Day 16: ‘Does life imitate art?’

Contributor: Jo:

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
No escape from reality.”

Although I know in my logical brain that this absolutely is our current inescapable reality, my days had been having a dream-like quality – like I have been living a film. By this I mean where when you watch a film (or read a book for that matter) you are living the experience along with the characters, but you also know the bigger picture that will influence their actions, and the implications of that; simultaneously you are both in the events, and standing outside watching them.

Several films have accompanied me in my waking hours of the last few weeks and months. I admit they are not necessarily classic, critically acclaimed films or even ‘worthy’ of the epic events unfolding in our lifetimes, however  I often seek to make sense of life through film or novels and these are the films that have provided the ticker tape commentary to my experiences of the pandemic story to date.

The first film which began to pop up in my thoughts was ‘Sliding Doors’.

Like others on this street diary, we started our self-isolation early. On Friday 13th March I had one of those rare and lovely treats, a ‘day off’, and had planned lunch with a friend in Nottingham followed by a weekend away with my sister and her family in Manchester, and a Sunday night film with the neighbours. However having been following events in Europe, and after long discussion we took stock of the situation (including my heart condition) and it was with heavy heart that we postponed (??cancelled) these events, and so started to reduce our human contact with others. At we sat alone in our lounge that evening, we were party to conversations on social media as friends set up a night out, and got together to see local bands. We wondered if we had made the right decision, when NO ONE else seemed to be doing the same.

Much like the two realities in ‘Sliding Doors’, it seemed like our lives were running in parallel to ‘normal life’. On the news, and outside on the street we could see people still shopping, eating out, socialising, visiting family, and we were sitting alone in our house. It was hard to see why, as life outside the window looked just ‘normal.’ This discontinuity was exacerbated by the knowledge that despite reducing all social contact at home I was still expected to go into work that Wednesday where I would have contact with at least 60 other human beings. (In the event, I was told by the doctor not to, and working from home began from then). I felt distanced, alone, and out of kilter with the world; it almost felt that we could re-join the happier blissfully ignorant alternative reality on the other side of the sliding doors. Two possible ways of living through the same days and nights were unfolding side by side, and yet totally apart.

From late February I had begun to read more and more about the approaching epidemic. As we talked about it at work, colleagues looked at me in disbelief and astonishment, and asked if it was really going to affect us here in the UK? People were surprised I might be considering cancelling our upcoming holiday. Was I over-reacting I wondered? Was I becoming the unnecessary doom-monger of my social group? At this point the film ‘Titanic’ became a constant feature of my thoughts, and I continued to draw parallels for some time. Initially Jack and Rose have seen the collision with ice berg, and know things are not right. They quickly become aware that it is serious and begin to prepare for the worst. As they pass through the ship, everyone else is carrying on a normal, as if nothing is happening, as if it’s all going to be alright. In my life, from conversations I was having, and what I was observing I felt like I was one of the few who knew what was coming or was reacting to it. We all carried on at work as if nothing was happening, socially little seemed to have changed around me, and people still flew away on holiday. And yet a catastrophe was steadily, inevitably unfolding around us. I grappled with trying to understand why others were not preparing, why the government was not acting.

As the pandemic has progressed, later scenes from the film have been played over and over in my mind – like the earworms you get in the middle of the night. The captain tells Rose to remember what he said about there not being enough lifeboats to save everyone, and that she must make sure she gets on one – it starts being confirmed that there are not enough beds/oxygen/ventilators for everyone who will get sick enough to need them. Much like in the film, people carry on regardless, maybe assuming class and those in charge will save them, or just remaining unaware.

Throughout the film, the boat continues to tilt as it fills with water, and the impending doom gets more apparent. Passengers beginning to panic and fight for the lifeboats is reflected by our selfish panic-buying in the shops – each out only for his own. With each passing week and each new development (such as the government sign-posting that lockdown was coming, schools closing, flights cancelled), in my head I saw the boat tilted further, the essential systems keeping it going struggling to cope, and the people partying on.

Towards the end Jack tells Rose they must be one of the last into the water as the cold will be hard to survive and there is better chance of rescue by clinging on until the end, however hard that is – likewise we hold out from catching the virus by self-isolating, waiting for the rescue boat of a vaccine, or an effective treatment, or at the least, when more ventilators have been produced. Some people have sadly already been lost to the tragedy, and those numbers are rising. Currently to my mind as we approach the peak infection time we are at the point where the boat is fully upended, the remaining passengers are clinging on, waiting for the headlong plunge into the full maelstrom of the pandemic.

At this point ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ has joined my inner narrative. Like Hermione, Harry, and Ron we listen each day to the rising numbers of dead and infected in a tragic rollcall of the missing. As the characters search for the ‘hoar cruxes’ they travel to beautiful parts of the country, and yet they move through them viewing all around them with fear, unable to trust; as I take my allowed exercise in the local area, I see the trees blossom and the flowers grow, but I move through this world with similar fear and anxiety whilst I am out, hoping it will not be a decision that comes back to haunt me.

Finally in those few and far-between moments of hope, my subconscious shows me the ending of ‘The Day After Tomorrow’. Many have been lost in the storm, but different nations reach out  to offer help and support to each other. I ask myself, as this world-wide pandemic wreaks its damage across the entire globe, will nations pull together to help each other through, learning from each other and sharing resources? Can we create a new normal on the other side which is better for all humankind? It is a far-reaching hope I know, but in this case I would hope that life does imitate art.

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