We know that movies are a dramatized, condensed, simplified and often hollowed-out version of our experienced or imagined reality. The dramatic arts use a toolbox of devices to translate experiences that take place over weeks and months and years into a cohesive visual and audio narrative that can hold our relatively short attention spans for 30-120 minutes (Quibi’s business model assumes our attention spans are far less).
I think that is why, over the last two months, we have found ourselves saying out loud, “This is like a movie.” It’s why I call my grocery store trips “supply runs.” It’s why the sight of masked faces in public fills me with a combination of dread (“The Purge”) and resolve to fight to save humanity (pick any dystopian thriller about an environmentally-decayed future). When I heard my elected officials talk about reopening, another set of movies started flashing in my brain.
We’ve all seen them. A group of survivors– haggard, battered, and fear-stricken– huddle together in some form of makeshift shelter (e.g., underground cave, abandoned building, or old bunker). Outside a storm rages. Perhaps man-made, environmental, or alien. After a prolonged period of flashing lights and explosive sounds, the sound of the world shaking apart, everything goes silent. After the survivors wait in silence, they unclench, open their eyes, and stand up. They walk slowly towards the closed door. It frames a beautiful, yellow-white light. Our survivors slowly walk towards the light and . . .
. . . emerge.
In communities around the country, stay at home orders are being relaxed or lifted entirely, and replaced by “phased re-openings”. We are being told it will be safe to leave our shelters and return to some of our routines– shopping, exercise, grooming. But it will be different. We must circulate with faces half covered. I will still wear latex gloves, carry disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer (and hand lotion) in my car. We will engage with one another from a distance. As an African-American male, I can’t help but notice a strange connection. We have to treat each other as the thing too many of us have been conditioned to universally fear in this country– a black man in a hoodie. Everyone is Treyvon Martin now.
I don’t know which set of movies will come next, though. Will we return to banal dramas? Will we have to band together to save ourselves from the tyrannical forces that rise after an apocalypse? Or will it be worse? Will we be forced to wander an ungoverned wasteland with our surviving family members just trying to scavenge and survive in a world where everyone is a threat? Will our lives really play out like a Cormac McCarthy novel? Or will we be forced to turn our homes into impenetrable bunkers against unseen and visible foes, only to ultimately have them penetrated (“It Comes At Night”)?
I think the ending is up to us, not the ones speaking from our screens. If we want to emerge into the beginning of a cool franchise, then we need to keep our masks on, take care of each other, and prepare for the hard work of rebuilding the world. I love films with truly dark and bleak endings. But I don’t want to live that movie.