Unveiling the Silence: Hollywood’s Affair with Catastrophe Ignites Curiosity, but Remains Mute on Covid-19 | Zach Schonfeld

**Title: The Importance of Depicting the Pandemic in Film**

**Heading: A Missed Opportunity in Hollywood’s Approach**

In March 2022, I joined friends to watch “The Worst Person in the World,” a thought-provoking film directed by Joachim Trier. The movie tells the story of Julie, a young woman searching for fulfillment. What struck me most was the epilogue, where Julie and the other characters were seen wearing face masks. This small detail moved me because it symbolized the profound personal losses and global shutdown experienced during the pandemic. It anchored the film’s uncertain protagonist in an uncertain present, adding depth to the movie’s exploration of millennial youth.

**Heading: Disappointment in Hollywood’s Treatment of the Pandemic**

Since then, I’ve wondered why so few fictional films have addressed the pandemic that has profoundly impacted our lives. Hollywood, in particular, has largely avoided acknowledging the pandemic, showing creative cowardice and a reluctance to confront the world as it exists now. When American films do touch on the pandemic, they often do so fleetingly, using the past tense, or resort to superficial and comedic references about hand sanitizers and wealthy individuals in quarantine. This lack of substantial engagement with the pandemic is disheartening, as it runs parallel to the corporate interest in declaring the pandemic over and disregarding its ongoing threat.

**Heading: The Need for Films Set Amid the Pandemic**

While some individuals may prefer to escape the realities of COVID-19 in films, I believe there should be more movies set during the pandemic. This does not mean that every film must take place in March 2020, but rather that filmmakers should acknowledge the pandemic’s continued impact as a backdrop for fictional storytelling. The avoidance of this theme is a form of denialism, mirroring the corporate disinterest in acknowledging the pandemic’s ongoing effects and treating it as a concluded chapter. Fortunately, the success of HBO’s “The Last of Us” suggests that there is an audience for darker, pandemic-themed stories.

**Heading: Exploring the Pandemic Through Different Genres**

Why have so few notable films depicted the pandemic? It appears that major studios prioritize fantasy and escapism, possibly fearing political backlash. This choice ignores the potential of pandemic-themed stories to resonate with audiences. Nonetheless, some directors, such as Scorsese, Tarantino, and Anderson, have chosen to move away from the modern era, focusing on period pieces instead.

**Heading: Breaking the Barrier of Imagining the Pandemic in Film**

While some argue that pandemic life does not lend itself to compelling or visually engaging cinema, this mindset is a failure of imagination. Steven Soderbergh’s “Kimi” (2022) is proof that pandemic elements can heighten suspense and anxiety within a film. The movie follows Angela, a woman suffering from agoraphobia exacerbated by COVID-19, who uncovers evidence of a murder while working remotely from her apartment. The majority of the film’s action takes place in her stylish loft, creating a quarantine-inspired paranoid thriller. Additionally, horror filmmakers have embraced the pandemic, addressing it more directly. Films like “Host” (2020) and “Dashcam” (2022) utilize the desolation and lockdown settings to create haunting and terrifying narratives.

**Heading: International Films’ Fresh Approach**

Outside of Hollywood, some international filmmakers have successfully incorporated the pandemic into their narratives. Claire Denis, for instance, has made two movies – “Stars at Noon” (2022) and “Both Sides of the Blade” (2022) – that realistically depict the pandemic’s presence without sensationalizing it. These films treat the pandemic as just one component of everyday life, akin to how French films depict sex.

**Heading: Historical Precedents and Cinema’s Role**

The reluctance to address the pandemic in Hollywood echoes past events. During the 1918 flu pandemic, which claimed around 50 million lives worldwide, silent films of the 1920s rarely acknowledged the catastrophe. The film industry avoided mentioning the pandemic’s three waves, even though they were responsible for killing 200,000 people in the UK alone. When pandemics were portrayed in films, it was often in oblique references to historical outbreaks or fictional sources. Hollywood exhibited similar avoidance when it came to addressing the AIDS epidemic until the release of “Philadelphia” in 1993. After the September 11 attacks, many films digitally removed shots of the Twin Towers, making Spike Lee’s “25th Hour” stand out as a movie that confronted the post-9/11 reality.

**Heading: The Urgency for Film to Reflect Reality**

The current pandemic has reshaped modern life, yet Hollywood refuses to confront it head-on. It is remarkable that cinema has had so little to say about this world-altering health crisis. While escapism has its place, filmmaking should also help us understand and make sense of our troubled present. It is essential for movies to acknowledge and explore the pandemic’s far-reaching impact.

**Title: Embracing the Unignorable Reality**

Cinema has always served as a medium for processing the world around us. Now, it is time for movies to step up and acknowledge the massive shared experience of the pandemic. The absence of significant cinematic portrayals leaves future generations with little understanding of this transformative period. Let us hope that filmmakers embrace the daunting task of creating stories that point at the pandemic and say, “Yes, this is real. This happened.”

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