She’s just three weeks into her new job at a well-known dot.com — the start of her actual grown-up career after graduating from college a whole semester early — and my 21-year old daughter Julia was just told to work from home for the next two weeks. Coronavirus concerns are rattling the Boston area, where we live and where she works. Telecommute, they’re telling her. Be safe. Don’t get infected.
Our local public school system just shut down for 10 days, meaning my youngest son, Ethan, will soon be going stir crazy at home. And my oldest son, Evan, is worried about his job as a cameraman covering sporting events at Boston College. Everything is getting cancelled and shutting down.
And with everything unnerving going on, all I can think is, my poor kids: It turns out that I’m not exactly the most comforting presence in their life right now. I’m a 53 year-old former newspaper reporter who can’t help but share the breaking news whenever it breaks — no matter how much it upsets them over their corn flakes in the morning…and I was their age in the 1980s, when apocalyptic movies were more common and popular than rom-coms.
Yes, I was raised in a pop culture blast-wave that instructed me to always be on edge, to be fatalistic, to watch out for the zombies, and to always think in a borderline end-of-the-world survivalist/prepperish way. So much of the content my friends and I consumed back in the 80’s made it clear: it’s the end of the world as we know it, and we feel fine. My 1980s-apocalyptic movie heroes had wicked-cool haircuts (Rutger Hauer, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson) and wicked cool leather jackets (Rutger Hauer, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson). I still have the movie posters hanging up in my basement.
And so, today, it strikes me that my formative years at the movies (or in front of the TV) seem to have malformed me, to some degree, as a parent — now that a non-fictional crisis has arisen. My kids are tense at dinner with the news on in the background talking about the pandemic declaration, and I’m thinking “Contagion” for family movie night.
So. Let us briefly review the movies that ruined (or prepared) me — and all of you, of a certain age — for these unsettling current events:
- Blade Runner. 1982. Dystopian noir perfection. This one really got the bleak future correct — climate change, killer AI robots, runaway globalism. Bonus: Daryl Hannah doing backflips.
- The Road Warrior. 1982. I was 16. Probably saw it 13 times at the Harvard Square Theater on 13 consecutive Saturdays (double-billed with “Alien.”) I did not want to get my drivers license after seeing this tale of societal collapse, road rage and mohawk haircuts.
- A Boy and His Dog. (1975, re-released in 1983.) A very young Don Johnson wanders the post-apocalyptic wastelands with his telepathic dog named Blood, looking for love. (Advertised as a “rather kinky tale of survival.”) Enough said.
- The Day After. 1983. If you saw it on ABC when it first aired, you know what I’m talking about. Super scary nukes. Everyman Jason Robards (like a Tom Hanks back in the day) wanders the radioactive ruins while his hair falls out.
- Testament: 1983. An indy-movie version of “The Day After.” Re-watched it recently and it still upset the heck out of me.
- Night of the Comet. 1984. Cute girls vs. zombies. Let’s watch it again on the VHS!
- Miracle Mile: 1988. A rumor causes more damage than a nuclear bomb in this underrated film. Payphone rings. Dude answers it. It’s the wrong number, but the caller is an Air Force officer in an ICBM missile silo trying to call his dad to warn he’s launched his bombs. War, or a prank? Unsettling.
- The Stand. 1994. This four part mini-series on ABC wasn’t nearly as good as the Stephen King book, which I’ve read three times for some reason. But I still watched it. It’s being remade for Hulu this year, FYI.
- 12 Monkeys. 1995. Insane Bruce Willis time travels to stop insane Brad Pitt from releasing a killer virus from a lab. You read that right.
- The Trigger Effect. 1996. This one really hit home, because I had a one-year old at the time. Plot – the power goes out, the baby has an ear infection, the pharmacy can’t process a credit card payment for the amoxicillin, and the boring suburban dad turns to crime. All hell then breaks loose in the burbs. Bonus: Elizabeth Shue.
- Y2K. 1999. Not a movie, but I was convinced everything was going to collapse.
- I am Legend. 2007. The human race is essentially wiped out by a vampire-zombie plague, but I only cried when the dog died.
- Take Shelter. 2011. Is the dad nuts, or is he just trying to protect his family from an unseen doom? With three kids at home, this one freaked me out.
The Day After Tomorrow, The Walking Dead, War of the Worlds, World War Z, Bird Box. Etc, etc etc. No wonder I’m stocking up on canned goods.
Okay, I need to turn off the news, lighten up, take a break from the coronavirus for a few hours!
“Hey kids! Let’s watch a movie on Disney+! How ’bout Wall-e?”