It takes more than just taking place in a single place to make a movie applicable to quarantine. Movies like Room and Rope use their confined spaces to touch on themes that don’t explicitly relate to, but are rather amplified by, their claustrophobic settings.
Most of us have moved on past the initial period of quarantine, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t look back fondly on that time of immense isolation and uncertainty. If you do, try watching some of these classics that can help you reminisce about that awful time. Here are 10 Movies that Perfectly Embody Quarantine:
Most of Bong Joon-ho’s films have a certain sense of claustrophobia to them. Snowpiercer paired the compact space of a whole society sharing a single speeding train with the disparities in class and wealth that never feel too far away from our current era, and Mother takes the stifling protectiveness of a helicopter parent and amplifies it to an omnipresent ominousness that always hangs in the air. Parasite gets its own critiques in: about class inequality, about Westernization, about economic stagnation. But the film pulls its greatest power from the enclosed spaces of two families fighting for the space, and the status, of The Parks’ upper class house. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes incredibly bleak, Parasite was probably a movie you may have watched over quarantine that hit a little too close to home.
Is it a little over dramatic to compare our time in quarantine to a movie where two individuals are tortured as they rot in a single room while in the presence of a dead body? Probably, but the important thing to remember about the original Saw movie is this: nothing really happens. Before the series took a hard right turn into straight up torture porn, the first instalment is a low budget psychological thriller that plays up the themes of isolation, addiction, and moral ambiguity while downplaying the gore that the franchise soon became synonymous with. The ruminations of two people trying to stay sane in a single room as they know awful things are going on outside of those walls was pretty on the nose for our society as it witnessed progressively more and more deaths pile up outside our own four walls. Saw was never very subtle about its modus operandi: your past will come back to haunt you. It just never seemed realistic until it was happening to us too.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Less to do with the actual plot (if you managed to make a relationship work in isolation, you did better than most of us) and more to do with the twisty-turny “is this reality or not?” nature of Charlie Kaufman’s script and Michel Gondry’s direction, not to mention Ellen Kuras’ beautiful and disorienting cinematography, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is all the anxieties and confusion of modern isolation distilled into a slightly-under 2 hour run time. Just like Clementine and Joel, we couldn’t help but return to the comforts and attractions of a previous time that felt like whole lifetimes ago. We were holed up in our houses, places that we’d inhabited for years but somehow felt different and foreign. We tried relying on old memories, or harboring ourselves in some false ones, but couldn’t escape our mental barriers, much less our physical barriers. To be less pretentious about it: quarantine fucked with our heads, and a movie about finding the motivation to try again after the world as we knew it was erased turned out to be quietly comforting.
The Darjeeling Limited
It might seem odd, or almost cruel, to put a movie with so much forward momentum, so much beautiful cinematography, so much cross-cultural experience on a list like this. But the conceit of The Darjeeling Limited is that it uses its visuals as a red herring. It’s not about the travel that happens in the movie: it’s about using travel as a distraction. Whether it’s to kickstart some kind of self discovery or to avoid a confusing mourning period, we as a society probably didn’t realize how necessary travel was until we couldn’t experience it anymore. The three brothers in the film try to fill the holes in their lives with new experiences and exotic locals, but it’s when they return to their close quarters that they are able to admit their own shortcomings and grow closer together. Hopefully you were able to achieve something similar while you were in quarantine.
Going back to the themes of love among quarantine, there was a situation I experienced that I’m sure will resonate with those who went through the same thing: I started a new romance with someone, one that felt exciting and exhilarating in that way that new relationships always do, only for the world to grind to halt seemingly the very next day (it almost assuredly didn’t happen like that, but as I previously mentioned, false memories have run rampant recently). We tried to keep seeing each other, but pretty soon we were separated as our state went on lockdown. We kept texting, kept trying to keep the flame going, but it became pretty clear that we were just too far apart, physically and emotionally, to make this work. Letting go was the only option. Rick Blaine knows this well, as the central character in the most romantic movie ever where the perfect couple don’t actually end up together. Casablanca is a balm for anyone whose relationship was stunted, or ended, by circumstances bigger than themselves. In the end, it’s not about how good the present is. It’s about making sure the future can still happen.
