As soon as it was clear that COVID-19 was here to stay, comparisons to the pandemic thriller “Contagion” started. It’s surreal — it makes sense to compare the state of the world right now to a sci-fi movie depicting a worst-case scenario. And with cases picking back up again, the question that’s hung in the air since March is at the top of everyone’s mind: Exactly how long is this going to last?
In the trailer for his latest movie “Songbird,” director Michael Bay explores a world four years in the future, in which COVID-19 has ravaged the United States and kept lockdown in effect for 213 weeks. It’s a nightmare scenario. The National Guard patrols the streets, characters must take government-mandated temperature checks and there are extremely strict guidelines about remaining at home. The trailer is filled with shots of the world in disrepair: run-down streets, abandoned apartment buildings and decaying tourist attractions.
The trailer is characteristic of Bay’s directing style. The extensive use of special effects, the prominence of military imagery and the setting of a destroyed city are all reminiscent of his previous work. However, the difference between “Songbird” and films like “Armageddon” or the “Transformers” series is that this film centers around something that is still very much a reality.
We still have no idea how long this will last. Loneliness and loss are still weighing heavily on everyone. It feels insensitive and borderline apathetic to release an action thriller about four more years of this. Bay’s film explores the worst-case scenario: coronavirus continues to proliferate, leaving society in disrepair and keeping us isolated from one another for years. People are already terrified about what the future of the pandemic will look like and are still processing everything that has happened up until this point. More fear-mongering is not necessary.
The trailer begins on a happy note with lighthearted conversation between Nico (KJ Apa) and Sara (Sofia Carson), but it quickly becomes apparent that the stakes of the film are very high. Nico is confronted by heavily armed police officers during a walk. A news montage establishes that COVID-19 has mutated to COVID-23, and that those infected are sent to quarantine camps filled with others who are sick. In a particularly chilling sequence, Sara’s neighbor is discovered to have a fever, and she is forcibly removed from her apartment by a team of armed guards. With misinformation and fear-mongering projections already flying, it is irresponsible to feed those fears any more than necessary.
Many other elements of the trailer feel incredibly out of touch. The debate about the government’s power to keep people in their homes is ongoing and very contentious. The image of heavily armed guards patrolling the streets in tanks and tearing people from their homes if they display symptoms is likely not very helpful. Government overreach in enforcing quarantine guidelines is a real fear for many Americans.
It is inevitable that art will be made about the pandemic, more specifically on the impact quarantine has had on people. It is one of the most significant historical events any of us have ever experienced, and we have not come out the other side. When filmmakers and other artists approach the pandemic, it would be wise to wait until it is not still people’s reality. And even then, it will be necessary to do so in a way that is sensitive and respectful.
Caelan Reeves CM ’24 is one of TSL’s pop culture columnists. She’s a government and literature dual major from Chicago and loves everything to do with music, movies and books.