While this two hour CGI weather-porn extravaganza isn't particularly memorable as cinema, the day I saw the film for the first time is sharply etched in my mind. It was late May of 2004, and Darren and I were on a weekend getaway to Duluth, MN, on the shore of Lake Superior.
We arrived on a sunny Friday afternoon, but when we looked out our lake-view window Saturday morning, a true gale was ripping across the lake. Huge waves roared by just outside our room and crashed repeatedly over the boardwalk. The wind howled through the hotel, and rain flew past in horizontal sheets. It was all very dramatic in a Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald kind of way.
Our plan for the day had involved a variety of outdoor activities, but the weather forced us to scrap our itinerary. We sat in a coffee shop, watched the waves batter the shore (and anyone fool enough to venture onto the boardwalk), and pondered what do with our wet weekend. Finally we decided to go see The Day After Tomorrow.
We drove through torrential rain and gusty winds to a drab little theater a few miles from the lake. We plopped ourselves into the stained, threadbare seats and watched lovely Jake Gyllenhaal and still hunky Dennis Quaid fight the weather for two hours. In the end, the weather pretty much wins, but the two hot guys live, so it's all good.
When the house lights came up, we stepped back out into the gale, feeling as though we were somehow caught up in the film we had just seen. Alas, no soaking wet Jake awaited us in our hotel room.
There's more to my attachment to this movie than the Gyllenhaal Effect and freaky meteorological synchronicity, however.
Watching this overwrought bit of celluloid reminds me of the last day I felt hope about my mother's health. A week before we took our trip to Duluth, my mom had undergone cancer surgery, and in the days after her operation, she had narrowly survived a sudden pulmonary embolism. By Memorial Day weekend her condition had greatly improved, and she was due to leave the hospital in several days. As we watched The Day After Tomorrow, for the first time in weeks I found myself relaxing, and at least for two hours, I was able to push aside my fears.
So, as I sit here watching Jake struggle through the flooded streets of New York for probably the twentieth time, I experience faint echoes of a day when I thought things might turn out okay for my mom and my family after all. In the end, things weren't okay, but this silly movie still bears the imprint of the hope I felt that day.
So, if you're ever channel surfing at my house and you come across a scene of Jake being chased by wolves through a Russian cargo ship stranded on Fifth Avenue, settle in because we're not going anywhere.