What is the Movie Question?

Writers are often also big movie fans. Here I ask some writers the question: 'Your life is about to end, but you can live on in a movie of your choosing. Which movie will it be?'

Sarah Lotz

I would choose Babette's Feast because I am greedy and spending eternity stuffing my face with food is my idea of heaven (plus, I don't speak Danish so thankfully won't be able to trade dreaded smalltalk with the other dinner guests in the film). It would also really annoy the friend who accompanied me to see this film when it first came out in the 80s. She thought it was a load of pretentious wank and hasn't spoken to me since.

Sarah Lotz’s latest suspenseful horror The White Road is available now.


Colin Cotterill

Were I younger, perhaps by some thirty years, I would not have needed the past two weeks to contemplate my cinematic Armageddon. I would have happily spent my apocalyptic infinity Groundhog Dayishly reliving the one-hour-eleven minutes of Tokyo Volleyball Sluts 2. (I regret that I didn’t ever see 1.) It was classic early Japanese porn and to a 34-year-old Colin it was all I could ever have asked from an 8mm reel.  It was my 72 afterlife virgins. How director Majime Unko ever found twelve Japanese beauties over seven feet tall I shall never know. But, even though their volleyball skills were limited and their dramatic interpretation of the script was often embarrassing, they did have legs that extended far beyond my imagination.

At around this point in my essay, I realize that I have already lost the vast majority of my female readers who, ‘expected better’. But, ladies, how many of us can truly boast of a seamless past? I like to think I have become a more whole person since then. So, two weeks ago, when I was begged to contribute to this meaningless project, I laughed at my 34-year-old Colin and mocked him for his shallowness and lack of couth. And I set about selecting a movie which would set me above him. I should choose something with a moral tone. The main character would be a woman, of course, cerebrally attractive, intelligent, classically trained. I researched the works of Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep and Susan Sarandon because I knew in that pack I would find my mentor.

But my mind kept drifting back to the shower scene in Tokyo Volleyball Sluts 2, the one where the young plumber was still connecting the new U-bend when the team – stoked from the Olympric final win – arrive back at the changing room. There was a lot of flesh in that scene, but there was also potential.  What if…I mean just what if I selected that movie, not from the POV of a sexually irresponsible, morally deformed youth, but that of a kind, knowledgeable 64-year-old? What if I had the opportunity to discuss their life decisions, to help them see the errors of their ways? If they made it through the drugs and diseases they’d all be in their eighties today; probably overweight and wrinkled and regretting every thrust, every scream of “iku, iku”. What legacy was that to pass on to their grandchildren?

I know it would be hard to convince those leggy, luscious pseudo-volleyballers from the seventies what the future might hold for them. But that one-hour-eleven-minutes would be on a loop. They and I and the plumber would never age. Only I would be unpleasant looking. Of course I would have to use my Groundhog reps to win their hearts. Time would be on my side. I can’t begin to imagine what gratitude they might show me for my appreciation of them as more than meat. They would certainly come to see that immature, average-looking plumber for exactly what he was, a misogynist with a seemingly undeflatable penis. Perhaps we could rewrite that shower scene with me in the pivotal role. I wouldn’t insist on doing away with the baby oil. My skin needs nourishment. And there are a number of therapeutic benefits of hot candle wax. And who, in his dotage, doesn’t need the occasional twenty-four hand massage?

Social work takes time and tolerance.

Colin Cotterill’s latest Dr. Siri Paiboun Mystery The Rat Catcher’s Olympics will be released in August.


Alex Smith

If the world were ending, I'd want to escape to somewhere blissful and uncomplicated, but never boring, where the colours are fresh but slightly muted and the meadows are full of happy laughter, flowers and quirky creatures. It would be a place where a cat bus comes at midnight and where attics team with playful soot gremlins. I'd happily jump off an imploding world and into the beautiful creation of Hiyao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli - 'My Neighbour Totoro' would be my refuge of choice.

Alex Smith’s latest novel is the darkly fantastical Devilskein And Dearlove.


Karina M. Szczurek

After the apocalypse, I want to continue living in the world of Anne of Green Gables. Green Gables would be my home. Like Anne, I would live and love passionately, spell chrysanthemums and grow them in my wild garden, write stories with local flavour for a living and wear blue dresses with puff sleeves for special occasions.

