed what was left of the Cinerama Dome, its concrete geodesic dome completely demolished (it was where I had seen 2001: A Space Odyssey on the big screen for the first time when I was a teenager). The CBS building was likewise destroyed. All around us a bedlam of rioters were spreading into suburbia, intent on razing what was left of the city.

“It’s every man for himself now,” Ariana remarked. “And it’s worse than that.”

“What’s worse than the worst?”

“The federal government has no general plan for this eventuality.” Ariana moved us in a helter-skelter fashion through this kaleidoscope of chaos, monitoring the GPS radar, serious-faced. “Not for us, anyway.”


Explosions near and far concussed the air with distressing regularity.


“I guarantee,” Ariana continuing, “the entire government and all their families are stepping down into their pressurized underground bunkers across the country, hiding out for the time being.”

“Or hotfooting it to their space station retreats.”

“We have to fend for ourselves. Nobody's running things now.”


Hurtling up close beside us came a pink Cadillac convertible, wheel to wheel at seventy miles an hour. A gangbanger leaped from the backseat of his vehicle and jumped onto the side of the LEV (btw, the classic truck scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark had been filmed by the second unit).

“Ariana! We have a guest!”

Laughing wildly the marauder spray-painted graffiti onto the immaculate side panels of our vehicle. Ariana jerked the LEV to the left, he lost his hold and hit the street and fell under the wheels of the Cadillac, which veered away and crashed into a picture window.

“All of America’s now a kill zone,” Ariana continued. “The powers-that-be will be out of sight for the next two weeks—at least—waiting for the worst of the fallout to rain down from the sky.”

“No one in charge? So you mean business as usual?”

Through deranged Hollywood we traced an erratic route through the confusion of debris of every description cluttering the way, Ariana wheeling through it all carefully and well. Navigating through the distressed streets was like driving through a lunatic amusement park. We saw gangbangers yanking people out of cars to beat them senseless. Drive-by shootings were back in style, a nostalgia for the 1990s. We kept facing one obstruction after another. At Hollywood and Highland, armies of looters were locked in an open gun battle over the wax figures at the Movieland Wax Museum. Tut-tutting, Ariana spun the LEV around. I had a moment to make out the Chinese Theater, its extravagance of pagodas having collapsed into themselves. Hurled reels of 35mm film had unspooled through the air like party streamers. All around us hippies were running with Yuppies, white supremacists with rabbis, anarchists had teamed up with stockbrokers. Rappers on street corners stood improvising rhythmic statements on the state of the times. Up on Mt. Lee the HOLLYWOOD sign was being pulled down by unemployed actors. AM radio was playing Ritual de lo Habitual. This battle royale exuded the exhilaration of a street party.

Zooming down Highland Avenue we took a left onto Wilshire Boulevard, heading east toward Downtown. We moved deeper into the urban sprawl and the anarchy became total. Everything in between the Hollywood Hills and Long Beach had become a masterpiece of confusion. An orange glow, the amalgamated colors of a thousand fires, illuminated the widespread insanity. Every which way armed predators sprinted through the shadows, celebrating the chaos for the sheer hell of it. Bullets were flying from every direction as L.A. had become one big shooting gallery. Cars were torched to block streets and intersections and fires were intense and out of control everywhere I looked. From the destroyed Wells Fargo Center flaming dollar bills floated through the air as if confetti for a new year. Cars from parking garages rained down around us in metal explosions as hooligans hot-wired them for improvised missiles. We had to keep swerving this way and that, using Wilshire’s all four lanes to make our getaway. The streets of L.A. were now an open-air hellhole of squalor. This phantasmagoria of catastrophe was a couple of degrees worse than a worse-case scenario. This was beyond a State of Emergency, this was new and improved turmoil : a lawless post-apocalyptic world. Polycentric L.A. was now one homogeneous riot zone, a city without hope.


Ariana pulled into the parking lot of a Valueless Supermarket and screeched to a halt by the sign (slogan: “For Those Who Can’t Afford Food That’s Good For You”). We were somewhere in New Downtown, between Figueroa and Grand, eight miles from the abysmal crater in the earth reeking deadly radioactive particles.

We had landed ourselves in the thick of urban chaos. A billion horrible things were now happening in the heat of the moment. White, Black, Latino, Korean, Cambodian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino—it was a melting pot of insanity coming to the boil, a carnival for the crazies, the loonies, the disaffected, the psychopathic. In the mayhem of the parking lot innocent bystanders were punched and kicked and worse. Imbeciles with no affiliations were skipping around throwing water balloons. Korean shop owners with AK-47s were cutting looters to shreds. This was far from a race riot—not even mob rule—this was a free-for-all of mass hysteria. An indiscriminate melee, merrymaking for maniacs, a party for pyros, idiot’s rule.

