Sunday, March 22, 2020

Moving away from Covid 19 ~ how diseases dealt in Cinema !!


Virus, dreaded disease and Cinema ~ some lighter moments away !!

We heard Kamal talk about synthetic bio-weapons in Dasavatharam – Anu, a lab monkey escaping from its cage would devour a negligently placed vial containing bio-virus and would die of blood splashing out from it.  The ‘kirumi’ trail leads to Kirumi kanda Chozhan and Chidambaram !  - I was really impressed by this Dustin Hoffman film, that I saw in Satyagowri theatre in Kakinada in 1995.  It was about an infection having its roots in Zaire but spreading to epidemic proportions in a small town called ‘Cedar Greek’ and the Govt initiating plan to erase that place from its map by bombing !

                         As the Globe  deals with the spread of the coronavirus, now infecting more than 267103 confirmed cases, 11201 deaths in 185 countries, a film depicting the Hollywood big budget version of the lengths scared audience.  Heroes Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo fought  against the spread of a fictional, Ebola-like virus known as Motaba, brought to America by an African monkey, and villainous military leaders played by Donald Sutherland and Morgan Freeman. The film, directed by Wolfgang Petersen, was a smash hit.


Monkeys may show off their physical flexibility as they clamber over tangled tree branches, but the animals also display impressive "cognitive flexibility," or the ability to quickly change how they think about, and work to solve, a problem.  Among the best known monkeys, the Panamanian white-faced capuchin is  popular in North American media, particularly in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series. It is a highly intelligent monkey and has been trained to assist paraplegic persons.

Before we read on the movie, some history too – ever heard of Belgian Congo or Kisangani Mutinies ?

The Belgian Congo was a Belgian colony in Central Africa from 1908 until independence in 1960. The former colony adopted its present-day name, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), in 1964.

The Union Minière du Haut-Katanga or UMHK, was an Anglo-Belgian mining company which operated in the copperbelt in the modern-day Democratic Republic of the Congo between 1906 and 1966.  Created in 1906, the UMHK was founded as a joint venture by the Société Générale de Belgique, the Comité Spécial du Katanga and Tanganyika Concessions Ltd. With the support of the colonial state, the company was allocated a 7,700 square miles (20,000 km2) concession in Katanga. UMHK was part of a powerful group of global copper producers.   The State of Katanga  was a breakaway state that proclaimed its independence from Congo-Léopoldville on 11 July 1960 under Moise Tshombe, leader of the local Confédération.  The new Katangese state did not enjoy full support throughout the province and was constantly plagued by ethnic strife in its northernmost region. It was dissolved in 1963 following an invasion by United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC) forces, and reintegrated with the rest of the country as Katanga Province. The Katangese secession was made with the support of Union Minière du Haut Katanga, a Belgian mining company.  Moïse Kapend Tshombe was a Congolese businessman who served as the president of the secessionist State of Katanga from 1960 to 1963 and as prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1964 to 1965. Amid rumours that the ousted Prime Minister Moise Tshombe was plotting a comeback from his exile in Spain, some 2,000 of Tshombe's former Katangan gendarmes, led by mercenaries, mutinied in Kisangani (formerly Stanleyville) in July 1966. The mutiny was unsuccessful and was crushed.

Outbreak released in  1995 was about the dreaded virus spreading ..     film directed by Wolfgang Petersen was  based on Richard Preston's nonfiction book The Hot Zone. It starred Dustin Hoffman,  focussing  on an outbreak of a fictional Ebola-like virus, Motaba, in Zaire and later in a small town in the United States. It is primarily set in the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the fictional town of Cedar Creek, California. Outbreak's plot speculates how far military and civilian agencies might go to contain the spread of a deadly, contagious disease.

In 1967, during the Kisangani Mutinies a virus called Motaba, which causes a deadly fever, is discovered in the African jungle. To keep the virus a secret, U.S. Army officers Donald McClintock and Billy Ford destroy the camp where soldiers were infected. Twenty-eight years later, Colonel Sam Daniels, a USAMRIID virologist, is sent to investigate an outbreak in Zaire. He and his crew—Lieutenant Colonel Casey Schuler and new recruit Major Salt—gather information and return to the United States. Ford, now a brigadier general and Daniels' superior officer, dismisses the latter's fears that the virus will spread.

Betsy, a white-headed capuchin monkey that is host to the virus, is smuggled into the country. James "Jimbo" Scott, a worker at an animal testing laboratory, is infected when he steals Betsy to sell on the black market. Jimbo fails to sell Betsy to Rudy Alvarez (who also becomes infected), a pet-store owner in the coastal-California village of Cedar Creek. After releasing the monkey in the woods outside of the nearby community of Palisades, he develops symptoms on a flight to Boston and infects his girlfriend, Alice. Some deaths follow but  Keough determines that no one else in Boston was infected.

A hospital technician in Cedar Creek is infected when he accidentally breaks the vial of Rudy's blood. The virus quickly mutates into a strain capable of spreading like influenza, becoming airborne and causing a number of people to be infected in a movie theater. Daniels flies to Cedar Creek against Ford's orders, joining Keough's team with Schuler and Salt. As they begin a search for the monkey, the Army quarantines the town and imposes martial law. Schuler is infected when his suit tears, and Keough accidentally sticks herself with a contaminated needle while treating him.

When Ford provides an experimental serum which cures the original strain, Daniels realizes that he was aware of the virus before the outbreak. Daniels learns about Operation Clean Sweep, a plan for the military to contain the virus by bombing Cedar Creek, incinerating the town and its residents, ostensibly to prevent Motaba's expansion to pandemic proportions. However, McClintock, now a major general, plans to use the operation to conceal the virus's existence so it can be preserved for use as a biological weapon.

The movie winds differently with subvert moves to prevent finding a cure – a picture of the monkey getting released and subsequently Betsy traced, tranquilized, bombing delayed .. .. and helicopter feared crashed.  Back  in Cedar Creek, Salt mixes Betsy's antibodies with Ford's serum to create an antiserum; although Schuler has died, they save Keough. The flying bomber flight is persuaded to    detonate the bomb over water and spare the town. .. thrilling climax !

The film  was a box-office success and Spacey won two awards for his performance. A real-life outbreak of the Ebola virus was occurring in Zaire when the film was released.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
22.3.2020.

Monkey pic credit : Etienne Delorieux on Unsplash

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