Enclosed spaces? Check. Paranoia? Check. Physical confinement due to forces you had nothing to do with? Check. Rear Window basically takes place in quarantine. More than just its cramped setting, Hitchcock’s suspense-filled mystery film is analogous to our modern landscape as life comes to a halt. Instead of a global pandemic, it’s a heatwave that causes the characters in this movie to open up their widows and allow us to rubberneck at their lives in a strange, almost perverse kind of way. Every Instagram post or TikTok made under lockdown was like a picture taken by Jimmy Stewart released into the world: soon the small spaces and inability to leave created a voyeuristic desire in all of us. How could these people be carrying on with life as normal when nothing was normal? Rear Window is a warning against becoming the peeping Tom who can’t help but take in other people’s lives, so try to think about it next time you feel jealousy over someone putting their health at risk just to get the perfect shot.
The Kids Are All Right
Rediscovering the relationships you’ve had with your family was a common experience during quarantine, especially for college students. It’s been years since you were under your parents’ roof, but all of a sudden you have to adapt to life in a new environment. You revert to childish tendencies, old defense mechanisms and habits start to come out, and eventually you have to navigate this new life in a loving way, because that’s what families do. The Kids Are All Right doesn’t perfectly fit this narrative, but it does go a long way in helping explain how living on top of each other can become disastrous when new challenges arise. I guess in this analogy Mark Ruffalo’s Paul is Coronavirus (again, not a perfect fit), but the hard truths and uncomfortable realities that he unleashes on his new “family” are similar to the difficulties that a lot of families had to face living under “the new normal”.
I didn’t want to put this movie on this list. It’s just a little too prescient, a little too on the nose, a little too much of a perfect fit, to have any kind of deep conversation about. All the other movies on this list are attempts to connect to the feelings and emotions that we all felt in quarantine, not the actual physical events that befell us all. But at this point Contagion is basically a documentary. The parallels aren’t coincidental, they’re scarily accurate. It makes you wonder if we should have been preparing for 2020 all the way back in 2011 when this movie came out. Like pretty much everyone else, I watched Contagion in the first month of quarantine, and was freaked out. We haven’t quite gotten to mass grave levels of pandemic, but it also doesn’t feel like it’s that far away, especially since we don’t have a vaccine yet. My advice: don’t watch this movie until COVID is far in the rearview mirror.
An unstoppable, unknowable, violently reactive force of nature that kills anyone who’s foolish enough to go outside. Yeah, sounds familiar. Having two Hitchcock movies on this list kind of feels like cheating, but I couldn’t resist putting The Birds on here. Monster movies are an easy comparison for our current pandemic, but The Birds is the most visceral because it has the least amount of explanation. There’s no definitive reason for the titular feathered beasts to start attacking the populace, but in that way it parallels the unfeeling, inhuman spread of infectious disease. The birds don’t kill because they hate humans, they kill because that’s what they do. For every COVID “truther” out there calling our current pandemic a conspiracy, there’s still a pile of dead bodies that can’t be willed away by refusing to wear a mask. Stay inside, or the birds might get you too.
Everyone needs a laugh during these difficult times. In a world that makes no sense, turn instead to a cinematic world that makes no sense. Tommy Wiseau’s inexplicable masterpiece is notorious for its lack of continuity, detachment from reality, and unintentional hilarity, which could easily place it in our current world without anyone batting so much as an eye. If you want a physical representation of how confusing and darkly comic our modern times are, turn to Johnny and his quest to do… something. Marry Lisa, I guess? Get your plastic forks and footballs ready: The Room is analogous to the age of coronavirus AND a sublimely ridiculous film experience. What could be more appropriate for 2020?