By Stuart Mitchner
They know that Hamlet and Lear are gay;
Gaiety transfiguring all that dread.
All men have aimed at, found and lost;
Black out; Heaven blazing into the head …
—W.B. Yeats (1865-1939)
Imagine writing a novel about the survivors of a plague that kills 99.9 percent of the world’s population. Let’s say things are going well, the end’s almost in sight when a real-life pandemic begins producing an alarmingly high death toll. As the numbers climb into the millions, you’re distracted by the ongoing event, the way it may conflict with or affect your concept, not to mention your own well-being, plus the pressure from a publisher looking to rush a sure bestseller into print.
Now imagine playing the starring role in a television series based on a novel about the survivors of a plague that kills 99.9 percent of the world’s population. You’re just beginning to get to know your character when the real-life pandemic of 2020 halts production, puts you in lockdown isolation for months, after which filming resumes in another, supposedly safer country, where you remain until production wraps in early 2021. And then, even as you’re doing pre-release interviews, new variants like Delta and Omicron are making you wonder if the world might be gravitating toward a virus no less unthinkable, and oh, here’s a new film, a silly but scary dystopian satire called Don’t Look Up coming along just in time to put a funhouse focus on life on earth as the environmental doomsday clock keeps moving toward high noon.
The novelist Emily St. John Mandel avoided the first what-if scenario by finishing her book Station Eleven in 2014. The actress Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire) had to deal with, live through, and somehow successfully transcend the real-life challenges of the second scenario. more