Top 10 Films About Isolation

Most of us are currently huddled away in our homes doing our part to help fight the coronavirus by social distancing and isolating ourselves. Doing so has brought up the issues of isolation, which can be a challenge for some of us. Since we have time, check out these genre films which dealt with the main character being alone in their situation, whether it was due to the collapse of civilization or related to space travel. Taking a look will remind us that our situation is not as bad as the ones faced by the main characters in the films. Also note that although in these films, the solo character at some point interacted with other people for a significant portion of the film he or she was alone.

 

10. Passengers (2016):

A hibernating passenger (Chris Pratt) onboard a colony spaceship is awoken prematurely and finds himself all alone in the mammoth ship. Unable to reprogram his sleeping pod and fated to live out the rest of his days alone, he unethically awakens another passenger (Jennifer Lawrence) and the two start a romance. Meanwhile, the glitch that caused him to awaken points to major problems with the ship itself. Solid acting and special effects enhanced Passengers, which rightly looked at the ramifications of his actions.

9. The Omega Man (1971):

The second adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend took major liberties with the source material, but the isolation film is an enjoyable romp. After a war between Russia and China leads to  a virus that kills most of humanity except for army doctor Robert Neville (Charlton Heston). He spends his days roaming the empty streets of Los Angeles, warring with mutated albino humans and perfecting a cure. Chock of full corny ’70s dialogue and action, The Omega Man still stood out for its introspective scenes of Neville as he dealt with loneliness.

8. The Martian (2015):

A major duststorm on Mars forces an expedition to abandon the red planet. However, one astronaut, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), believed to be dead, was left stranded. Using his ingenuity and pluck, Watney uses all of his skills and science know-how to survive on Mars and eventually make contact with Earth. From there, it is a riveting race against time and dwindling resources for Watney to stay alive until a rescue mission can retrieve him in this thrilling isolation film.

7. The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959):

Harry Belafonte (yes, that Harry Belafonte) portrays a mine inspector who survives World War III after being trapped in a mine. After escaping from the mine, he makes his way to New York City and discovers he is completely alone. Grappling with his predicament and loneliness, he eventually he encounters a woman (Inger Stevens) and the two start a friendship. Although she is interested in a romantic relationship with him, his inhibitions about their race keep him from accepting her. Complicating matters is that they find another survivor which leads to tensions between the three of them. While it is melodramatic and heavy handed, the film still has relevant messages about letting go of the past and is a fascinating look at survival and loneliness.

6. Silent Running (1972):

In the future, the remaining natural habitats are placed in greenhouse domes onboard spaceships near Saturn. Freeman Lowell I(Bruce Dern) is one of the botanists tending the biomes and rebels against orders to destroy the domes and return to Earth. After killing his crewmates, Lowell commandeers one of the ships and heads to deeper space; his only companions are a trio of non-speaking robots who help him tend the domes’ gardens. Silent Running obviously has a very strong environmental message yet it is very moving and also has an unflinching look at Lowell, who allowed his extreme protective views to push himself too far.

5. Love (2011):

In the near future, an astronaut (Gunner Wright) is sent to the abandoned International Space Station to restore it but becomes stranded there after a sudden war wipes out humanity on Earth. Now completely alone, the astronaut begins to lose his sanity and will to live until an event occurs that will lead to debates. Love stands out from many sci-fi films in its exploration of what it is to be human and connected to others through our emotions and memories. Also impressive is that the film while low budget was elevated by ingenious production design and direction. The final moments of Love in many ways rivals though-provoking finales such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris in that it brings up many questions about its conclusion.

4. I Am Legend (2007):

The third and most recent adaptation of Richard Matheson’s book stars Will Smith as Dr. Robert Neville. After a viral cure for cancer mutates into a virus that kills most of humanity, Neville lives alone in New York City; his only companion being his pet dog Sam. In between roaming the iconic New York streets, finding a cure and hunkering down in his fortified apartment at night, Neville wars with savage mutated humans who are light sensitive. This version of I Am Legend has some exceptional production which present a disquieting look at an abandoned New York that is being reclaimed by nature. Will Smith turns in a riveting and sympathetic performance as the haunted Neville and carries the film. If possible watch the film with its alternate, more ambiguous ending, which is more faithful to Matheson’s story and elevates this film.

3. Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1965):

This futuristic retelling of Daniel Defoe’s classic yarn, Robinson Crusoe on Mars is a true underrated gem. Astronaut Christopher Draper (Paul Mantee) crash lands on the red planet and struggles to survive. Air, water, food and shelter are his main objectives. Once he solves those issues, thanks to luck and strong survival skills, Draper endures being alone (except for his pet monkey, Mona) without any hope of getting home. However, incidents arise which sets Draper off on a grand adventure that makes the most of its budget and follows many aspects of the Defoe book. and makes it more than a survival film. Despite its low budget and B-movie trappings Robinson Crusoe on Mars is very imaginative and a cut above the cheesy sci-fi offerings from that time, although its scientific inaccuracies (breathable air on Mars!) should be forgiven.