Karina Szczurek’s latest work, a memoir titled The Fifth Mrs.Brink is out now.


M.R. Carey

If the world as we know it goes down in flames, which doesn’t feel like much of a reach right now, then I’d like to migrate to Ingmar Bergman’s late masterpiece Fanny and Alexander. It’s a celebration of love, and of the resilience and stability of the family unit in a world in flux. And it’s set in early twentieth century Uppsala, so if hearth and home get to feel a bit claustrophobic you can just go for a stroll through the gorgeous cinematography. There are a few downsides. Emilie Ekdahl’s second husband is a humourless sadist and religious bigot, but the family unites against him and takes him down so you’d just have to wait him out. Young Alexander can conjure ghosts and monsters out of thin air, but they mostly don’t bother anyone apart from him. The main worry would be the endless, opulent feasts and celebrations. The Ekdahls really know how to party, and they never seem to stop. You’d put on weight like a pregnant hippo. Small price to pay, though, for the love and the luxury and the general sense of all being right with the world. I need to grab me some of that.

The Boy On The Bridge – M.R. Carey’s prequel to his internationally acclaimed The Girl With All The Gifts is out now.


Ken Barris

When the world ends, I will continue to live in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which will inevitably become more secret. The movie starred Ben Stiller who plays Mitty, the “negative assets manager” at Life magazine, and Sean Penn as a renowned photojournalist, the champion of life and great depictor of the world. But I will change things, turning back the wheel of time to the story by James Thurber. There will be machines to fix, broken anaesthetisers that go pocketa-pocketa-queep-pocketa-queep. There will be navy hydroplanes that go ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa, thrumming with unbridled power. Pandemonium breaks loose in the courtroom. A woman’s scream rise above the bedlam and suddenly a lovely, dark-haired girl is in my arms. And that is just a single example! Electricity will leak everywhere, lubricating the world with danger. But at some point, I revert to the movie, becoming Eyjafjallajökull in the glory of its eruption: so I become a fulminous background to the escaping biplane, and its drunken pilot.

Ken Barris is a writer, poet, critic and researcher. His fiction and poetry have won the M-Net Book Prize, the Ad Donker Award, the Ingrid Jonker Prize and the Thomas Pringle Award.



Henrietta Rose-Innes

Definitely an early Warner Brothers Looney Tunes. Maybe the Roadrunner. (I’d be Wiley Coyote.) Would also agree to Daffy Duck, goes without saying. I love the idea that you can run off cliffs and be blown up by dynamite and keep coming back again and again, intact – it’s a pretty good vision of the afterlife. Also, it would be a very funny, entertaining and well-drawn universe to live in, which is more than I can say for real life. You’d have lots of jokes and slapstick, and personally I don’t feel it would count as an Eternal Reward without them. That's all folks.

Henrietta Rose-Innes's latest novel Green Lion was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize, and will be released in the UK in August.



Máire Fisher

I’d like to live on in a world that’s kind, funny, heart-breaking, eye-opening, wacky, and filled with the possibility of new stories. So here’s the plan. I’ll take up residence in Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

I’ll get to sing happy birthday to Ricky Baker (“Ricky Baker, oh, Ricky Baker/ Happy Birthday/ Once rejected, now accepted, Ri-ckey Baaaaak-errrrrrr”). He’ll introduce me to Hec and Tupac. I won’t be able to meet Bella, and that’s a huge sadness, but Ricky can show me show me where “the earth wets the cloak of the sky”. I’ll bump into Taika Waititi, ask him what he sees when he closes his eyes. I’ll meet Barry Crump, chat about Wild Pork and Watercress, ask how his first chapter, “A Real Bad Egg” led into Ricky Baker’s story.

If I get to know Ricky really well, and I so hope I do, maybe he’ll write me a haiku. Not one of his angry ones, because by the time I meet him he won’t need to write words like

Kingi you wanker

You arsehole, I hate you heaps

Please die soon, in pain.

No, the haiku he writes for me will be along the lines of

Trees. Birds. Rivers. Sky.

Running with my Uncle Hec

Living forever.

That’s it then. I’ll live with the Wilderpeople forever. Shit can get real.


