What can the the apocalyptic Sci-Fi of the Seventies teach us during the COVID-19 crisis?
As a child of the sixties and a life-long SF fan, I grew up with all the dystopian worlds that the movies and TV put in front of me. The main threat in the SF of the sixties changed from the avatars of communism and nuclear war of the previous decade to nature itself, as the earth seemingly fought back against human overpopulation and environmental pollution. Regrettably, these warnings went unheeded.
Now with Coronavirus we find ourselves actually living through one of those scenarios, which has revealed particularly in western neo-liberal and capitalist countries that the system upon which our society is based is simply not up to the task.
As we all hunker down in our virtual bunkers and trawl through our movie collections or streaming services, is there anything these movies can still teach us?
The Omega Man (1971) opens with Charlton Heston driving through an entirely deserted and abandoned Los Angeles, the only other sign of life being a hooded figure glimpsed in a window upon which he immediately opens fire. The whole scene is designed to be unsettling, hammered home further when he crashes the car whilst trying to avoid an overturned security truck. Money blows in the wind, gold bullion is strewn across the road — with the first desiccated corpses that we see. Heston makes no attempt to pick up the money or gold, both things now having absolutely no value.
When he goes to steal a replacement car, he angrily rips a calendar off the wall of the showroom — the plague that decimated the population started in March… 1975.
Heston’s character, Robert Neville, believes he is the only person left alive and unharmed by the plague. He was a military scientist transferring the only sample of a new vaccine by helicopter when it crashed, as the pilot and then he succumbed to the disease. Crawling from the wreckage, he immunised himself with the last surviving dose. He isn’t the only survivor however, as he shares the city with a community of people mutated by the disease who call themselves The Family. They have been psychologically as well as physically affected, embracing the iconoclastic anti-science philosophy of their leader, Matthias, a former TV news anchor, played by Anthony Zerbe…