It’s not just “Contagion” and “28 Days Later” — Many movies shape our view of viral invasions


I can’t speak for you, but I’m a little numb with shock at this “shelter in place/self-quarantine/lay low y’all” that has dropped on our 21st century civilization’s heads.

It’s one thing to adore the science fiction allegories of old “Twilight Zone” episodes (“Time Enough at Last”), movies old (“The Omega Man”) and new (“I Am Legend,” “World War Z”), experiences that transport us — briefly — into a situation that makes us wonder how we’d act, what we’d do to save ourselves and what part of our humanity and human civilization would be at the top of our list to save for eternity.

We think “I’d head for the hills” or “hole up in the desert/mountains” or what have you. Anything to get clear of the “Contagion,” at least until it sort of blows over. As if we’re sure that’ll happen.

I have a live-aboard cruising sailboat and half-smirked “I’ll just sail away for a bit. Someplace warm where the Corona beer is cheap and the populace is maybe Corona (virus) free.

These attitudes of “get away” and “We alone will survive” and “self-reliance will save us” are burned into our psyches from movies and TV. From Westerns onward, Americans in particular have absorbed that “I can go it alone” ethos.

Some would say our fate is tied to one American political party’s embrace of Westerns long after they went out of style that has them constantly looking for “cowboys” and “mountain men” like they’ve seen in moving pictures. But I can’t believe any Republican voted for somebody as unmanly and unself reliant as the cowardly oaf in the Oval Office because they thought he was a (movie) cowboy like Reagan.

But maybe.

Here we were, all set to dive into the “last humans standing” story of “The Quiet Place” again, and damned if it isn’t pulled from release. A little too “on the nose,” if you ask me.

Time and again, movies have presented us with an “Outbreak” which it takes pluck and luck and can-do knowhow to survive.

But what I remember from “Outbreak” is the movie theater scene. The film, which turned 25 this month, shows disease spreading from an African monkey to humans, who pass it on in a chilling moment where, in a nearly-quiet movie theater, the movie is interrupted by muffled coughs that slowly spread among the filmgoers.

I can honestly say that I’ve only gotten sick at one theater over my decades of moviegoing and reviewing,the Worst Cinema in America in Durham, N.C.

But plagues have plagued the big screen forever. Monty Python’s Terry Jones (director of “The Holy Grail”) made “Bring out yer dead” a cultural punchline.

Robert Downey and Sam Neill made plague the 17th century comeuppance for decadence in “Restoration.”

There was “The Horseman on the Roof” and a personal guilty pleasure, the Omar Sharif/Michael Caine film, by novelist and one-time director James Clavell, “The Last Valley.” In the same 1600s that “Restoration” was set in, Sharif plays a man on the run who stumbles into a village in “The Last Valley,” that the plague has not reached.

Michael Caine and his band of mercenaries shows up and mucks up primitive paradise.

I don’t recommend any of these titles — or the ON-THE-MONEY “Contagion” (I didn’t love it when it came out. Heartless, as indeed viruses are.) as “escape” while we’re holing up, riding the storm out.

But if we’re out buying up all the toilet paper and bracing for the Apocalypse, that’s how we’ve been trained — by the movies.

Accepting the inevitable, which is what the fatalistic reads on Coronavirus seems to entail, calls to mind the End Days sadness of “On the Beach,” which weighs heavily on the viewer even though the film is over 60 years old, now

Meanwhile, Kevin Costner and I are stocking the boats and getting ready for “Waterworld.” You lubbers let us know when it’s safe to come back.

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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