Life’s a Big Hot Mess: ‘Meek’s Cutoff’ but Water is Cough Drops

Life’s a Big Hot Mess: ‘Meek’s Cutoff’ but Water is Cough Drops

Day 5

About a week ago (which feels like an eon if we’re being honest here), everyone talked about panic buying, the phenomenon where you post pictures of how there is no more toilet paper to be seen across the land. Inverse question: did anyone panic not buy, or, the terms I’ve just created to describe the sensation of failing to buy something in the apocalypse that you kind of wish that you had now, and are certainly hoping that you don’t have need for in the next couple of weeks?

For myself, I came to the realization yesterday that I presently do not have cough drops (which, I probably would like to have if the reports about the sore throat are as accurate as they seem to be!) and a way to check temperature (a way to find out if I should desperately beg someone to get me some cough drops ASAP!). I have exactly two cough drops in the house right now. Thus, it is on a list of things that I will have to go pick up at some point the next time I go out. That day is presently still a couple of days away, and that’s if we don’t get sick in-between those days.

For my teaching duties, I watched Meek’s Cutoff yesterday afternoon, one of the all-time great masterpieces. For the life of me, I cannot reconcile with how anyone finds this film boring. I have no empathy because it’s unfathomable to me. The entire film is about interactions, reassurances, and guesswork. This is quarantine me talking, but it’s a wonderful snapshot of crisis mentality. Meek is bravado, progressively proving that he knows nothing with every single sentence that he utters. Michelle Williams is resolve, the ability to reconcile with difficult to swallow truths amidst chaos. Zoe Kazan is panic, irrationally freaking out in the hopes that we can still go back to the way things were.

Many of us are probably Zoe Kazan’s in our present situation, but maybe, we are all a little bit Michelle Williams too. In Meek’s Cutoff, Kazan plays Millie Gately, who is perpetually imploring her husband Thomas (real life husband Paul Dano) that there is still time to turn back. She is wrong, but her incorrectness manifests itself through her hysteria.

The Meek of Meek’s Cutoff is Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood), a genocidal maniac who doesn’t really know what he’s doing, but as the loudest male voice in the room, manages to exert control until all hell breaks loose. In the present situation we’re in, we have to hope that our leaders are not Stephen Meeks. The jury is still out here in Canada, but they are at least saying some of the correct things (I got a kick out of one of our top health officials declaring that we need to “plank the curve”). Just below us, I can’t shake the feeling that they’re being led by a Stephen Meek who insists upon deliberately referring to what is looming over all of us as, “The Chinese Virus,” in order to deflect the blame from his own failures.

Meek’s Cutoff is about the simultaneous duration and compression of time in a crisis. Everything stretches out into a tomorrow, while in the rear-view that tomorrow better hurry up and arrive. Their actions are monotonous, filled with walking and chores. The lack of water looms over them. Part of me questions why the last wagon they tried to lower down the steep hill was the one with the water. The rest of me feels every single second of what might have been the greatest set-piece of the last decade.

I’m trying to limit the amount of news that I read. Right now, I am desperately trying to keep it to checking the numerical reporting each day. I have no idea why I’m doing this. It probably comes back to routines and whatnot, and now this is part of them. I have no idea what any of these numbers mean in the grand scheme of things. They’re almost certainly not even healthy representations of who actually has the damn thing, as our present rate of testing seems to be poor.

But I read a piece that I since cannot find again that interviewed a leading pandemic expert. They had one claim that gave me an entirely new perspective on the COVID crisis. This isn’t a global extinction event. It’s a terrible thing, no doubt, but humans will likely survive this. Normalcy will resume. Unlike the travellers in Meek’s Cutoff it is certain that we will reach water. This is our duration and compression of time. I look forward and I wonder what the summer and then the fall will look like. Presently, I’m checking my throat each day for signs that it’s getting sore like a total idiot who thinks he can do some self-diagnosis.

And when we do, we have the opportunity to redefine what normal is. We have the ability to recognize that there are many necessary indelible human rights, such as health care, a real living wage, education, housing systems, and the like. We have the ability to add what is presently to those indelible rights, like access to the internet and information systems. We have the ability to perform some serious redistribution of wealth from the extremely wealthy to those who need it most.

Few of these things will happen, and to think that it will is probably wishful utopian thinking. But I’m willing to bet that we will make progress to some of them. Under the great neo-liberal structures many of us have been presently born into, all we can really hope to do is keep the ball rolling for the next generation. In turn, they move it a little bit more for the next one, and so on and so forth. In the near future, we’ll have the ability to move the ball a hell of a lot, maybe more so than most generations do.

This post was written by
Thomas Wishloff is currently an MA student at York University. He is new to the Toronto Film Scene, but has periodically written and podcasted for several now defunct ventures, and has probably commented on a forum with you at some point. The ex-Edmontonian has been known to enjoy a good board game, and claims to know the secret to the best popcorn in the world.
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