“Nathaniel, are you up for this?”


“Idiots rule? Sure.”

I took a deep breath and surveyed the wreck of the Valueless building. Figures in dark sweats and bandannas were leaping in and out of the gaping hole of the shattered picture window. Inside was the clatter and stir of a human zoo of hyped-up folk rooting around for groceries. These days simply popping out for eggs and milk required counting on one’s survival training.

“You stay here,” I said heroically. “Protect the vehicle.”

I unbuckled myself and got to my feet. Bamboozled by my military training, I decided to welcome the pumped-up excitement of a high-octane nuclear war.

“Wait, Nate.” Ariana brought out a box labeled NUCLEAR EMERGENCY KIT. She placed a small yellow pill from a medicine bottle into my open palm.

“What’s this?”

“Potassium iodide, thyroid protection against radioactive iodine.”

“A fallout pill?”

“We have ten minutes or so left before the fallout begins to rain down from the sky—but you can never be too careful.”

I let the pill (lemon-flavored) dissolve on my tongue. I supposed my ninja suit would also offer me some anti-radiation protection.

Ariana and I hastened to the side door of the LEV and the incredible girl kissed me on the cheek. “Good luck.”


“You bet,” I said. “You're my sweetheart.”

She flicked a switch, the security door slid open, and blood-curdling screams streamed in.

We gave each other one last lingering look. Then I stepped out onto the parking lot of this insane night. Immediately I was smacked in the face with rotten eggs, a barrage chucked by giggling adolescent ruffians. I rushed ahead like black lightning, swerving round the overturned cars, leaping over the broken glass and snaking toward the gaping way into the supermarket. All around me anonymous denizens of the night were wreaking general havoc and mayhem. Rioters seeking corporate sponsorship for their improvised atrocities were conferring with their attorneys. The dismal city was illuminated by the roiling flames around us.

I entered into the haunted house that was Valuelessland. Slipping through the checkout area, I grabbed a shopping cart and pushed into the dark and dangerous interior space. Crazed folk were rushing up and down the dozens of aisles, both the deprived and the prosperous, grabbing wildly for the contents on the shelves, locked in the decisive ideological struggle of the times : which commercial products to consume. Pitched battles were in progress all over. A gang of housewives were crouched by the cat food, pumping handgun triggers at competing customers. Kids, meanwhile, were fighting over a pyramidal display of Quasar Cola six-packs by the toilet tissue aisle. Bypassing this insanity I scurried along the men’s toiletries toward the food aisles in the rear of the store.

I rushed from aisle to aisle cool as a surgeon, throwing supplies into my cart while beating people away. Not having the time for a systematic approach, I  gathered what I could—cans of tuna, peanut butter, pancake mix, chocolate chip cookies. Bullets whizzed by into packaging, spraying cereals, crackers, jam all over. Skinheads elbowed past me, absconding with ice cream. Hard to believe, but some looters were actually pushing babies in strollers, as if going on a shopping trip on any ordinary evening.

These imbeciles had taken all the fizzy drinks and alcohol but left the bottled water for me. (A Quasar Cola advertising campaign—“Just Say No To H20”—had worked its pernicious magic.) I topped up my trolley with many gallons of mineral water then backtracked through the chaos of the aisles toward the exit. Horrible things were happening in my peripherial vision. Sensible humans had degenerated into ferocious beasts. In the shouts and shrieks of the calamitous darkness dazed people stumbled around leaking blood and dropping products and slipping and falling and getting trampled on by charging looters. All the aisles were crammed with squirming bodies; I forcibly pushed my way forward as if through something like corporeal fog.

Somebody jumped me from behind, punching me in the back and shoving me against the yogurt aisle. The plastic pots burst and colored gunk dribbled over my ninja suit, which really made me mad. I spun round to see my attacker was a female bodybuilder. This lunatic lady, her bulging body barely contained in a leopard-print tank top and hip-hugging shorts, wanted my shopping trolley.

“Hey I know you,” she growled.

Oh yes, she was one of Mr. H.T.’s starlets. Terri or Caitlin or Mitzi, I forget which, installed in a house in Encino. “Hey, none of that was my fault,” I endeavored.

“Get it up, twerp,” she taunted, her biceps big as my thighs. She was ready to exact her Mr. H.T. vengeance on me.

“No chance, honey,” I warned.