Máire Fisher is the author of the acclaimed novel Birdseye.


Alex Latimer

People think I’m joking when I say I could watch CGI dinosaurs all day. But it’s true. I could. The order of amazing things people take for granted on a daily basis goes roughly like this:
1. Hot water that comes out of the wall.
2. Food security.
3. CGI dinosaurs.
So I’m going for any Jurassic Park movie (except for the one with the pteranodons, because that one was rubbish.) And I’m also going to stipulate that in this hypothetical scenario, I’m not a main character - I don’t actually fight any raptors or have to be really quiet in a car. I’m just a guest at the resort and maybe I go home before things get hairy.

Cape Town-based writer and illustrator Alex Latimer’s latest work is called Woolf (illustrated by his brother, Patrick). He is also one half of South author Frank Owen, with Diane Awerbuck.


Diane Awerbuck

The old ‘Ghostbusters’, for sure – that idea of a dirty, rich, New York, a place with enough playfulness and variety to allow outfits such as the Ghostbusters to thrive. A lot of those fun eighties movies were actually about the dissolution of institutions – families, governments, the entire fabric of Western society – and ‘Ghostbusters’ is about the failure of the military-industrial complex to rescue us from ourselves. Prescient.

But really I like the idea of Venkman’s (the funny, flawed version of us) cynicism being put to use in the service of taming the supernatural – or at least interacting fully with it. Bill Murray was formative for me: I wanted to be him.

Let’s count the ways I love ‘Ghostbusters’, specifically:

It has a library.

It has a hot dog stand.

It has one of the greatest love stories of all time: Zuul finds herself. I love the idea that there’s a Keymaster for every Gatekeeper, no matter how ridiculous you might seem to other people. I’m also quite attached to the idea that humans are hosts for higher powers, like vectors for bacteria – sometimes benign, mostly malignant – and we’re just carrying out some plan.

Diane Awerbuck has won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize and the Short Story Day Africa competition. She is also one half of South author Frank Owen, with Alex Latimer.


Rahla Xenopoulos

Could I please get a remake of the remake of ‘Around The World In Eighty Days’, also, could Baz Lumhrann be the director? That way I know the score will be brilliant, the wardrobe will be fanfuckingtastic and, while the risk of pretentiousness exists I know we’ll never be bored.

I say ‘we’ because, most important of all, with ‘Around The World In Eighty Days’ I could surely scoop my family up into the basket of that hot air balloon and we could continue our giddy lives in the same delusional state we presently lead them. Except, this would be without the interruption of school, social media, Trump or the tedious business of someone needing to earn a living.

The world might be in an apocalyptic mess but we would be none the wiser, fuck it man, we’d be together flying high on an endless adventure. I reckon my husband would be slightly less sane than either David Niven or Steve Coogan were, and I’d be way more of a mess than Shirley McClaine or Cecile de France were. My triplets would probably be more demanding manservant then Cantinflas or Jackie Chan were but they’d keep us laughing and, if the world is going up in smoke what else is there?

Rahla Xenopoulos is an author, wife and mother of triplets. Her latest novel is Tribe.


Mark Winkler

I suppose if the world were about to end and I had the option to continue to living in a movie, Groundhog Day would be the obvious choice. But would I regret it all too soon? That endless repetition, having to rescue the kid who falls out of a tree all the time, forced to become increasingly saccharine in order to win the affections of Andie MacDowell instead of being allowed to remain my naturally churlish self?

Perhaps Terry Gilliam’s dystopian Brazil would be more interesting. Released in 1985 (and almost titled 1984½), Brazil feels like it was shot by a science-fiction director in 1945, with a delightful retro-future approach to technology, art direction and styling that means the movie has yet to date as a visual spectacle.

I love how the simplest and most random event sparks a story that devolves into a darkly humorous political satire – a fly falls into the works of an automated typewriter contraption, and causes the name of the shoemaker Buttle to be printed as that of the terrorist Tuttle. The innocent Buttle is arrested, tortured and killed as a result, and lowly bureaucrat Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is given the task of remedying the mess.

