Themed Playlist: Surviving Social Distance

About the lists: Calls to socially distance and self-isolate are  driving people to look for things to watch. But the sheer amount of options out there can be overwhelming. For this reason, we at the Centre for Screen Cultures are producing themed playlists of film, video, and television so you can organise your own series or festival at home (or home school). They will update here and here:


Cassice Last is a doctoral researcher in the Film Studies department, investigating the contents, form and patterns of the survival space as it appears in the post 2000 American Survival film. This interdisciplinary project goes on to examine the proliferation of the filmic survival space across media and interrogates examples of literature, television and video games that make human survival their central conceit.

Drawing on her expertise and research interests, she brings us Surviving Social Distance: 


Comprising (mostly) contemporary films navigating the subject of human survival, this playlist explores themes of isolation, entrapment, companionship, the body versus the natural environment, and human dependency on technology and society in the contemporary era. It is divided into two parts: Survival at Centre Stage and Strikin’ Out Alone(ish).


Part 1: Survival at Centre Stage (from the Urban to the Wilderness)


Sharing the central conceit of basic human survival, these six films present a range of situations of a single character trapped. Expect some discomfort, claustrophia, and maybe even a but of gore, as protagonists engage in physical and/or mental battles for survival.  This section is divided into those who find themselves trapped in urban environment and those who become abruptly isolated in natural environment.


These first two films trap their protagonist in an urban setting. Stuck in the city, each must use their limited and depleting resources to fashion a meagre existence or attempt an escape.


Trapped (Vikramaditya Motwane, 2016): Shaurya hopes to elope with his love Noorie but must find a suitable place for them to live together in wedded bliss. Out of desperation he moves into a new high-rise apartment building only to lock himself the unfurnished, impossibly high and completely empty flat.


Tunnel/Teo-neol (Kim Seong-hun, 2016): Lee Jung-Soo is driving home to celebrate his daughter’s birthday (complete with birthday cake in the back of the car) when the tunnel he is travelling through collapses on top of him. Buried under mounds of cement and debris he must rely on a rescue team to safely extract him from the broken infrastructure.


The next four films explore (broadly) explore a single person trapped in the wilderness. Facing mother nature (an island, a canyon, a shark and the sea, a snowy tundra), cut off from any urban resources that provide security, communication or transport, these folks forcefully enter into a fraught relationship between themselves at the natural environment.


Cast Away (Robert Zemeckis, 2000): Classic survival at its finest. The only film on this list pre-2010 because it establishes key conventions for wilderness survival films moving forward. One man (Tom Hanks) plugged in to the fast-paced lifestyle of a FedEx worker abruptly finds himself trapped on a desert island. With only a volleyball for company, he longs to return to his previous life and escape his nightmarish (albeit objectively beautiful) island.


127 Hours (Danny Boyle, 2010): Aron happily roars through life ignoring his family’s phone calls so he can travel alone across Utah’s landscape. His happy-go-lucky cycling, running, and canyoneering comes to an abrupt halt however when a dislodged boulder traps his arm, forcing him to reflect on his past decisions that have found him stuck in the wilderness with only cold rocks for company.


The Shallows (Jaume Colett-Serra (2016):  Distraught after her mother’s death, Nancy leaves her medical degree and her family behind to find her mother’s ‘secret beach’ in Mexico. Longing for a maternal connection, she surfs the waves until a rogue shark destroys her surfboard, shreds her leg and traps her on a rock 200 yards from the shore.


Arctic (Joe Penna, 2018): Downed pilot Overgård, fishes and turns on an emergency beacon everyday in the Arctic. Missing toes and surviving off icy fish, a helicopter finds him only to crash, killing the pilot and leaving a woman critically injured. After bringing the woman to his shelter and scavenging the plane and finding a map of the area, Overgård resolved to bring the woman to a nearby shelter in the hopes of rescue.


Part 2: Strikin’ out alone(ish)


Strikin’ out alone(ish) presents five films where folk (mostly) opt for social distancing as an alternative way to live. This could offer an upside to a socially distancing lifestyle– or at least, these films offer something of a feel-good flourish to this line up. Featuring animation, buddy films and a surreal, almost parodic take at survival, this final foray shows the potential that can be found in striking out alone (ish).


The Red Turtle/ La Tortue Rouge (Michaël Dudok de Wit, 2016): A man washes up alone on an island and lives a frustrating life until a beautiful red turtle washes up on shore.


Swiss Army Man (Daniel KwanDaniel Scheinert, 2016): Washed up and alone on an island, Hank turns to suicide but suddenly sees a corpse in the water. Attempts to revive the corpse prove unsuccessful but (although dead) the corpse abruptly propels himself and Hank across the water to the forested mainland. The corpse proves to be a vital accessory to survival with skills in navigation, transport and weaponry. A surreal take on survival where the dead fare better than the living.


Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi, 2016):  Ricky finally finds a foster home with two foster parents Bella and Hec. Unfortunately, Bella passes suddenly and Hec has no space or time for Ricky in his life. Ricky decides to head out into the New Zealand bush rather than go back into foster care forcing Hec to find the unprepared traveller and teach him how to survive.


Leave no Trace (Debra Granik, 2018): A father and daughter duo happily live in the woods in Oregon in a make-shift homely camp until they are spotted and forced to go through re-location and re-homing through official means. Pinballing between different homes, the father attempts to reunite the duo to begin their life in a new woodsy wilderness.


Peanut Butter Falcon (Tyler NilsonMichael Schwartz, 2019): My new favourite. Zac, a young guy with Down syndrome, lives in housing facility for the elderly but dreams of attending a wrestling school. He flees the facility but has trouble navigating the world to find the wrestling school, Meanwhile, Tyler finds himself on the run from a sad personal history and arson. They join forces in their dash across the southern states, both hoping to find a new start.


Cassice Last has also been shortlisted in the 2020 BAFTSS Postgraduate Poster Competition with voting still open until 13th April.

Human versus Where by Cassice Last



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