She threw a volleyball at me, I dodged to the side without moving my feet, then lashed out and applied a chokehold on her carotid artery. She quickly went red in the face and attempted to kick at my groin, but, anticipating her move, I leaped backwards lightning-quick (The Jumping Retreat, Tobi Sagari), grabbed her foot with both hands and twisted it hard with justifiable force. She squealed, off-balance, as her knee underwent permanent damage. Effortlessly I dispatched of her with a staccato series of little-known Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu moves (The Tickling Fingertips, The Vibrating Ear). She dropped at my feet unconscious. But I was far from safe; our fight had caught the sight of some tough dudes on the sidelines cheering me on with ominous mockery. Soon all would degenerate into every gunman for himself. I had to get out of this hardcore house of horrors before I was swamped with fans and foes alike.

So I raced toward the exit, shoving my heaping trolley at full speed. An elderly man swung one of his crutches at me and bashed me in the head and I fell to the floor like a sack of potatoes. My trolley ran on ahead of me, slammed against a checkout counter, then bounced back and rattled to a stop.


“I’m a bad ass,” the old man gibbered, his gums flapping (someone had already stolen the dentures straight out of his mouth), “I’m the baddest ass...”

The spindly old man with saggy trousers began his slow-moving escape, huffing and puffing as he attempted to flee with my heavy trolley.

Leaping to my feet, I grabbed the outrageous octogenarian’s belt and yanked him backwards. I spun him round a couple of times then let him loose. He wavered in place, dizzy and dazed, no longer any threat. I collected his crutches, handed him them, then fled.

Outside in the infernal air, rioters were multiplying like bacteria. Sights too horrible to mention were taking place in plain sight. I dodged bullets left and right as I shoved my trolley toward the LEV. There was an alarming squeal of tires; I spun around to see a Mercedes limo rushing at me for no reason I could fathom. Before I could react Ariana leapt at me from out of nowhere and shoved us both to safety. We came down hard on the asphalt; she fell breathless atop me. But the Mercedes smashed straight into my shopping trolley and kept on going. The trolley went flying, flinging its contents every which way. While sideswiping other cars the Mercedes sped out of the parking lot. Ariana and I had just lost our supplies.

“Ariana!” I growled while jumping to my feet. “Get back to the LEV!”

“Not without you!”


Shotgun blasts were coming thick and fast from inside Valuelessland. Rash girl! No time to hesitate—“Come on, come on!” I yelled, grabbing her hand and running for the LEV. The black smoke pumping from the fires around us made it hard to see and breathe, and we lost our way.

Three hooligans armed to the teeth surrounded us. This disaster zone was getting worse by the second—or so I thought. Ariana attacked them with lunging punches and lightning-quick kicks. With an expert concatenation of moves, exotic throws new to me, she dispatched of her assailants without breaking a sweat. Before I even moved a muscle she disarmed one guy of a sledgehammer, snapped the elbow of a second guy and kicked his machete away, and got the third guy in a finger lock, reducing him to tears. This remarkable girl, a martial arts master, had moved as fast as Yoda in Attack of the Clones (if you believe nothing else, believe that).

So we made it into the LEV. Ariana dropped into the driver’s seat, brushed her blonde hair from her eyes and floored the accelerator. A flung body part smacked the shatter-proof windshield (a left hand), but Ariana, weaving us round the demolished cars of the lot, didn’t notice it, and we skidded back onto the city streets.

“Let’s just get out of here,” I moaned.


“I have an idea,” Ariana said.

She drove us as fast as possible through downtown L.A., doing her best to take us in a northeasterly direction, following confidently a circuitous route through a labyrinth of skyscrapers, where every street promised a hodgepodge of perverse possibilities. All around us the metropolis was boiling over. The buildings in Downtown L.A. had survived the blast with only minimal damage, but now there was a second anarchic wave to contend with. The lunatics were gathering numbers and strength at every turn. Marauders had overrun City Hall; the Central Library was in flames. The air was alive with shouts and cries, gunfire and smoke. Criminals and crazies were gathering forces and holding a fiesta in the mangled city, chanting “The Rich Must Die!” Yet there were still no rescue personnel of any kind on the streets—no L.A. police, no California National Guard, no SWAT teams, no evidence of the Federal Army or Marine troops or even the Disaster Response Force Company. No one was trying to restore order. It was as if the whole city had closed down except for the crazies. Meanwhile, jumbo-jets circled in the airspace overhead while their pilots calculated where to fly next, now that the runways of LAX were cracked and covered with debris and unsafe for landing. The radioactive clouds, four miles up, hung over the airplanes and the pandemonium below, ever-expanding while turning an ashen white.

Ariana saw with the gaze of a scientist evaluating events in a test tube. This was not exactly a proletarian rebellion—not exactly a race riot or class war—it was an insane multiethnic celebration of the apocalypse, as if the veneer of culture once and for all had been torn from people’s minds. As if after the end, Anything Goes. One last gasp of the disaffected, the repressed and the exploited, venting anger at their systematic oppression. In the film land of L.A., the extras had finally taken center stage.

