The Wife Provides: Essential Viewing for Quarantine
During the current lockdown, you may have felt the urge to double-down on your anxieties and dig into your old film favourites about isolation and viruses. We’re here to tell you that’s a terrible coping mechanism, and here is a list of our favourite pandemic and isolationist films, if that’s your poison.
Here are ten films that have a whole new layer of meaning during these crazy times, and our unwarranted and completely uninformed opinions. WARNING: Spoiler alerts abound.
12 Monkeys (1996)
A classic tale for the ages. In the year 1996, a vigilante terrorist group – the 12 Monkeys – releases a deadly virus upon the world, forcing survivors to live underground. Forty years later, bad-wig Bruce Willis (only The Jackal comes close) is sent back in time to find the terrorist organisation, but, alas, misses his date and arrives in 1990 instead. Sadly no street rapping ensues.
He is promptly thrown into a mental asylum, where he shares a bunk with fanatical environmentalist, and History’s first Bernie bro: Brad Pitt. In fact, Brad Pitt apparently quit cigarettes cold turkey in order to heighten his anxiety and induce even more mania.
This visual sci-fi feast from Terry Gilliam was inspired (as any self-respecting incel will tell you) by the 1962 French, Left Bank short, La Jetée, which was composed almost entirely from still photos. Also worth a watch, if it really comes down to that.
Terry Gilliam’s messy fingerprints are everywhere in this psychological thriller; from Dutch Angles at every turn, to his signature fisheye lens. It’s a crazy bit of cinema. Even for today.
Terry Gilliam told his art department that the time machine was too expensive, and that they would have to find what they could from the local dump.
Sam Rockwell is nearing the end of a three-year stint in solitary confinement, mining Helium on the far side of the moon, with no one but the voice of critically acclaimed pederast, Kevin Spacey, as the voice of GERTY: a type of beta-HAL 9000 (à la 2001: A Space Odyssey), omnipotent, AI computer, but if HAL had instead asked Dave to keep doing what he was doing.
Two weeks before he’s scheduled to return home, he starts to suffer from mysterious hallucinations, which aren’t ideal when you’re out driving a moon buggy. After crashing into a silo and falling unconscious, he mysteriously awakes to find himself back at the mining pod, with more questions than answers. No surprise: Kevin Spacey is suddenly quiet on the whole matter.
Moon is a phenomenal piece of modern sci-fi and a clear homage, by Jones, to the classics of the early 70s and 80s. Sam Rockwell strays from his usual type casting as racist southern law enforcement or drunken game show host, pivoting instead toward your basic mining drone hired to monitor equipment in isolation for three years, in an effort to keep overheads low. Sam Rockwell is the antithesis of the classic ‘hero astronaut’: the all-American trope of human strength and achievement. Sam Rockwell is no hero; he is simply a commodity.
His descent into madness draws from his sense of isolation, and how far you can trust reality when the only person you have to talk to is yourself?
Moon also features an outstanding soundtrack by the legendary Clint Mansell.
Duncan Jones is the son of actual Starman, David Bowie.
Summer of Sam (1999)
The year is 1977. New York City is in the midst of a heat wave – the hottest in the city’s history – and the entire city is under lockdown as David Berkowitz (notorious serial killer Son of Sam, fat mailman, and reformed man of the cloth) is on a killing spree.
As the temperatures rise, so does the number of killings as the city slowly descends further into paranoia. Soon, neighborhood vigilante groups patrol the streets armed with nothing but baseball bats and misinformation, in search of the killer.
Summer of Sam is the story of a serial killer from the perspective of NYC citizens of the time, from hairdresser and generally self-absorbed scumbag, John Leguizamo, and his poor, ever-suffering wife, Mira Sorvino, to Adrien Brody, sporting a sick new do and a british accent. In fact, when the movie was originally announced, Spike Lee faced a lot of backlash from the families, who were fearful that the film would glorify the killer. Concessions were made and the script rewritten to focus more on families around the murder, which gives it its unique situational drama. This film is one of our favourite Spike Lee joints, and expertly captures that sense of claustrophobia of being stuck in one’s own home during the hottest month of the year.
The word “fuck” is used 326 times in 142 minutes.
