After WWII, fascination with nuclear technology and horror at what it had achieved inspired a decade of sci-fi films in the 1950s. In the years immediately after the Spanish Flu, art took on a surreal quality that tried to depict the over-worldly impact of the disease. Edvard Munch’s “Self-Portrait after the Spanish Flu” (above) looks over the viewer’s shoulder in thousand-yard-stare disgust. The films of that era did the opposite, and told stories about anything but the virus.
Coronavirus isn't as severe as Spanish Flu or WWII, but it is a major world event
Weighing up coronavirus's impact is tricky. It has a lower death toll than the Spanish Flu, and hasn’t produced horrors akin to the atomic bomb, or the Holocaust. It is still a world event, though, and not one people are rushing to label as positive.
In the short run, studios who have been unable to make movies or money will mass-produce romcoms. Light-hearted, escapist and relatively cheap to make, they’re the perfect way to make up for lost ticket sales.
Art responds more to the feelings evoked by an event than specific details
In the long run, things become foggier. Given more time, events of the pandemic will better percolate in the minds of artists. When art responds to an event, it responds to the feelings the event evokes rather than specific details. Godzilla is a response to the loss of identity that arose from entire cities being levelled by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Film in the 2020s may focus on frustration, anxiety, and being caged in. When I said this was a cheery article, I lied. As we have nothing to do but sit inside and ingest the news, we’re also seeing people get angry and political. Not to see that bleed into film would be a surprise.
After the initial deluge of romcoms – and horror flicks with unforgivable titles like “Pandemic” or “Contaminant” – it’s hard to say what will come next. As a culture, the west has veered towards highly produced dramas, and comedy that takes itself just as seriously. Perhaps the zeitgeist is in for a pendulum shift, and the light-hearted romcoms will be here to stay. After the Great Depression, upbeat musicals became hugely popular. It may also be worth noting that the boom of romcoms in the 2010s only came after the 2008 financial crash.
Coronavirus will split the film industry into two camps
It seems, then, that coronavirus will split the film industry into two camps. There will be studios itching to bump up their bottom lines with cookie cutter stories that are quick off the assembly line. Then, there will be modern-day analogues to Munch, looking to tell radical, angst-fuelled stories less likely to do as well at the box office. Regardless of which does best, I’m happy as long as we finally get Shrek 5.