Over the weekend, I watched what must be the 1,000th movie of my life in which a small group of humans deal with a deadly virus, or the aftermath of one, in a collapsing world. This one—It Comes At Night—is a particularly great entry in the genre (and recommended), though it checks a lot of familiar boxes:
Human nature is the real enemy, not the virus or the infected—check.
Compulsive OCD handwashing and mask-wearing eventually fail—check.
An obviously infected person or their loved one insists “everything is fine!”—check.
Two men talk about what their pre-collapse jobs used to be over alcohol—check.
Adorable dog goes down hard—check.
Oh, spoilers btw. I don’t care. If you watch a virus-apocalypse-collapse movie, you know what you’re in for. The movie IS very good and brings a lot of originality to a well-worn premise, so you should check it out even though it leans into some genre conventions.
One of these conventions got me thinking. It’s the one where a character with obvious sores or bloody eyes or brains coming out of their ears hides the problem and tells everyone else they’re not sick.
I always wonder—what’s the plan? To run away? They never do. Maybe it’s just pure self-preservation, trying not to get shot or burned on the spot. But putting everyone else in mortal danger for a few extra hours of life seems both cruel and stupid.
Then I have to ask: Would I be any different? Even with everything collapsing all around me, how fast would I reach a level of desperation—or unfounded optimism—that would keep me believing in a personal future?
Pretty fast, I think.
Yes, I can now see all the veins in my arms and legs. They’re raised against my translucent skin like worms. But I’ve got it under control, friends. A government cure could be right around the bend—and YOU can’t say for sure there isn’t. All we have to do is walk another few miles, and there it will be, a white tent of people holding syringes, ready to help.
Or maybe I’m different. Special. The more I think about it, the more sense it makes. Eventually, someone is going to (probably) show an immunity to this thing, and why not me? Every new infection is a new iteration, a new chance for a human being’s unique physiological and bacterial makeup to be the line in the sand against this thing. If you kill me now, you might even be dooming the human race. I’ve got at least as much of a chance for survival as I do of hitting all six Powerball numbers.
Have you never played the lottery? Not once?
So put away that gun, please, and consider this: when the virus got into me, it could have mutated into a less dangerous form. Viruses do this all the time. Yes, I am crying blood right now and I’ve lost several fingers, but that’s just part of the healing process.
Did I mention that I have ALLERGIES? I do. Real bad ones, and my Allegra ran out weeks ago. Puffy eyes, uneven breath, projectile vomiting of blood—that’s what ragweed does to people. It’s incredibly mundane. Have you even checked this abandoned house for mold?
No? Told you.
There are so many reasons to let me live. Just because a few billion people already failed in that respect doesn’t mean I’m going to.
So please ignore me. I’ll be the one standing near the edge of the group, nervously glancing at my own hands and eyeing the gun on the hip of our fearless leader. I’ve probably already done something shitty earlier in the narrative, like steal an extra ration of food or argue that someone else should be kicked out, to crater audience expectations about my moral character.
But I’m a human being, damn it. A person, not an archetype. Or maybe I’m both, but that doesn’t mean I don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Give me a couple of hours to rest in this old cellar and then check back in. And when you return, be sure to enter the room without your mask or your gun. Walk through the tall shelves under fluorescent lighting to the corner you left me sitting in. If I’m not still there, the proper response is this:
Stand very still, looking confused, and take a long moment to think “That’s odd. He was here just two hours ago…”