The Covid pandemic started two years ago, and while things are undoubtedly better and less uncertain these days, we are still all dealing with the social, economic and psychological effects that it brought along. It played out very differently than everyone thought back in the early days – when people stayed home and were undecided whether the pandemic would last long enough for them to watch Tiger King on Netflix. Two years later, and we have a whole host of tv shows and films that were written and shot after the pandemic started, and that all have very different takes on the elephant in the room. So I thought it would be fairly interesting to take a look at the variety of ways the pandemic has (or hasn’t) been portrayed.
1. No reference at all.
Many films that were made during the pandemic tried to provide a form of escapism from the grim reality, by presenting scenarios which had nothing to do with the pandemic. Of course, many of the films released in 2020 and the beginning of 2021 were still shot pre-pandemic, but quite a few of the late 2021 and 2022 releases were shot during the pandemic. It’s very interesting to note that, for instance, out of all the Academy Awards Best Picture Nominees, Belfast, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, The Power of the Dog and West Side Story are all period pictures, whilst Dune explores a sci-fi setting. Only CODA and Drive My Car are set in contemporary times, showing the significant swing towards escapism that they took.
2. Everyday reality.
Some films sort of incorporated the pandemic within their stories, but without making it a focal point of the plot. This approach allowed to sort of keep the pandemic in the background, and bring it in the spotlight every now and then via some references, but without directly addressing it. In some cases, this took the form of people wearing masks, and asking others to keep distance from each other. The number of actors in each scene was quite limited, and crowds were virtually non-existing. Thus, without ignoring the context altogether, these production chose a different focus for their themes, which sort of created a mixture of escapism and acceptance.
3. Directly dealing with Covid.
As opposed to the previous category, other productions chose to directly reference Covid – often during the peak of the pandemic. These are usually drama series which show the coronavirus’ effect on the lives of people, mostly those directly involved with the virus and its effect. This includes first responders, journalists, and most significantly – doctors. For instance, Covid was fully integrated into the running season of Grey’s Anatomy, which very vividly depicted the seriousness of the disease, and the amount of suffering that it led to, both from a patient perspective, as well as from that of medical staff. The show perhaps had a non-negligible effect in educating people about the seriousness of the coronavirus, and making them aware of the terrible situation is hospitals all over.
4. Something that came and went away.
Some series and films portrayed a world where Covid came, stayed and went away eventually – thus alluding to everybody’s wish for a return to normality. These productions often referenced Covid as a thing of the past, which is no longer reflected in the current reality, such as You’s third season. However, a smart addition that You also had in this case was, without further reference to Covid, picked on anti-vaxxers for their silly lines of argumentation and non-sensical conspiracy theories.
5. The end of the world.
Contagion, a film from 2009, suddenly got a lot of hype immediately after the coronavirus started to rapidly spread worldwide. The reason? It dealt with a similar scenario – an epidemic turning into a pandemic, and rapidly becoming much more serious. It played into a sense of immersion of the audience within a similar scenario, which was what some people sought as a coping mechanism. And about one year and a half later, we got Don’t Look Up, a parody that overlapped a deadly meteor strike with the Covid pandemic in real life, presented a host of similarities with regard to mainstream reactions, and let audiences connect the dots.