Movies about pandemics 2

March 20, 2020

WE’RE in our mid-70s, so we’ll be very susceptible to the dreaded corona. In Italy, they no longer give priority to old folks like us. At our age, we cannot recall a time like this when a serious international problem occurs, leading to the shutdowns of malls, moviehouses, air travel, schools, amusement parks, etc. to help prevent the spread of the virus. People keep saying: “Parang sa pelikula lang nangyayari ito.”

And it’s true. There are so many movies about epidemics and pandemics that were made before. And you might want to check on them. We don’t refer to those zombie apocalypse movies like “28 Days Later”, “28 Weeks Later”, “World War Z”, “Resident Evil” or “Train to Busan” and TV shows like “The Walking Dead”, “Falling Skies” and “The Aftermath”. We refer to more realistic viral outbreaks like what we are experiencing now. The best examples are “Contagion” and “Outbreak”.

CONTAGION (2011) - Directed by Oscar-winner Steven Soderbergh (for “Traffic”), this is a very realistic depiction of what might happen when a pandemic erupts. It has a star-studded cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, Bryan Cranston and Jennifer Ehle. 

Gwyneth is a mom who returns to the U.S. from a trip to Hong Kong and gets sick with a mysterious illness that later kills her and her son. The government’s disease control investigates and realizes it must be a virus. Scientists must now race against time to trace its origin and invent a vaccine that will combat further infestation. 

As more infected people turn up, panic among the populace erupts, leading to looting and general disturbance as people fight to survive. It’s speculative but quite chilling because it is very credible, a clear view of what might happen in the event that such a pandemic occurs, which is actually happening now. 

The characters here are used to illustrate the different possibilities of what might happen. The main character here is actually the virus as the movie traces its life cycle. The movie shows how the U.S. government and the World Health Organization react to the predicament the moment they realize its seriousness, trying it best to trace the identity of the first patient or Patient Zero to figure out how the virus was transferred from bats to pigs and then humans. 

You see the doctor here (Kate Winslet) risking her own life by interacting with sick people as she puts up hospital wards in sports arenas. But it’s not the end of the world. Just like in real life now,  God wants us to take a pause. We wait and see how the human race would react. 

Watching it then gives you a great comfort that it’s just a movie. But not anymore, in real life now, the threats it indicated seem to be happening at this very moment. The movie says that the flu epidemic of 1918 killed only one percent of the population. With the population of the world today pegged at 7.5 million people, a similar percentage would mean 75 million people dying before the virus is over. Now, isn’t that a shuddering thought that should send us kneeling and praying for divine intervention in this season of Lent?

OUTBREAK (1995) - This is a more sensationalized movie about an epidemic that is presented like a thriller. Aside from the virus, which is a microscopic entity said to be one billionth of human size, there are also actual human villains here. 

The film opens in Zaire when an entire village is destroyed because of a rampant plague in it. Many natives die, both the sick and the healthy ones. But the virus survives and is brought to the U.S. by an infected monkey. It has also mutated into a deadlier strain and is extremely contagious. The smuggler himself gets infected and the monkey escapes. Some government people work to contain the spread and come up with a cure while a scheming general (Donald Sutherland, chewing the scenery) conceals what happened to create a serum from the virus that can be used as a biological weapon. 

The real horror story here is what would happen when a lethal virus with no known antidote gets out of control and how would people, government and health workers deal with the aggravation? We’re given some glimpses of what might happen, but the main focus is to make the movie an action-thriller to make it more entertaining. There is even an exciting helicopter chase scene.

The good guys here are Dustin Hoffman as a dedicated colonel and Renee Russo as his ex-wife, and other members of their team that include Kevin Spacey and Cuba Gooding Jr. Directed by Wolfgang Peterseon (of the acclaimed “Das Boot”), it’s actually more of an escapist suspense-thriller. “Contagion” is the much more serious film about pandemics.