In the last year, two viral outbreaks, Ebola & Zika, have spread rapidly through the tropics, killing thousands, maiming unborn babies, and gaining worldwide attention.
Welcome to the new age of contagion. In the 14th century the Black Death killed almost one third of the population of Europe – but it took five years. Today trans global air travel raises the specter of disease leapfrogging from continent to continent with the speed and efficiency of overnight package delivery.
Equally sobering is the suspicion that vaccines for Ebola and Zika could have been developed by now – but weren’t. Big Pharma didn’t see them as potential profit centers.
With this week’s release of Pandemic, we at The Thread decided to explore films that have dealt in that perennial modern bugaboo: viral apocalypse.
And now that we’re done, we’re heading out to stock up on Purell and Deet.
John Suits directs this film set in the near future—a virus of epic proportions has overtaken the planet. Pandemic pulls you right into the thick of the action with a unique first-person POV.
There are more infected than uninfected, and humanity is facing the possibility that this could be The Big One. The only hope is to find a cure; and in the meantime desperately try to keep the infected contained. Lauren (Rachel Nichols) is a doctor, who, after the fall of New York, comes to Los Angeles to lead a team to hunt for and rescue uninfected survivors.
Steven Soderbergh’s film, written by Scott Z. Burns, is a dramatic account of a modern day global pandemic. When we first watched this film we were so paranoid that we walked 40 blocks home rather than “risk” the subway. It is that terrifying!
The film starts with a nasty cough over black. Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) is at a casino in Hong Kong. She heads back to the US with a pit stop in Chicago to visit an ex boyfriend and winds up deathly ill—she dies a gruesome death early in the film.
The film keeps lots and lots of balls in the air as it winds relentlessly through the days and weeks and months ahead as the infection topples one institution after another. We follow a handful of archetypes — the conspiratorial blogger (Jude Law), the overwhelmed head of the CDC (Laurence Fishburne), the WHO investigator (Marion Cotillard), the brilliant vaccine researcher (Jennifer Ehle), the grieving husband (Matt Damon) and the scientist (Kate Winslet).
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen and written by Laurence Dworet and Robert Roy Pool. The film does not pull any punches—in the mid-1960s, a deadly virus is discovered in Zaire. Government researchers are brought in to investigate, but the military opts to destroy the village rather than risk further contagion.
30 years later, Col. Sam Daniels (Dustin Hoffman) and Dr. Robby Keough (Rene Russo) are called in when the virus re-emerges in a small California town via a smuggled monkey.
Gen. McClintock (Donald Sutherland) has his own reasons for wanting to use bombs to contain the epidemic, and Army Surgeon General Ford (Morgan Freeman) is caught in the middle. While we see the infection on its rampage, we also get a glimpse of the ongoing deep government conspiracy that burns African villages down without a second thought.
The most chilling part is not even the outbreak itself but the morally corrupt government response.
Directed by Robert Wise and based on the best selling book by Michael Crichton—this chillingly realistic account of the world’s first biological crisis was the granddaddy of them all – it launched the genre.
After a satellite crashes to Earth near a remote New Mexico village, the recovery team discovers that almost everyone in the town are victims of a horrible death, with the mysterious exception of a baby and an old homeless man. The survivors are brought to a state-of-the-art laboratory descending five stories beneath the ground where the puzzled scientists race against time to determine the nature of the deadly microbe before it wreaks worldwide havoc.
In the 45 years since, the only major change has been the realization that no extraterrestrial intervention is needed – there’s plenty of rogue viral material right here on earth.
Directed by Christopher Smith and starring Sean Bean and Eddy Redmayne. The film is set in the year 1348. Europe has fallen under the shadow of the Black Death — otherwise known as the Bubonic Plague.
The plague decimates everyone in its path—in this apocalyptic environment, the church is losing its hold on the people, so a bishop engages a band of mercenaries to investigate rumors of a village, hidden in marshland, that the plague has not touched. There is rumored to be a necromancer who leads the village in human sacrifices and is able to bring the dead back to life.
Sean Bean plays Ulric, the knight who leads the mercenaries. He enlists the guidance of a monk, Osmund (Eddy Redmayne) to lead them to the marshland; but Osmund has other motives for leaving his monastery.
Their journey takes them into the heart of darkness and to horrors that will put Osmund’s faith in himself and his love for God to the ultimate test.
Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman. Set in Sweden during the Black Death, it tells of the journey of a disillusioned medieval knight (Max von Sydow) and a game of chess he plays with Death (Bengt Ekerot) who has come to take his life.
Bergman developed the film from his own play Wood Painting. The film’s title refers to a passage from the Book of Revelation used at the very start of the film and then again towards the end:
“And when the Lamb had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour”.
The knight understands that trying to outwit Death is absurd — but keeps trying to checkmate Him nonetheless.
“Maybe a pandemic plague is part of Nature’s cost- benefit analysis,” says Death.
The Seventh Seal was a benchmark foreign import of America’s 1950s art-house heyday, which helped undermine the conventions of old-school Hollywood storytelling and usher in a new era of American film.