Films for Quarantine

Marci is on the eleventh day of a low-grade fever. Well, my brother says it only counts as a fever when it’s higher than 100.4° F (which doesn’t happen very often). And he’s got a doctorate in Emergency Medicine, so he probably knows better. Still, we feel that it’s wise to take precautions. Thus, our quarantine from society — which almost everyone is dealing with, on some level — also happens to be coupled with a quarantine from each other, in the hopes of limiting the spread of sickness within our household.

This is no fun.

We’ve found ourselves actually longing for the first few weeks of the government’s “Stay at Home” orders, which created extra space for family time, while outside avenues for engagement were closed off to us. Elliot, Olivia, and Cor bonded more closely together in those days, as they found ways to occupy each other. Marci and I, too, had some really good times of connection as a couple.

Ever since Marci has been cordoned off in the Master Bedroom (and now Cor in his bedroom, in more recent days), family dynamics are necessarily different. We look forward to the days when we can at least get back to “Normal for the Five of Us” — albeit with extra precautions for when we might venture into the outside world.

When all this is finished, I hope that we will not take “normal” things — even within our own household for granted.

But there is one silver lining I’ve observed: “Sole possession of the remote control” (to quote a popular film from the mid-1990s). Marci’s isolation upstairs has allowed me to watch more television and films that might not be up Marci’s alley. Sports documentaries and war movies, especially. Even with the kids, we have been watching some non-Mom movies. And I’ve found some surprising resonance with our current circumstances in quarantine. Maybe we’re all noticing things like this: previously-mundane songs, or books, or movies that are not specifically about pandemics but that still strike a chord during this period in history. But the three films I’ve watched over the last week have been particularly poignant.

The Martian

I was worried that this movie would feel depressing. I mean, we feel kind of isolated in two small factions (partitioned by sickness) in a household of five. Wouldn’t the story of a man stuck on Mars feel even more isolating, alienating, and anxiety-inducing?!? We happened to check it out from the library on the last day before it shut down, though, so after we’d worked through our other material, this one remained and we decided to give it a try.

It ended up feeling surprisingly hopeful. Even on a different planet, using totally-improvised technology, communicating with seventeen-minute gaps between transmissions, and only the longest of odds for survival — the characters in this movie still find reasons to hope. They endure hardship. They troubleshoot. They break the problem down into its component parts and they “science the $#!+ out of it.” It’s got a happy ending — though it feels very strange to see crowds of people in New York’s Times Square, celebrating the happy ending. Already, we’re noticing when people aren’t following current conventions for social distancing (without even trying to notice it). Weird, huh? I hope that we get to celebrate a happy ending in Times Square someday, when this COVID-19 crisis gets resolved by endurance, troubleshooting, and science.

Groundhog Day

I’ve seen this movie a few times before, but my kids had not. We were prepared for this movie to be funny. And it was entertaining. But while I knew it had some resonance with our current situation — waking up day after day after day to a similar set of circumstances — I really didn’t expect Groundhog Day to be as insightful as it was.

This film showed the extent to which a person will clamor for anything other than the incessant routine. The main character (played by Bill Murray) tried food, sex, adrenaline, theft, and even self-harm as ways to escape the eternal cycle of Groundhog Days he’s enduring in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. But in the end, he only finds peace from studying his surroundings, serving other people, and choosing to love in a selfless way. It’s kind of beautiful. And even inspirational. Especially in a time of quarantine.

The Shawshank Redemption

I’ve long considered this film to be one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s such a good story, told so well — and it’s also kind of cool that it was largely shot in the county where I grew up. The most powerful theme of the film is hope. The characters debate whether hope is helpful or hurtful, in the context of a maximum security prison. And they learn how to support each other in the process of waiting. I suspected it would feel relevant for the time of COVID-19 — and it was — but I was surprised to find that this one that I thought might feel the most applicable actually ended up being the least applicable. Weird, huh?

The one theme that truly resonated, though, was the question of how one learns to live in freedom after so much time spent in confinement. The character Brooks feels like a cautionary tale for our time — that we might find ourselves so accustomed to life on “the inside” that we don’t know what to do with ourselves once we get back to “the outside.” I sincerely worry about this for our society. How will churches and schools and neighborhoods learn how to function again, after so much time funneled into electronic screens as our only portals? I hope and that we’ll find ways to hope and ways to start anew like Andy and Red.

Other Recommendations?

If you’ve found any other good films for quarantine, please let me know! Book suggestions and album suggestions would also be very welcome. I think that art and history have a lot to teach us in a time like this. So let’s keep leaning into things together, shall we?

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