What should have been a short trip of a couple of miles through Downtown L.A. became a ten-mile slog of erratic turns and doubling back. Throughout it all the LEV served us well. Its anti-puncture tires, made of a superior Kevlar-like material, rolled confidently over the scatterings of broken glass. After a series of detours which wound us through the Historic District we took a right, passed the Broadway Building (where some of Blade Runner was filmed) and raced up the onramp of the 101, our headlights illuminating an old man standing on the shoulder and holding a sign, WILL WORK FOR FOOD. We sped eastward at eighty miles an hour between Chinatown and Little Toyko. Behind us, the stolid office buildings, hitherto authoritarian symbols of power and wealth and privilege, stood inert like relics from an ancient age. These institutions were vestiges of a centralized power which was now a thing of the past. Ariana and I were akin to travellers from the future on a sightseeing tour through an eroded technocracy, watching its primitive beings doing barbarous things, wondering what this propaganda about “intelligent life in the universe” was all about...

We followed the concrete maze of the freeway system, taking the 101 to the 110, bypassing an inflamed East L.A. on our right. We moved north out of the dysfunctional city, our hearts in our throats every time we had to pass through each of the four tunnels, now completely dark, on the way to Pasadena. Moving at a hundred miles an hour we encountered only light traffic, Ariana using all four northbound lanes of the 110, swerving this way and that—because crazed kids were hurling bowling balls off overpasses.

Just as we crossed the bridge over the Los Angeles River I was dazzled by another of those millisecond detonations brighter than the sun.

“Oh...” precious Ariana searching for words, "darn it.” She flipped a switch. A dashboard display delivered for us a real-time full-color video feed from the LEV’s rear-mounted cameras.

What did we see? We beheld the dreadful growth of a fireball blossoming high in the sky over the city, a mile-wide incendiary marvel, Doom’s feature presentation.

Ariana yelled : “Air blast!”

The detonation might have been twenty miles away—Long Beach? The devastating sound of the city-levelling explosion came like the rumbling of distant thunder.

“That was a fifty megaton warhead,” Ariana confirmed, glancing at her computers, “maybe more. A million people may have just died.”

She looked at me to made sure my straps were tight.

Then she advised me to : “HOLD ON!”

The blast wave caught up with us and shoved the LEV forward. Its six wheels lost traction at a hundred miles an hour and the rear of the vehicle began to slew sideways, the tires on the right side rising up off the freeway—


Moving at terrific speed, the LEV, all control lost, began a head-over-heels roll to the left. Outside of the vehicle, around its exterior, four huge airbags inflated within a second by high-pressure gas generators. Upside down now, the LEV began bouncing every which way like a beach ball. The energy-absorbing airbag fabric (a liquid crystal polymer fabric) cushioned the bounces and gave us reliable rollover protection. For ten seconds—an eternity of time—it felt as if I were in the Eryx all over again as I spun helplessly, my body jangling in its seatbelt harness.

The LEV, protected inside its air bag system, bounced along the freeway.


All the while, debris—bricks, pieces of wood and metal, glass shards—rained down on us from the ruined sky.

As our bouncing trajectory along the freeway slowed down, the gas pressure in the airbags was released in a deliberate sequence to ensure that the LEV was restored onto its six tires, right-side-up. When the lightweight airbags were deflated they retracted into their storage compartments by means of a motorized reel and wires.

Amazingly, without a break in its stride so to speak, the LEV sped onward out of its spin, Ariana putting the pedal to the metal.


“Let’s just get out of here.”

I was scared and on edge yet strangely exhilarated, thrilled to be alive. We drove along the Arroyo Parkway through Pasadena. Damaged buildings flared enflamed. People with harsh burns shuffled dumbly through the streets, holding makeshift flickering torches of rolled-up newspapers. The survivors had been stunned into catatonia from the trauma of the dying world, looking like extras out of Night of the Living Dead. The city streets resembled corridors of a mental ward or psych prison. We took the onramp for the 210 east. Past Rancho Cucamonga we gained Interstate 15 north. Behind us, the roads leading away from devastated L.A. had already begun to jam up with cars. We had beat the rush out of Hell.

It was just past two a.m. We were moving into the Mojave Desert, in the direction of Barstow. Ahead of us, a half-moon hung low in the hazy sky, glowing a dirty brown color.

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PREVITALI, Andrea, Nativity, (1515–20)


GEERTGEN tot Sint Jans, Nativity, at Night (1484–90)


PIERRE, Jean-Baptiste-Marie, Nativity


Bringing Out the Dead (1999), 1:44:21


Magnolia (1999), 2:22:21


The Hateful Eight (2015), 17:52




"Glowing?" 16:45

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