Social distancing. Isolating. Quarantining. It doesn’t matter what action you’re taking at the moment, because your mind is probably preoccupied with COVID-19 no matter what.
Most people are probably reaching for pure escapism, but some will inevitably want entertainment that hits closer to home. While I do not advocate watching movies that are actually about pandemics (think Contagion, World War Z, and even the newer Planet of the Apes trilogy), there are films that can help scratch any masochistic itch you may be feeling.
Here are three of my favorite movies that have taken on a new resonance since February. They’re all fairly old, so assume some spoilers. And as a bonus, all three are either based on a book or short story, potentially providing you with extra hours of entertainment if you decide to drop into the source material. Enjoy!
This is my all-time favorite movie, a fact that takes many people by surprise. “The shark movie? Really?” Yes, but if all you remember is Roy Scheider blowing up his toothy nemesis, then you’ll be surprised by how relevant the story is to our current reality.
The shark hunt portion of the film doesn’t kick into gear until the second half, but it’s the first that feels the most eerily familiar: Amity Island’s chief of police Martin Brody closes local beaches after the body of a young woman is discovered. Brody believes her death was a shark attack, the mayor thinks it was a boating accident. The mayor overrules Brody to reopen the beaches so that the town’s economy won’t suffer.
Of course, viewers already know that the mayor is wrong (and also annoying), but Brody’s protests fall on deaf ears. The parallels to what’s happening now don’t end there, but I’ll let you discover them on your own. Do yourself a favor and watch (or re-visit) this classic ASAP. Then come and talk to me about how frustrating the whole Mrs. Kintner-Brody-Mayor scene is.
Rear Window (1954)
Imagine being stuck at home, unable to go out, reliant on food delivery, and with very little entertainment. This probably isn’t much of a stretch, depending on your isolation set-up (and your tolerance for daily binge watching).
Still, there can be a certain comfort in watching someone in similar, yet somewhat worse, circumstances to your own on screen. Enter Rear Window, the Alfred Hitchcock classic starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. In it, Stewart takes to spying on his New York City neighbors while he’s laid up with a broken leg. Sounds like a fairly tame way to pass the time, but this Hitchcock, after all. One of the neighbors appears to be up to no good, and the stars take it upon themselves to prove his guilt.
There are two other versions of this film available: a 1998 TV movie starring Christopher Reeves and Daryl Hannah and 2007’s Disturbia with Shia LaBeouf. I can’t speak to the TV version (haven’t seen it), but I suggest skipping LaBeouf’s version. Unless you’ve already watched everything else. Then, what the hell. Go for it.
The Martian (2015)
Looking for a social distancing experience that’s less murdery? You probably can’t do any better than this Matt Damon adventure about an astronaut stranded on Mars.
The Martian feels relatable at the moment, but it might also make you feel a bit better about the current isolation situation. At least you can talk to others with relatively little effort, have food and supplies delivered in a timely manner, and step outside for some fresh air. Poor Damon can’t do any of this. Plus, he has to grow potatoes using actual human feces (hopefully you’re not there quite yet).
Another great thing about this movie is that it ends on an uplifting note. The world comes together to solve a problem– yay! –something I hope happens in the real world very, very soon. Word of caution: in this story the Chinese government are heroes, which may not play well with everyone at the moment. But if you can overlook that, this movie might be the pick-me-up you need right now.
Is there a “pandemic movie” that’s not really about pandemics that I’ve missed? Let me know! There’s only so many times I can re-watch The Office during this.