For this week’s edition of City Paper Arts Club, arts editor Kayla Randall and multimedia editor Will Warren watched 28 Days Later—because of course we’re watching a movie about a virus destroying the world during an actual viral pandemic. Underneath the blood and gore of the sci-fi horror film, released in the UK in 2002 and in the U.S. in 2003, we found sharp social commentary and emotional throughlines that reminded us about the beauty of being human. Next, because we love to be psychologically and sociologically tortured, we’ll watch episode three of Black Mirror’s first season, “The Entire History of You.”
These Arts Club chat excerpts have been edited and condensed for clarity. For the full chat, subscribe to Washington City Podcast.
Kayla Randall: This movie is an early 2000s, low-budget sci-fi horror, but it has these images that really stick with me. When [main character] Jim finds his way out of the hospital and goes outside into the world, it’s completely deserted. It’s empty. London is empty. That shook me. Everyone’s gone and it’s really scary.
Will Warren: I think the reason that zombie movies are potent metaphors is because it weaponizes other people. While zombies are not something that we deal with on a day-to-day basis, other people are, and so turning your friends and family and neighbors and co-workers and petty rivals into monsters is something that I think is really resonant. And trying to make sense of that is powerful. It plays a lot with the way that humans are supposed to be and the way that society is supposed to be. When you see these open streetscapes, in the same way you see pictures of downtown D.C. now, it’s immediately unsettling.
KR: There is this loneliness in what’s happening right now, and I think this movie perfectly encapsulates that kind of isolation. There’s some quotes that I absolutely love from this movie, that are really relevant to me always, but especially right now …
[The character] Selena says, “… It was happening in small villages, market towns. And then it wasn’t on the TV anymore. It was in the street outside. It was coming through your windows. It was a virus, an infection … By the time they tried to evacuate the cities, it was already too late. The infection was everywhere.”
And then, Jim later says “What about the government? What are they doing?”
Then, she goes, “There’s no government.”
That really struck me because we really want to believe our institutions are infallible and that they’re going to still be standing through anything. But they don’t have to, they could fall. Empires fall. Everything falls.
WW: The thing about the government, especially, is thought-provoking, because people want to put their trust somewhere. I mean, how many times have we heard people lament the fact that we don’t have a president who’s able to tell the truth about the disease and also clearly communicate what our response to it should be, and what the federal government is doing and what individual citizens can do. There’s obviously a hunger for us to trust in someone. I thought that the way that the longing for trust manifested itself in the movie was really interesting, as well. Jim and Selena eventually team up with a father and daughter, and they go looking for the military, because they hear a recording that [the military is] somewhere near Manchester. And they just put so much faith in the idea of the military because it’s this governmental institution. There’s this want to believe in the way that things used to be and the old power systems. That the status quo will remain in some way and you’ll be taken care of.
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