2. The Quiet Earth (1985):

Zac Hobson (Bruno Lawrence) is a scientist in New Zealand who finds himself alone on Earth after his energy experiment causes humanity to disappear. Similar to The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, Hobson struggles with loneliness and his sanity until meeting Joanne (Alison Routledge). From there, they start a romance which is hampered by the arrival of another man (Pete Smith). But before a love triangle takes up all the energy in the film, Hobson learns that the experiment may be causing further damage to reality and has to find a way to stop it and possibly reverse its effects. Evocative thanks to its exploration of isolation and what it is like to be the last person alive, The Quiet Earth is further enhanced with its deliberately ambiguous ending. Its final images are truly jaw dropping and provides much to ponder.

1. Gravity (2013):

Sandra Bullock gives a powerful performance as Dr. Ryan Stone, an astronaut forced to survive on her own after a disaster destroys her space shuttle and kills her astronaut companions. Without help and on her own, Stone has to rely on her own will to live and smarts as one calamity after another threaten her. Gravity is one of those non-stop thrill rides that perfectly showcase the horror of being in space and why it is so inhospitable. At the same time, the film is a tour de force for Bullock whose character is put through an emotional wringer as she uses all of her will to fight past her fears and traumatic past to fuel her drive to find safe passage back to Earth. Unlike other films on this list, Dr. Stone has to grapple with immediate life-or-death situations and doesn’t have the luxury of dealing with boredom or loneliness. As with the other films here, Gravity showcases the power of the human spirit to endure and thrive in any environment even if one is isolated.

 

2012 Doomsday Scenarios: Month Eleven

earth

Ever since the first atom bomb was detonated people became aware of our capacity to bring about our own extinction. One of the big fears spawning from the splitting of the atom was the likelihood of scientific accidents bringing about our downfall. Being that we’re so prone to making mistakes, it’s easy to worry that such destructive power has fallen on our clumsy hands.

Doomsday Scenario No. 2: Accidents Happen

The idea of a loaded gun given to a child is an apt metaphor of this doomsday scenario. Many people feel that we as a species are developing way too fast in terms of science and technology before we’re ready to truly understand the implications of new discoveries. By that concern, they point to our recent history with nuclear power.

Nuclear Fears

One of humanity’s deepest fears is that of an accidental nuclear weapons exchange. While it’s true the world powers that possess nuclear weapons have stringent safeguards there are the nagging doubt about their reliability. Back in the 1990s after the Cold War ended it became notoriously easy to acquire nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union. The thought of such WMDs in the wrong hands is horrifying. But there is the possibility of failed safeguards. This was seen in the film and book Fail-Safe where U.S. bombers are mistakenly sent to bomb the Soviet Union. Despite all efforts, Moscow is destroyed and to avert World War III, the U.S. president arranges to restore the balance by having New York City nuked. A similar situation happened in the Stanley Kubrick film Dr. Strangelove but to a more comedic effect. Accidental nuclear war has also been the subjects of many songs like Nena’s “99 Luftballons” (“99 Red Balloons”) or Men At Work’s “It’s A Mistake”. But what is deeply chilling is that many times military personnel and governments almost used nuclear weapons by mistake. One such incident happened in the mid 1990s when a rocket test launched in Europe was mistaken by Russia to be a nuclear first strike against them and Russian leader Boris Yeltsin was urged by his military to launch a nuclear counter-attack.

chernobylThen there are the problems with nuclear fission used as an energy source. For the most part, nuclear power plants are safe but the idea of a meltdown and the environmental impact is enough to keep most people leery about them. There was the Three Mile Island incident which thankfully ended well, but on the other hand we’ve had a nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl and most recently there was the Fukushima disaster in Japan. With Chernobyl that disaster left that city abandoned and uninhabitable to this day, while the impact of the Fukushima meltdown is still ongoing with an untold number of people having been exposed to deadly radiation.

Tomorrow’s Experiments

In the world of science fiction, wondrous discoveries and promising experiments often turn into worldwide disasters. In the film The Quiet Earth, a scientist working for a company worked on a global energy grid. What happens next is that the experiment makes all the people, except for the scientist and two other persons, disappear without a trace. At the end of The Quiet Earth, the scientist tries to undo the effect of his experiment but the result leaves him stranded in another reality by himself.

quiet earth

In Kurt Vonnegut’s book Cat’s Cradle, there is an artificial substance called ice-nine which is a type of water that is solid at room temperature. By the novel’s end, ice-nine is accidently released into the ocean which turns practically all the water in the world into solid ice and nearly all life on the planet ends a few days later.

