This is the last of my blog posts in preparation for the Probaway – Person of the Year 2013 post. These movies didn’t affect my decision, but they do give a vivid portrayal of the background of disease and modern human interventions.
Outbreak is a 1995 movie about a highly virulent disease coming out of the jungles of Africa which through a strange set of natural circumstances ends up in a Northern California town. There is a heartrending emotional undertone to this movie, pulled along by personal problems, but the real interest lies in our visits to the various governmental facilities. The film includes what are probably very realistic walk-through sequences of the various highly restricted disease containment laboratories at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Ft Detrick, Maryland, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. In the credits there is a thank you to the CDC for their cooperation in the making of the movie. There are some clean shots of US Air Force aircraft, and lots of army equipment, which give the movie an air of serious realism.
The underlying story is about two ranking medical-doctor generals who early in their careers were responsible for creating a morally questionable deadly virus, in the depths of some unknown African jungle outpost. Their goal was to create a disease and a counter-vaccine which the US would possess and their enemies would not. It would be a disease weapon which could be directed exclusively at an enemy but our troops would be safe. The movie is based on that idea, and it motivates these generals’ behavior; they begin as honorable villains. They are morally compromised from the beginning, but for a seemingly good cause. The back-story evil thing they did was to kill everyone involved in the village where the disease was developed. Their current problems arise because of their trying to hide these decades-old evil deeds.
The story begins with a new outbreak in Africa, because some wild Capuchin monkeys caught the disease, back at the original development, but they were sufficiently immune to it that they didn’t die, although they were carriers and they did eventually infect a human village and the people died like flies in a cloud of Flit. An honest American epidemiologist is sent in in full epidemic gear to find out what is happening. He gets a good start on developing an answer and a vaccine, but the generals, in an effort to cover their earlier crimes, frustrate his every effort. Because of their coverup the disease gets away, goes wild and ends up spreading in a California town. Against all possible impediments the good doctor creates a quick-acting cure and the generals are recognized for their evil deeds and are taken away. Most everyone who isn’t dead yet lives happily ever after.
The visual suffering of innocent people is portrayed in graphic detail, but not the pain of these victims. Hollywood is great at showing people getting treated savagely, but the actors are very poor at portraying the pain created by those actions. At the end of this story the good people find resolution to their problems and the evil ones are led off to their fate, probably a prison sentence. We don’t see the punishment of the criminals, only their quiet capture. Considering their crimes the Old Testament punishment of “an eye for an eye” would be to give these evil generals the disease they put upon other people.
People who create evil must be punished appropriately.