I’d probably spend most my days in the latter half of the second act, after Lowry himself is rescued from torture by Tuttle (Robert de Niro) and whisked away to his ideal world. There, I would chat to Lowry’s mother (Katharine Helmond), entertained by the rubbery aftereffects of her endless rounds of plastic surgery, or flirting with Lowry’s sometime lover Jill (Kim Greist), or perfecting the whistley bits of Geoff Maldaur’s “Brazil”, the eponymous and iconic theme song.

But I’d stay well away from the end, because there’s only so much reality one could handle while living in somebody else’s movie.

Mark Winkler's latest novel, The Safest Place You Know was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize.


Gareth Crocker

Rocky. No debate about it. There’s so much to admire about both the character and the story. After watching the film as a young boy it changed the way I looked at the world. It made me feel things I had never felt before. I literally walked into the cinema as one person and emerged as someone else. It made me understand how powerful storytelling can be when it’s done with the right amount of care and emotion. Not only did it start me on my journey to become a writer, but I’d go so far as to say that Rocky is the beating heart behind every one of my novels to date. Rocky himself is an uneducated though kindly soul who doesn’t care about fame or fortune. He only wants to prove to the world that he’s not some worthless bum. That his life means something; that he means something. In the end, he manages to go toe-to-toe with the heavyweight boxing champion of the world and while he is woefully outclassed and loses the fight, he wins our hearts and leaves us with a poignant reminder. Life is tough. Taking a beating at some point is inevitable. But having the fight to stand up and push back is what defines us. It’s a lesson that’s never left me.

Gareth Crocker is a bestselling author and screenwriter, based in Johannesburg. When not hard at work writing fiction, he's hard at work producing TV shows.



Ali Land

If the world was about to end, the movie I’d choose to live in is Woodstock. More of a documentary or a rockumentary, see what they did there, rather than a traditional film, but for me, the Three Days of Peace and Music would be the perfect place to spend out my days and days and days. Why? Well, firstly, I’m not a fan of wearing shoes and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have to be in Woodstock. Secondly, people watching is my thing. What a delicious treat, over 500,000 different minds to explore, I can’t imagine life at Yasgur’s farm would ever be boring. Thirdly, there was skinny-dipping and mud orgies, neither of which I mind. Fourthly, it wasn’t all free love and ‘hey man isn’t this just the best,’ in fact a state of emergency was declared due to lack of food, bad weather and nowhere to poop, but struggle is good, even utopia loses its shine after a while, just ask Adam and Eve. I figure the human stuff that happened during the festival – including the two deaths and at least one birth – is just that, it’s human, it’s life. Fifthly (is that even a word?!), the Woodstock uniform of hippy dresses, dungarees and floral head crowns is also my thing. I’ve collected and worn items from that era for years, the 6ft industrial clothes rail I sleep next to can testify to that, and if anyone ever finds the white, leather fringed jacket Hendrix wore when he closed the festival, I’m your gal. Hendrix is my muse and his rendition of Purple Haze truly is all the music I’d ever need apart from … dear Joni. It turns out she didn’t make it to Woodstock either which makes me feel a little bit better knowing that I wasn’t the only one to miss out. She might not have made it to the festival but she did write a beautiful song about it -

I'm going to camp out on the land

I'm going to try an' get my soul free

We are stardust

We are golden

And we've got to get ourselves

Back to the garden

My garden would be Woodstock, where would yours be? Love and peace, Ali Land.


Ali Land is the bestselling author of Good Me, Bad Me.


Steven Boykey Sidley

So the apocalypse has occurred. Armageddon has arrived. The great undoing is done. So in case there is another catastrophe waiting around the corner, I had better hop into a movie that prepares me for this time. Because it is likely that the after the second time we would have to live amongst each other as barbarians and cannibals and mutants, surviving on instincts and cruelty and cunning and the flesh of young children, fuelled by a savage single-minded purpose of kill or be killed.

Pah! Simple. The alien from the first Alien film. although I would avoid hanging out with Sigourney Weaver. Or the terminator from the first The Terminator. He had a great body, couldn’t be killed, had great eyesight and was filled with overflowing purpose. He looked quite content with his lot to me.

Oh, alright, I’ll be more serious. Can I be George in Seinfeld? I know its not a movie, but I always wanted to be George.

Steven Boykey Sidley’s latest novel is Free Association, published by Picador in 2017: http://panmacmillan.co.za/book-author/steven-boykey-sidley/