I Am Legend (2007)
You all knew this was coming. I Am Legend is the quintessential bit of post-apocalyptic Pornhub. Deserted streets. Buildings covered in vines. Safari on Fifth Avenue. I Am Legend has it all.
I Am Legend is a post apocalyptic adaption of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, with Will Smith reprising his role as fast-talking heartthrob, Will Smith, with the role of Jazzy Jeff being played by a German Shepherd.
The best bit of this film is probably the first ten minutes, with Emma Thompson smugly claiming to have cured cancer, juxtaposed with present-day New York City: an urban wasteland, deserted and lifeless. It all starts to drag on a little after that, as Will Smith wanders around aimlessly wondering where all his fans went, fighting zombies, in what, at times, looks like screengrabs from the original Doom, and hunting down a cure for the disease, which, quite frankly, really brings down the vibe.
The most famous part of the film is arguably the butchering of the book, which flips the villain onto the protagonist, as he becomes the ‘monster’. But alas, Will Smith simply couldn’t be the ‘monster’. He wouldn’t know where to begin. And so the story decides to draw on Will Smith’s subconscious fear of poor people instead. He does snap his dog’s neck at one point. I’ll give him that. Big-Willy style.
Will Smith talked to former prisoners to get an understanding of what it’s like to be totally alone. The prisoners told Smith the key to surviving solitary confinement is creating a rigid schedule.
Everyone’s favourite allegory for men’s fear of pregnancy. In fact this film is so rife with sexual symbolism, it’s hard to know where to begin. From the first scene in the film as the crew peacefully emerge from their womb like cocoons, to the Xenomorphs, designed by HR Giger, to look like a pile of black dildos that had been left in the sun, there was clearly a lot going on with Ridley Scott at the time.
Much like Moon, the crew is a subversion of your typical heroic space crew: a rag-tag group of misfits, simply doing a job. In fact, there is practically no sense of any leadership until half way through the film, as Ripley starts to take the reigns. At first, there is even protest to any kind of order, as the crew ignores Ripley’s pleas to quarantine one of the infected crew men, leading to only one thing – male pregnancy!
Every performance in this cult gothic-horror is phenomenal, really bringing this haunted-house-in-space epic to life. Interestingly, Ridley Scott head-hunted every one of his lead cast, as well as HR Giger, from the doomed Jodorowsky Dune epic that sadly never made it past Salvador Dali’s storyboards..
Twentieth Century Fox doubled the budget from $4.2 million to $8.4 million after seeing the strength of Ridley Scott’s storyboards.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
There’s a lot to like from this rather ham-fisted basement thriller, starring John Goodman as the somewhat schizophrenic patriarch-prepper to a bunker clan involving Mary Elizabeth Winstead, a punk rocker who just broke up with her boyfriend, and John Gallagher Jnr, another survivor, who are all, according to John Goodman, waiting out a nuclear fallout.
Since these survivors are all strangers, distrust begins to surface as dynamics play out among them in a cramped nuclear bunker.
This film becomes a lot less endearing, however, when you learn that it was never intended to be part of the Cloverfield universe, but simply a script that landed on JJ Abrams desk that he thought could be shoehorned into the franchise.
Despite this, the film is capably carried by John Goodman’s ability to play a character with so much subtext, you simply don’t know how to read him. That and him dancing ominously to I Think We’re Alone Now.
Screenplay co-writer, Damien Chazelle, also wrote and directed both Whiplash and La La Land.
The Lighthouse (2019)
The Lighthouse is a mesmerizing psychological horror that has received a lot of press on the back of its cinematography and the remarkable performances from its leads, Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, who play lighthouse keepers starting a four-week shift on an uninhabited island. After a storm leaves them stranded from the mainland, the two men slowly start to lose their sanity, fantasizing about fish women, and, to be honest, I sort of fell asleep at this point.
Despite the film feeling incredibly chilling and genuinely anxiety-inducing, the pomposity of it all can feel a bit much at times, as you’re forced to have to endure the mundanity and boredom of life on the island.
Altogether, The Lighthouse is still a great bit of experimental filmmaking, with a simple premise, a single location, and powerful performances from its leads.
