Infectious Fiction #7
This is the Seventh Post of our list of fivefold 19 works — mostly science fiction, fantasy and horror — dealing with viruses, epidemics and pandemics.
The number seven is believed by many to be lucky. I don’t know about that, but perhaps that’s why there is a plethora of great and good films with ‘seven’ in their title.
I always liked movies. But I never truly appreciated them as art until I had an English teacher in high school who presented both film as high art and then-current music as poetry. It was in his class that I first saw The Seventh Seal and Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood — his take on Shakespeare’s Scottish play. (And, heck, he even took us on a field trip to the City to see Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.) So, thank you, Dr. John Snyder.
I’ll give you a few more recommendations later in this post, but in the meantime, drop whatever you’re doing and watch these two great classics from the 1950’s.
The Seventh Seal (1957). Directed by Ingmar Bergman with Max von Sydow, Gunnar Bjomstrand and Bengt Ekerot. The film won the Special Jury Prize at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival, and is considered one of the most influential films of all time.
A knight returning from the Crusades seeks answers about life, death and the existence of God as he plays chess against Death, a white-faced man wearing a dark cape, during the Black Plague.
According to the Guardian, “The chess game is a brilliant metaphor for man’s attempt to defy mortality’s gravity through his accomplishments, perhaps most vividly in the idea of artistic genius, the need to create a vital work which will survive the author’s death….The movie fiercely addresses itself to the agony of belief, the need to believe in a God who remains silent, mysterious, absent. It is a work of art that grabs the audience by the lapels, believers and unbelievers alike, and demands not answers, exactly, but an acknowledgement that this is the most important question, the only question: why does anything exist at all?”
“My indifference has shut me out. I live in a world of ghosts, a prisoner of dreams. I want God to put out his hand, show his face, speak to me. I cry out to him in the dark but there is no one there.”
Seven Samurai (1954). Directed by Akira Kurosawa with Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura and Keiko Tsushima. The film was named the greatest foreign-language film by the BBC film critics’ poll, and has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Kurasawa has been credited as the creator or inspiration of various genres: the heroic team assembled to carry out a mission, the spaghetti Western, Star Wars.
A poor village under attack by bandits recruits seven unemployed samurai to help them defend themselves.
According to Roger Ebert, “[The movie] moves quickly because the storytelling is so clear, there are so many sharply defined characters, and the action scenes have a thrilling sweep. Nobody could photograph men in action better than Kurosawa.”
“This is the nature of war. By protecting others, you save yourself. If you only think of yourself, you’ll only destroy yourself.”
The Seventh Seal and Seven Samurai can both be viewed can be viewed on Amazon, the Criterion Channel, Kanopy and YouTube.
Let’s round out our Seven films with five more flicks:
- Seven Days in May (1964). Directed by John Frankenheimer with Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Fredrick March and Ava Gardner. United States military leaders plot to overthrow the President because he supports a nuclear disarmament treaty and they fear a Soviet sneak attack. Overshadowed by Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, released a few weeks before.
- The Magnificent Seven (1960). Directed by John Sturges with Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and Eli Wallach. Seven gunfighters are hired by Mexican peasants to liberate their village from oppressive bandits. The Seven Samurai go west.
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Directed by lots of people with lots of voice actors. Exiled into the dangerous forest by her wicked stepmother, a princess is rescued by seven dwarf miners who make her part of their household. The first feature length animation.
- Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). Directed by Stanley Donen with Jane Powell and Howard Keel. In 1850 Oregon, when a backwoodsman brings a wife home to his farm, his six brothers decide that they want to get married too. Nominated for Best Picture Academy Award, but lost out to Eli Kazan’s On the Waterfront.
- The Seven Year Itch (1955). Directed by Billy Wilder with Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell. When his family goes away for the summer, a hitherto faithful husband with an overactive imagination is tempted by a beautiful neighbor. Monroe, Wilder? ‘Nuf said.
Not interested in the best movies ever made? Then try one of these prose works, each published between the years 1992 and 1995, with links mostly to Watchung Booksellers. (The first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth posts were to works published from 1996 to 2020.)
Virus by Graham Watkins. 1995. Patients with a strange new disease are flooding into Duke Hospital. Dehydrated, sleep-deprived, wracked with opportunistic illnesses, they have starved themselves almost to death.
Pandora’s Clock by John J. Nance. 1995. A plane carrying a supervirus searches for a place to land.
Blindness by José Saramago. 1995. The story of an unexplained mass epidemic of blindness afflicting nearly everyone in an unnamed city, and the social breakdown that swiftly follows. By the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.
The Vizard Mask by Diana Norman. 1994. As the Plague releases its horror over London’s streets, Penitence is forced to acknowledge that courage and a paradoxical decency are to be found among the wicked as much as the saintly.
The Hacker and the Ants by Rudy Von B Rucker. 1994. Something goes wrong and zillions of computer virus ants invade the net. By the two-time winner of the Philip K. Dick award.
Virus by Chuck Pfarrer. 1992. Something is alive inside the ship’s computers, and it’s building monstrous bodies for itself from pieces of machinery and the corpses of thackerhe hapless Chinese crew.
Venom Virus by Ric Parry. 1992. When terrorists infect a crowded 747 with a deadly new virus, Admiral Henry Clay Gifford enlists the aid of a brilliant toxicologist to stop the plague at its source.
The Melbourne Virus by Peter Leslie. 1992. A Scottish detective tracks an innocent tourist through Europe, trying to stop him from spreading a virus as fatal as the Black Death. He soon discovers that the tourist is really a vicious criminal.
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. 1992. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that’s striking down hackers everywhere, Hiro is on a search-and-destroy mission for the villain threatening to bring about infocalypse. One of Time magazine’s 100 best English-language novels.
Ammonite by Nicola Griffith. 1992. Anthropologist is sent to the planet Jeep, populated only by women, to test a potential vaccine. Winner of the Lambda and Tiptree awards.
Sources: Bookshop Blog, Electric Literature, Entertainment, Esquire, Haaretz, Headstuff, iNews, New York Times, Penguin Random House, The Star, Vanity Fair, The Virology Bookshop, Vulture, What Should I Read Next?