At the time of this writing, we're about seven weeks away from what may be the most important cinematic release of my lifetime: TENET, the Christopher Nolan movie that appears to be about handsome modern wizards who use time magic to suck bullets into their guns:
The trailer's real mic-drop moment is when it boasts/threatens "COMING TO THEATERS" at the end -- it's determined to go down in history as Hollywood's first "I'm literally willing to risk death to see these handsome time wizards" blockbuster. But we should treasure it for another reason: It may be the last big movie that ignores COVID-19 altogether.
In the trailer, the characters breathe right in each other's goddamned faces and we don't see a single person playing Animal Crossing. Instead, it looks like a typical big-budget Nolanverse fantasy: Cool people in expensive suits navigating a convoluted plot that's genius and also kind of stupid in a way that I can only aspire to. It takes place in a world that has never heard of COVID-19 and I want Hollywood to know that I'm fine if every upcoming movie takes place in that same world.
Maybe you saw headlines about how Michael Bay is working on a COVID-19 movie (or maybe they'll coyly call the pandemic something else, to make it even more obnoxious). This is a dire example of a creator badly misunderstanding what people want out of him.
Nobody is watching Michael Bay movies to help put current events into perspective. We watch so that, for a couple of hours, we can view the world through the eyes of a shallow pervert who never stopped being sixteen years old. It's a excursion into an uncomplicated universe where every single human is either a sex object or comic relief, where commuters never slow down no matter how many cars are exploding in front of them, where cops drive Ferraris and keep machine guns in the trunk. A world where everything is so problematic that nothing is.
But I don't even need that powerful pandemic movie from a good director, ten years from now. I don't need it from anyone, ever.
In fact, I'm good with every future movie just completely ignoring the fact that COVID-19 ever happened. I'm fine if the romantic comedies of 2022 feature unmasked characters having a meet-cute at the chocolate fountain at Golden Corral. Nobody is going to be pissed that they're not following CDC guidelines, for the same reason nobody wants to see James Bond stop to fumble with a condom. His protection is a two-pronged approach of not giving a shit and letting a guy smash him in the nuts for an hour and we love it.
Well, I would rather take a turn in the nut-smashing chair than watch Adam Driver's 2025 Oscar-nominated role as a Trump-era CDC whistleblower in The Germ of Truth.
Hey, remember how after 9/11, action directors started adding scenes that looked a whole lot like Ground Zero? You know, where victims are running screaming through city streets covered with ash as buildings collapse around them? Like in 2005's War of the Worlds:
... or 2016's Batman V Superman:
... or the King's Landing attack in Season 8 of Game of Thrones?
I'm told it's supposed to work on a subconscious level, like you'll be watching the scene and out of nowhere this emotion is welling up inside you. For me, it's something like, "I suddenly wish I could sneak into this director's house and take a shit on his pillow, because fuck this."
Right now, a whole bunch of filmmakers are likewise thinking of ways to incorporate COVID-19 imagery into the thing they're making, in the same way that not even in Star Trek can we escape shots of buildings collapsing into gray clouds.
They'll pitch horror movies about invisible, infectious threats ("It's a DEMON that POSSESSES anyone who gets within SIX FEET!"), disaster movies about incompetent governments that wallow in denial ("You'll kill us all, President Denny Tromp!"), dramas about everyday citizens betraying their neighbors via piggish stubbornness ("Help YOU barricade your windows? Why, because the government is spreading LIES about a ZOMBIE APOCAL-AHHH!! I AM NOW A ZOMBIE, DUE TO MY HUBRIS!"). I swear they're probably rewriting The Matrix 4 to have a "computer virus" subplot. For an audience looking for an escape, it's like running into your boss on vacation.
Look, I know that under normal circumstances we use stories to hold a mirror up to society. But these are not normal circumstances and the world is nothing but mirrors now. If I try to watch a TV show about wacky vampire roommates, every single ad break will include some fast food chain's ad featuring employees in masks reassuring me that we can get through this together. Tupac could reveal himself to be alive and drop a brand new album with Joe Exotic guest-rapping on eight of the tracks and the headline would be, "Surprise Tupac Release Boosts Music Industry Struggling With Coronavirus."
You know what? Now that we're here, just apply everything I said above to the entire Trump era. I don't need a goddamned movie five years from now where Jonah Hill wins a bunch of awards for playing Steve Bannon. I don't need a star-studded HBO miniseries about Jared Kushner or Michael Flynn or James Comey or Sebastian Gorka or Tom Price or Scott Pruitt or Anthony Scaramucci or Rex Tillerson or Paul Manafort or Jeff Sessions or Michael Cohen or Eddie Gallagher or any of the other names I just got off the "Trump Scandals" Wikipedia page.
For five straight years, we've been locked in a cramped hamster cage surrounded by screens playing Trump outrage news 24-7, drinking from a drip bottle full of Donald Trump's piss. If, after all that, you still want this guy invading your Movie Night, I think it's safe to say you have a fetish. Just leave the rest of us out of it.
I also don't need fictionalized non-Trump presidents with wacky hair and spray tans turning up in biting satires starring Hugh Laurie, I don't need science fiction movies about a populist Prime Minister on Future Earth demanding to build a Space Wall (you know, the way Star Trek: Picard wound up being about Brexit).
We've been living Trump Era Despair every minute of every day. We dream about it at night. I don't need creators to dramatize it or skewer it -- that's like watching my house burn down and having somebody show up to sell me a commemorative bucket of fire. Instead, give us what the Lord of the Rings trilogy gave us after 9/11: Escapism that speaks to timeless themes about courage and loyalty and all of the other things that have seemingly vanished from the landscape. That's what we need.
You can pre-order Jason "David Wong" Pargin's book Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, Indiebound, or any place books like this are sold. You can also follow him on Twitter, his Instagram, or Facebook, or Goodreads, or any of the many accounts he's forgotten about.
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