Ray's world is crumbling. Falling apart, you might say.
Oh, not every aspect of his life is irredeemably dour. He flies a helicopter for work, after all—and his job as a chopper rescue pilot means he's never short on dinner-party stories. His biceps boast the girth of a Sequoia. His shaved head glints becomingly in the Southern California sunshine.
But the sheen emanating from Ray's pate obscures his pain. A family tragedy shook him badly, and he's still feeling the aftershocks. His wife, Emma, has filed for divorce and is moving in with a new, rich beau. He worries that his college-age daughter is being inexorably pulled into that grabby guy's orbit as well. And when you worry about losing all the folks you've ever cared about to some ratty real estate magnate—well, not even the biggest of biceps can provide much solace.
Perhaps the earth itself feels Ray's pain. Perhaps, when the San Andreas Fault begins to move its fingers through the ground, it's simply the planet's way of putting a rocky arm around The Rock's shoulders and saying, "There, there. I'm right here with ya."
Alas, Earth's sympathetic tremors make life seriously not OK for millions of Californians who must now dodge freefalling buildings and leap across gigantic fissures in the ground just to water their limp lawns. It's not long before the lower two-thirds of the state looks like the set for, say, a Hollywood disaster movie.
And it's seriously not OK for Ray, either, considering the fact that he soon spies Emma standing on the roof of a collapsing Los Angeles skyscraper. And that he hears his daughter is trapped in a San Francisco parking garage.
If nothing else, apocalyptic-scale disasters have a way of resetting one's priorities. And Ray knows that, estranged or no, family comes first. Time to put his rescue training to the ultimate test.
Ray spends the rest of the movie trying to save his family, incidentally rescuing others along the way. He and his biceps show no fear despite the horrors that surround them, and his dogged determination to keep his loved ones alive forms the emotional backbone of this story.
But San Andreas also suggests you don't need to look like a former professional wrestler to be a hero. Ray's daughter, Blake, is a brave, resourceful figure in her own right—using lessons from her dad and a wealth of common sense to stay alive and a step ahead of disaster. She's got some company, of course: Ben, a visiting Brit, along with his little brother Ollie, know enough to stick close to the girl, and they save one another in turn.
Since disasters (and disaster movies) excel at revealing heroes, the folks mentioned above are merely the most obvious. Scientists work overtime to give Californians some notice of these devastating quakes (saving thousands, we're told)—and one sacrifices his life to rescue a little girl. We see other heroic acts on the fringes of San Andreas, be they civilians running in reverse to pull someone to safety or police doing their best to direct all the screaming traffic. Scenes near the end of the movie are filled with relief workers helping where they can, while walls filled with homemade posters of missing loved ones echo and honor the real-life scenes we see after our own disasters.
San Andreas rightly suggests that heroism doesn't just look like Dwayne Johnson: It looks like the thousands of folks who chip in after a cataclysm, handing out water bottles or giving a much-needed hug.
We see a group of people sitting around a table and praying following the earthquakes. When warning Californians about the coming danger, a science professor says, "God be with you."
Blake lounges in a revealing bikini, pre-quake. There's talk of Emma and Daniel moving in together (before her divorce from Ray is finalized). Ray and Emma kiss, as do Blake and Ben. There's a line about getting to "second base."
When Mother Nature tears off a strip of California from the mainland and tosses it in a food processor, people are bound to get hurt. Just how many die here, I wouldn't even hazard a guess, but we're probably talking high six figures, minimum.
Only a few of that dire number die right in front of us. One man is smashed by a shipping container. Another is crunched by a careening car. A couple of people fall too far to survive. Someone drowns. They're crushed by falling debris. Less up-close-and-personal, we see scads of buildings collapse, car-filled bridges crumble and boats capsize in the churning tsunami that follows.
More folks suffer injuries that aren't immediately mortal. A guy has his foot skewered by a metal pole. A huge chunk of glass lands in a man's thigh, forcing his friends to painfully (and messily) pull the thing out. A woman miraculously survives a terrible, end-over-end car crash (down a cliff). People are thrown roughly to the ground, fall through holes, etc. Nearly everyone is bleeding from somewhere at some point.
When someone threatens Ray with a gun, Ray grabs it and punches the guy's lights out. He crashes a helicopter into a mall. A man gets his arm painfully caught in a rescue apparatus.
[Spoiler Warning] We learn that Ray and Emma lost a daughter in a rafting accident years before—a tragedy that led to their marital woes. We see the doomed daughter underwater, and Ray is haunted by the look in her eyes when she realized her father wasn't going to be able to save her.
Crude or Profane Language
Emma lets loose an f-word. We hear the s-word a dozen times. Other cursing includes "a--," "h---" and "bloody." God's name is twice paired with "d--n" and blurted out alone more than 15 times. Jesus' name is abused four or five.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Looters take advantage of the mayhem to stock up on, among other things, flat-screen TVs. One guy plans to use a stolen truck to transport his new stuff—a truck that Ray, in turn, also hotwires and steals (for much more noble purposes). Ray and Emma grab outfits off a store rack (to replace the fuel-soaked clothes they're wearing).
Daniel deserts a trapped Blake in a parking garage. He tries to get help at first, but then he freaks and staggers out of the building in a daze. Later, he shoves people out of the way as he seeks safety for himself.
While earthquakes are notoriously unpredictable, this movie feels as reliable as a fast-food value meal. Like it or lump it, you know what you're going to get: fires and floods, explosions and rubble, and lots of Dwayne Johnson acting all heroic and stuff.
You also get blood. And death. And ooky wounds. Oh, and swearing.
Clearly,* San Andreas* has its faults.
We love to see our world destroyed onscreen. I wonder sometimes whether that love speaks to something not particularly healthy in us—a desire to destroy instead of create, to annihilate instead of build. Even San Andreas' heroism—Ray's muscular derring-do—left me feeling a little uncomfortable, given his single-minded focus on his own brood when there are literally thousands of folks along the way who could use his help just as much.
Not that family isn't one of the most important things in our lives. Because even as we grant those negatives, we should also acknowledge that most of us would—and maybe should—do the same. I wish you the best, but it's my family that's counting on me to save them. It's up to me, as long as there's breath in my chest, to do what I can to make sure they're safe. So I can't snap too much at Ray for doing exactly that with his.
And that means San Andreas is, while predicated on disastrous violence, really all about family. And heroism for one's family. It's not a new message. Nor is it even uniquely delivered in this paint-by-numbers actioner. But it's a powerfully positive message that survives the cinematic tremors.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Dwayne Johnson as Ray; Carla Gugino as Emma; Alexandra Daddario as Blake; Ioan Gruffudd as Daniel Riddick; Archie Panjabi as Serena; Paul Giamatti as Lawrence; Hugo Johnstone-Burt as Ben; Art Parkinson as Ollie
May 29, 2015
October 13, 2015