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The Silent City Review

on Mon, 10/15/2012 - 00:00

Surviving apocalyptic futures have found their way into numerous television series during the early part of the Twenty First Century. The CBS drama Jericho, for instance, focuses on a small Kansas town following a terrorist attack that wiped out virtually every major city in the United States. Falling Skies on TNT, meanwhile, follows a group of human survivors after an alien invasion has destroyed most of mankind, while the AMC series The Walking Dead features an even smaller handful of post-apocalyptic refugees as they face the aftermath of a zombie epidemic. The dramatic web series The Silent City follows in similar footsteps as a sole nameless human walks the abandoned streets of New York City looking for both nothing and anything at the same time.

Unlike the survivors of Jericho, Falling Skies and The Walking Dead, the lone man of The Silent City does not know what caused the end of the world, only that the world no longer exists in the same manner as before. “If others who survived knew how it happened, they never said,” he explains in a voice over. “I never asked. They’re all dead now. They got old, or careless, or they just stopped moving.” As for this solitary human himself, he was stationed on a submarine that was ordered to dive deep into the ocean, and when it reemerged six months later, everything was gone. “Our captain put a bullet through his own head,” he continues. “Some of the others, too. They wanted no part of it. The rest of us stuck together for a few years, held the line until the food ran low. But one by one, we left. Searching, for what I’m still not sure.”

Writer/director Rubidium Wu explains on The Silent City website that the idea for the web series emerged from the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, a brief time period when the vibrant city of New York turned desolate and silent. After a successful fundraising campaign on Kickstarter, Wu was able to gain access to many of the abandoned buildings and landscapes that lay on the fringes of New York City for filming. Although The Silent City consists of five short episodes of approximately five minutes in length each, Rubidium Wu was able to take advantage of his surroundings and paint a haunting picture of loneliness, isolation and desperation nonetheless.

The narrative itself is likewise short and effective. As the “last man”—portrayed by Eric Stafford—makes his way through the decay that was once his home, he is attacked by another survivor who is no doubt interested in stealing his food and supplies. The nameless protagonist of the series is able to subdue his assailant but discovers a woman named Otsu (Kettie Jean) handcuffed in another room of the building into which he has ventured. He frees her, but has no intention of having her join in on his journey. “I don’t have enough food for myself,” he explains. “And besides, you’d slow me down. I have to keep moving—it’s worked so far.” Otsu follows anyhow, and the two eventually embark together on a quest to discover the root cause of what brought about the destruction of the world.

The Silent City thus ends at a point in the story where its television apocalyptic brethren traditionally begin—with the search for answers as well as survival. In many ways, however, the web series is a modern day update of the “absurdist” philosophy advocated by Twentieth Century writer Albert Camus. Camus believed that life was a hopeless situation, that we are insignificant in the grander schemes of the universe, have no control over events and will eventually die and be forgotten. In 1947, he published the fictional novel The Plague in order to prove his point. Like The Silent City, The Plague features its own apocalyptic world, this one caused by an unknown pathogen that has eradicated the majority of the population in the Algerian city of Oran. Those who survived the initial outbreak are doomed nonetheless, as there is no cure and the city has been sealed off from the rest of the world in order to prevent the disease from spreading.

Like the nameless survivor of The Silent City, most of the townsfolk still attempt to bring some semblance of familiarity to their lives despite the absurdity of such routines. They are going to die, after all, so what is the point? The same holds true in The Silent City—there is no way out of the post-apocalyptic world, so why “keep moving”? Albert Camus considered the solution to the absurdity of not just The Plague but everyday life to be the “absurd hero,” and used Sisyphus as a prime example. According to Greek mythology, it is Sisyphus’ lot in life to push a large boulder up a high mountain, only to have it roll back down and thus be forced to start over. For Camus, the monotonous work routines of average human beings are just as absurd as the plight of Sisyphus. Sisyphus, however, was able to realize the futility of his task—and thus the absurdity of it as well—which allowed him to ultimately reach a state of contented acceptance, the only true way to offset the mundane aspects of everyday life.

“I want to head out west,” Otsu tells the solitary man in The Silent City. “They say that’s where it started. The black center, the thing that ended everything. Before I die, I want to know what happened.” Her companion, however, insists he doesn’t need to uncover such answers, that maybe mankind got what it deserved. “If you truly believe that, how did you last this long?” she rhetorically asks in reply. But as the man looks out at the New York landscape, he appears to realize the absurdity of his situation rather than hopelessness of it, and in that recognition also finds acceptance and purpose—just like Sisyphus.

The resulting westward journey is a story that has been told by the likes of Jericho, Falling Skies and The Walking Dead. The inherent philosophical message of The Silent City, however—as well as its vibrant cinematography of desolation and silence—makes the web series a fulfilling and satisfying narrative on its own just the same.

Anthony Letizia (October 15, 2012)

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