This week’s not wholly unexpected return to Lockdown presents a fresh opportunity to explore some motion pictures about confinement and isolation to watch over the coming four (+?) weeks. However long our own confinement ends up being, there’s plenty of solace to be found in the movies. Before Lockdown was even a term, confinement was a common motif in Western cinema, often unsurprisingly conveyed through the loneliness of space figures:
The Lighthouse (2019)
Robert Pattinson’s pre-The Batman arthouse jag continued with this black & white psychological horror story loosely inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s unfinished story The Light-House.
Directed by Robert Eggers, who enjoyed critical success with the atmospheric chiller The Witch (2015), the picture concerns the alcohol-fuelled madness that overtakes 19th century New England lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and his new ‘wickie’ ‘Ephraim Winslow’ (Pattinson).
Greek myth, a mermaid and homoeroticism all come into the mix, together with a heavy dose of lonely lighthouse-keeping masturbation, presumably one of the accepted features of the job.
The Lighthouse isn’t one for all the family, but certainly is an original work from a very promising talent.
Another sci-fi picture, and one which divided critics, as engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) wakes up in a colony-founding ‘sleeper’ spaceship 90 years before it’s due to reach the destination.
A lonely/horny Preston needs company and selects journalist Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) as his potential mate, explaining when she wakes that her hibernation pod had also malfunctioned.
By the time he confesses his ruse, the deus ex machina of a catastrophic fusion reactor failure unites them to save the 5,000+ dozing colonists/crew members.
As one critic noted, Lawrence’s character eventually succumbs to a kind of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and decides not to enter the only available pod but to live out the rest of her days with Pratt.
All is Lost (2013)
J C Chandor’s virtually dialogue-free movie counts as an exercise in pure cinema, especially when contrasted to his previous picture, the talky Margin Call(2011).
An unnamed man faces many perils in a solo sea voyage, with imminent death the only apparent certainty.
A seventy-six-year-old Robert Redford puts in a fine performance, one where his own technical/manual skills (from building his own house etc) can clearly be seen.
It was either Ad Astra (2019) or Gravity, but I decided on reflection that the more traditional and slightly warmer pleasures of Alfonso Cuarón’s (Roma) picture outweighed the frosty charms of James Gray’s movie, although both share similarities.
Sandra Bullock stars as Dr. Ryan Stone, an astronaut trapped in a similarly hopeless situation to Redford’s mariner in All Is Lost.
The Thing (1982 and the 2011 prequel)
The ice-bound Antarctic is the setting for 1982’s The Thing (itself a superior remake of Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World) and its belated prequel of the same name.
Although The Thing was regarded by some critics as an Alien rip-off at the time of release, its stature has only grown over the years.
John Carpenter’s infinitely rewatchable sci-fi horror picture superbly creates the feeling of dread and isolation in the remote outpost, with stand-out performances from a great cast, including Kurt Russell, the late Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan and Donald Moffat.
The 2011 prequel is watchable, but the storyline sags and the routine CGI effects can’t match Rob Bottin’s designs and FX in the 1982 movie.
I’m afraid that I was one of those smarty-pants that early on in the action guessed the twist of Duncan Jones’ well-received sci-fi flick Moon.
The picture stars Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell, an alternative fuel miner in a highly automated moon base facility nearing the end of his three-year contract.
Bell’s only company is GERTY, an artificial intelligence voiced by Kevin Spacey, ripping off (poorly I might add) Douglas Rains’ HAL from 2001 (1968).
Jeremiah Johnson (1972)
We join a much younger Robert Redford as the titular character, a former soldier in the Mexican War (1846-48) who elects to leave ‘civilisation’ and live the life of a Mountain Man in the wild Rockies.
A beautiful-looking film (although occasionally pretty violent), sensitively directed from a John Milius script by long-time Redford collaborator Sydney Pollack, Jeremiah Johnson boasted an environmental message that the actor fully embraced.
Look out for Will Geer playing Johnson’s mentor Bear Claw, who some older readers may recognise as Grandpa Zebulon Tyler from The Waltons.
Silent Running (1972)
Released in the same year as Jeremiah Johnson, FX wizard Douglas Trumbull’s Silent Running also possesses a strong eco-friendly theme, except its setting in deep space, where Bruce Dern’s ecologist Freeman Lowell looks after the only forests, animals and ‘growing’ things preserved from the now completely barren planet Earth.
Lowell is aided by three cute robot drones (who he names Dewey, Huey and Louie) when he decides to save the last plants and animals as the penny-pinching corporation decides to convert the geo-domes to commercial use.
Which does involve killing his generally unlikeable human colleagues, but omelettes and eggs and all that…
A film that old softies like myself often get teary-eyed just thinking of, let alone watching (see also Richard Lester’s Robin & Marian (1976) starring the late Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn).
See my final two picks here.