The exploration of radical environmentalism in the thriller Night Moves (2014), directed by Kelly Reichardt, is a fascinating study in character development and ethical complexity. The film steadily builds a sense of extreme tension in relation to the planned destruction of a dam that has unintended consequences. Shot over just thirty days in southern Oregon, the sparsely populated landscape provides a poignant backdrop to the inner turmoil of the three main protagonists. A sense of foreboding permeates the film as it drifts inexorably towards its violent denouement.
The grim possibilities of multi-generational space travel to reach potentially inhabitable reaches of the solar system are explored in Claire Denis’s film High Life (2019) where human “refuse” is propelled into space as part of a system of extra-terrestrial laboratories. The scarred and psychologically damaged human cargo are “recycled” as part of a largely unseen nexus of scientific experimentation. The film presents an unsettling post-human journey in which the limits to humanity become brutally exposed: in one strange sequence the decaying spaceship docks with another experimental space station full of dead and dying dogs. The doomed mission lies trapped in a liminal state between the claustrophobia of confinement and an inky abyss beyond.
The senior public health expert, Professor Anthony Costello, warns that the UK is likely to have one of the worst, if not the worst, death rate from Covid-19 in Europe. The UK has been experiencing a slow-motion catastrophe, unfolding over a period of weeks and months symbolized by the current incapacity and near death experience of the Prime Minister. Why has the UK been much more badly affected than Denmark, Germany, South Korea, and many other countries?
i) From the outset the British government tried to pretend that they had a superior approach to the coronavirus crisis that contrasted with the “panicky” overreaction of their European neighbours. There was a palpable sense of “British exceptionalism,” now liberated from the strictures of European cooperation (the UK had only just “celebrated” its departure from the EU at the end of January). Opportunities to share procurement opportunities for essential equipment were simply rebuffed (and then denied).
ii) Tellingly, many of the leading ideological zealots and opportunists behind the Brexit campaign are now at the heart of the UK government, bringing with them the same degree of hubris and insouciance that has marked policy making over recent years. The art of “winging it” and dispensing with preparation has become a mode of governmentality, born out of a neo-colonial sense of superiority, as the Irish writer Fintan O’Toole has brilliantly observed. It seems oddly appropriate that last summer’s ill-fated leadership campaign for the Conservative Party, launched by the hapless health secretary Matt Hancock, was quickly dubbed “the charge of the lightweight brigade” (after a famous nineteenth-century military disaster).
iii) A major strategic exercise in pandemic planning in 2016 — Exercise Cygnus — found serious gaps in preparedness but was never acted on. All government attention since 2016 has been subsumed by the on-going Brexit fiasco sucking resources and expertise away from every other area of public policy. Breezy talk of economic self-reliance has quickly fallen apart during the coronavirus crisis leaving a landscape of broken supply chains, idle factories, and food left rotting in the fields.