Robert Pattinson found it pretty hard to do four takes of downing an entire bottle of spirits (water) due to his self-labeled ‘pronounced gag reflex’.
The Shining (1980)
Another classic Haunted House Horror, this time at The Overlook Hotel in the Rocky Mountains. The movie begins with Jack Nicholson being interviewed for the role of winter caretaker during the winter months when the hotel is closed. He views this as the perfect break for his family, and a great time to work on his novel. See where this is going?
Needless to say, Jack Nicholson goes from crazy old man to crazy old man with an axe over the course of a few months. In fact, Stephen King supposedly hated Jack Nicholson playing the part, saying that he loomed mad to begin with, and that he had originally written the part to be played by Jon Voight. Perhaps a hair brush might have helped.
The Hotel itself is very much a character in its own right, an ominous empty building that looks more like a facility than a comfortable getaway. The film is shot in such a way that the hotel, often viewed by the eyes of Danny on his tricycle, makes no geographical sense. In fact much of the film is told from the perspective of Danny (a kid with an alcoholic and insecure bum for a father and a totally helpless mother) who rides around the hotel corridors with the camera following behind him. The sound design of Danny’s tricycle as it jumps from carpet to linoleum floor is deafening. The innocence of Danny as the protagonist is such an important device in the narrative that Stanley Kubrick specifically made sure that none of the children (creepy twins included) knew they were filming a horror movie.
Shout out to Scatman Cruthers and the second most iconic bit of bedroom art since Andy Dufresne.
In order to amp up his manic agitation, Jack Nicholson was fed only cheese sandwiches for two weeks. #Relatable.
Children of Men (2006)
The year is 2027, and the world is suffering 18 years of global human infertility, which has put everyone in a bit of a funk. The world is on the brink of collapse, and humans are facing extinction. One of the lone surviving governments left acting is the United Kingdom (the only other being Angola?), which has enforced strict measures regarding immigration in order to curb the deluge of asylum seekers escaping radiation and plague, because ‘why not’ at this point.
Clive Owen plays a former activist and current bureaucrat who is kidnapped by his ex-wife and forced to join her motley crew of eco-terrorists. Clive Owen then gets wrapped up in a complicated immigration scheme for young Enfield ‘refugee’ Clare-Hope Ashitey, who reveals that she is pregnant.
Things start to move rather quickly after that: Clive Owen struggles to get his young refugee out of London; Michael Caine listens to the sounds of pots and pans on his stereo before killing himself; and single-shot action scenes become Cuaron’s go-to when the dialogue wears a bit thin. The action scenes are spectacles the likes of which I had not seen so masterfully choreographed before. When I first watched, I was in awe, though on re-visiting the film, I feel the action to be a little over-worked, too choreographed, and, to some extent, pulls you out of the action.
Cuaron’s single-shot schtick earned him a Best Director Oscar seven years later.
In the movie, the infertility crisis is the result of all women being infertile. In the original novel by P.D. James, it’s the result of all men producing no sperm.
Rear Window (1954)
Rear Window was released to near-universal acclaim in 1954. Another masterpiece by legendary horror director, Sir Alfred Hitchcock, the film currently has 100% rating on Metacritic, and a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and is deemed to be the pioneer of single-location, high-concept cinema.
The film opens with its protagonist, James Stewart, a charismatic adventurer and photographer who is confined to his Manhattan apartment after breaking his leg. He spends most of his time taking advantage of the heatwave and all the open windows by spying on his neighbours, giving them names, and generally behaving in a manner that would no doubt be deemed ‘problematic’ today. After he hears a loud scream late one night, he begins to investigate his neighbours, convinced he’s witnessed a murder.
Rear Window is surprisingly camp for a Hitchcock thriller, with beautifully rendered set pieces that all serve a specific purpose, something you very rarely see much of anymore. James Stewart really carries the film as a wise-cracking 1950s Tom Hanks, with his girlfriend and accomplice, Grace Kelly, dutifully helping him crack the case.
While shooting, Sir Alfred Hitchcock worked only in James Stewart’s ‘apartment’. The actors and actresses in other apartments wore flesh-colored earpieces so that he could radio his directions to them.
We thought this would be fun. It wasn’t.