Contagion and Planet of the Apes: Consumer Vs Flawed Society

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Post-apocalyptic films, having been under the Science Fiction Genre, these films have made their very own distinct genre, these films have their own themes, style and symbolism. An analysis of two post-apocalyptic movies, such as Planet of the Apes and Contagion, will give the audience insight and another perspective of how the planet or humanity may disappear from existence or go through an apocalypse due to the excessive amount of human consumption. Looking over the symbolic characteristics of excessive consumption, it goes beyond the category of action films and actually addresses deeper ideological and philosophical issues about the role of human expending and society since the beginning of civilization.

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Ever since man could think or even have a conscience, humans have had their minds flooded with thoughts about forecasts, predictions, and prophesies about the future. There is nothing unusual about it, history shows us that humans desire to know. The biggest thought or question in the back of our head that our ancestors and we have shared, is when the human race or even our planet perish? These questions and thoughts include religious prophesies that have existed in a variety of forms since the begging of our existence. There are also predictions or prophesies that act like a doomsday or end of the world scenario, like most excessive predictions, end of the world theories or stories remains to be a popular topic within film, even though these stories continue to fail to create themselves into existence. Film has been the preferred medium used since the beginning of the 20th century. Science fiction became its own genre within the film world, but there is a genre or type of film that could be categorized as its own genre, within the science fiction genre, a new sub-genre has emerged, post-apocalyptic films.

Post-apocalyptic films come in various forms. Any attempt to name or organize post-apocalyptic films could include a variety of categorizing. In Jon Pantzali’s volume, he listed these apocalyptic films into a list of different types of scenarios, the amount of technology in the future world, the type of disaster that created the post-apocalyptic world, the type of political system, the type of social structure, the state of the physical environment, and maybe the key cultural values (John Pantzalis). The list could go on. Since this papers’ analysis is focused on human consumption, the criteria would be under what excessive human consumption can lead to. We can organize or categorize Planet of the Apes and Contagion into two types of films.

The first film, Planet of the Apes, shows a future society as a complete or partial wasteland, ruled by Apes as the dominant species, with the lack of technology. The second film, Contagion, would be about society, current day, dying off from a contagion. Both selected films, Planet of the Apes and Contagion predictions or scenarios were caused by human consumption. The reason they were selected is the films can provide better insights on how to feel about the consumer society causing the end of the world.

The Planet of the Apes, released in 1968 and Directed by Franklin Schaffner explored a range of challenges that the United States faced in the late 1960's. In 1968, the news of assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy rumbled across the nation, which fit in perfectly with the film when involved about civil rights, however this paper is analysis is on another subject of the film, human consumption. Planet of the Apes came out as if it was supposed to remind the public of how troubling the current times were in 1968. It was a good touch to the film, where the film wasn’t quite classified as a post-apocalyptic film till the very end, revealing that George Taylor was indeed on Earth. The very last scene referenced the Cold War fears of total nuclear annihilation and the end of 'human' civilization. Where it gets interesting is having thoughts like this, “What made the humans in this story go to war and blow the Earth up?” and “What gets us in war anyway?” War has been going on since the beginning our existence, it’s almost as if the nature of war is biologically connected to the human brain, “Ethologists start with the persuasive argument that study of animal warfare may contribute toward an understanding of war as employed by man. The behavior of monkeys and apes in captivity and the behavior of young children, for example, show basic similarities. In both cases it is possible to observe that aggressive behavior usually arises from several drives: rivalry for possession, the intrusion of a stranger, or frustration of an activity. The major conflict situations leading to aggression among animals, especially those concerning access of males to females and control of a territory for feeding and breeding, are usually associated with patterns of dominance” (Joseph Frankel). It’s interesting how the director, Franklin J. Schaffner, decided to choose the antagonists or the “dominating race” as apes within the film, because it’s like a juxtaposition that the humans in the film have failed to separate their primal instincts of consumption, causing the ape race to rule the planet.

Infectious diseases can be caused by any kind of organism such as bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites. Many organisms live in and on our fleshy bodies. They're normally harmless or even helpful, but under certain conditions, some organisms may cause disease. Some infectious diseases can be passed from person to the next. Some diseases are transferred by insects or other animals. And you may get other diseases by eating contaminated food or water or even being exposed to certain organisms in the environment. Since today’s society is a big consumer one, demands in consumables and other products have been high, so the lack of organization and increase of consumption for resources becomes a thing, which leads to unclean conditions, leading to pandemics. Now with the film Contagion, released in 2011 and directed by Steven Soderbergh, went down the depths of story and told one about a deadly virus that spread like wildfire around the world despite the valiant efforts of governments, medical institutions, and heroic individuals. Soderbergh manages to show the fear and chaos of this pandemic on a personal, national, and international level. Soderbergh did a good job showing what a huge pandemic can do to the whole planet and to society itself. The modern world around 2011 is laxed about the idea of nuclear warfare, so it makes sense that filmmakers had to figure out what to make post-apocalyptic films about. Around 2011 and especially recently pandemics has been a sharing issue between everyone. Earlier in the decade it was Ebola, and now the Corona Virus. In a discussion post a colleague was taking about how he saw an AD on Amazon during the Corona Virus news, “About four weeks ago, I noticed that Amazon listed Contagion as the #1 suggested movie for me. I rented the film and kept wondering if this would be a good example of post-apocalypse film. (This was a week before the film was introduced as course material.) My point is that Amazon decided to market on the fear of the coronavirus by moving it to the top of the suggestion queue, capitalizing on society's anxiety” (Nat Hoonsan). Soderbergh did a good job making the story look and feel realistic so the audience can feel the impact of world governments falling because of the lack of will and proper organizations. Individuals today would fear an event like this, for governments today don’t always agree or see eye to eye, “Preparedness is hampered by the lack of continued political will at all levels,” read the report. “Although national leaders respond to health crises when fear and panic grow strong enough, most countries do not devote the consistent energy and resources needed to keep outbreaks from escalating into disasters” (Laurie Garrett).

Both films are supposed to be about the future, but like all science fiction they display or exhibit ideas, fears, desires and concerns about the time when they were made. In Planet of the Apes, we see some of the anxieties and ambivalence of the late 1960s. During this film was the aftermath of WWII and the height of the space race against the soviets, and the transition to the cold war where the fear of global destruction through nuclear, chemical, and/or biological weapons was racing throughout the planet.

In Contagion we have a more critical, even pessimistic view of consumption. It is the direct cause of lack of cleanliness from our consumption. Both films share an anxiety that can roughly translated as follows: Our current lifestyle and consumption are almost utopian, but there may be a consequence, we have to pay for our dirty habits in the future, and the consequence may be closer than we think.   

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