Some scientific experiments and discoveries aren’t as world devastating as those found in The Quiet Earth and Cat’s Cradle, but they come close. In the book FlashForward, an experiment at CERN (European Organization For Nuclear Research) regarding Higgs boson particles unleashes a side effect wherein the entire world population briefly loses consciousness and experiences a few moments of the future. In the TV show based on the book, CERN isn’t responsible for the blackouts but rather a consortium of sinister scientists.

Then there are the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park. In the books and films, dinosaurs are brought back to life through cloning and chaos erupts. The humans are unable to control the dinosaurs in the upcoming Jurassic Park theme park, and this results with the unhindered dinosaurs driving out humans from the park. In the sequel book The Lost World and the film Jurassic Park III dinosaurs are multiplying and beginning to move past their island boundaries. This was dramatically shown at the end of Jurassic Park III when several pteranodons are shown flying out of their island. If dinosaurs were to invade other territories, they would decimate local flora and threaten humanity. Basically our world could turn into a monster film where humanity is at war with giant creatures.

Scientific WMDs

Sometimes the plot lines in these tales has it that the military is secretly testing new weapons or devices with unexpected results. The urban legend about the Philadelphia Experiment details how supposedly during World War II the U.S. Navy performed an experiment onboard the U.S.S. Eldridge to render it invisible but harmed the sailors onboard. A film based on the incident also called The Philadelphia Experiment took the premise a step further and the experiment threatened the Earth when it created a vortex.

The military is also responsible for the catastrophes that ravage the world in the movie The Core. It turns out that after testing a seismic weapon by the U.S. military, the Earth’s core stops rotating, which begins to collapse the protective electromagnetic field  surrounding the world. As the heroes in The Core journey to the Earth’s center to explode nukes that will restart the core’s rotation (!), electromagnetic storms raze the world and structures like the Golden Gate Bridge and the Roman Coliseum are destroyed.

the core 2

This fear about the military experimenting with secret weapons and technology is influenced by their secretive nature and the fact that so little is known about them. Take the H.A.A.R.P. (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) project for example. Reportedly, its purpose is to study the ionosphere for applications in advanced communications and surveillance. A lot of conspiracy theorists are convinced that H.A.A.R.P. is being used to create natural disasters like superstorms and earthquakes. Some even claim that it was used a week before the recent U.S. presidential election to create Superstorm Sandy so that the president had an opportunity to appear presidential and win the election. H.A.A.R.P. has also been used in fiction like The X-Files and in several Marvel comics.

Mini Holes and Goo

Some worry that uncontrolled or careless science experiments could lead to the decimation of food, water and oil supplies (in the case of water, this was presented in Cat’s Cradle). But two dominant concerns have arisen about consequential scientific research.

grey gooIn addition to Jurassic Park, author Michael Crichton also penned a book called Prey which was also about technology run amok. In Prey’s case, it was nanotechnology which worries many scientists. Nanobots are recognized as the next step in medical technology. Tiny self-multiplying robots that are invisible to the naked eye can be injected into patients to treat them for cancers and other ailments more effectively than with conventional methods. The same nanotechnology also has other applications but all of this is in the research phase.

One drawback with nanobots is that people may lose control over the self-replicating machines. This would result in out-of-control and rapid propagation. The nanobots will then consume all matter to self-multiply which results in the grey goo phenomenon. In that case unhindered, runaway nanobots will turn everything on Earth into shapeless masses. Grey goo has also covered in other novels like Wil McCarthy’s Bloom and Greg Bear’s The Forge Of God.

Another developing concern has to do with the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, which is the world’s largest particle accelerator. Many fear that the Collider can create mini black holes in the Earth as it collides protons together at near light speeds. Once the miniature black holes are created, they will grow and consume the Earth. However, this hasn’t happened and probably won’t. Scientists believe that any micro black holes will dissipate and actually these proton collisions take place naturally in our atmosphere and we’re still here.

 black hole 2

These micro black holes have plagued several science fiction stories and books like the novel Earth by David Brin is about an artificially created black hole that burrows itself in the planet’s interior which threatens the Earth. Other examples include Larry Niven’s The Hole Man and The Borderland Of Sol, Dan Simmons’ books Ilium and Olympos, and Martin Caidin’s Star Bright.

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It was also feared that the Collider would also create strangelets or strange matter. This subatomic matter is largely theoretical but if they were to be formed they would tear holes on our planet. The novel Impact by Douglas Preston has an alien machine that creates strangelets and the TV special End Day featured a scenario where a created strangelet destroyed the Earth.