Dear Michael Bay – My Dad Died of COVID-19 and I Have Thoughts on ‘Songbird’
Dear Michael Bay,
My Dad died of COVID-19 and the trailer for Songbird is giving me feelings.
My Dad died on 11th August 2020 from COVID-19 in a hospital in Buenos Aires. He was in so many of the high-risk groups you hear about, he was 84, he had a pre-existing heart condition and he suffered from dementia, so he had been in a residential home. When he tested positive for COVID-19 we all took a deep breath as this was what we had worried about and sure enough, the inevitable happened. It’s been a rough few months since then, as we were unable to travel from the UK to Argentina and there was no funeral – just my step-mum saying quiet goodbyes as she scattered his ashes around a lemon tree.
And yes, he did die from COVID-19. Anyone else who has had loved ones die will know you have to go through this bizarre, and tiring, conversation arc with people, which goes like this:
“My relative died of COVID-19”
“Did they die *FROM* it or *WITH* it? Did they have pre-existing conditions? How old were they?”
“My relative didn’t have COVID and they were alive, then they got COVID and died”
“But what did they *REALLY* die of?”
But I digress.
The trailer for Songbird dropped yesterday, accompanied by internet fanfare declaring this a vision of our lives four years into the very real pandemic we’re already immersed in. A little voice inside me said “Hmm, who is going to watch that? This seems pretty close to home. Is this not insulting to all the people who have died and are dying?” but then I watched it immediately.
So I guess the answer is ‘me’.
The trailer opens with two gorgeous young people video-calling each other, backed by Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, a song which my Dad used to play over and over from a scratchy cassette tape. My heart sank further. Oh God. They’re making it a pandemic *romance*. Holy shit.
Ominous music plays and a cut reveals military helicopters flying over a decimated city as a news broadcast helpfully explains we’re now on COVID-23 and it’s mutated, leading the world to having been in lockdown for four years. 110 million are dead and quarantine camps have become the norm for the infected. The virus now affects the brain tissue, moving this firmly into zombie movie territory.
The trailer ramps up to full Michael Bay levels of LOUD, with armed guards arriving, helicopters circling, heart-felt speeches through closed doors and ends with Peter Stormare ominously saying “Stay safe, sane and sanitised” as he does gun fingers at a peep-hole in someone’s door.
I have been having a recurring nightmare since my Dad died, which has been a mash-up of A Quiet Place and real-life, where I am trying to persuade people to keep quiet so they won’t be murdered by the aliens, but instead they go around yelling about the aliens not being real and get murdered. My subconscious is clearly too tired to be more inventive. The fact that this is produced by the same people as A Quiet Place therefore seemed all the more apt.
Then the feelings began, and in many different unexpected ways. My initial thought – that this seems like tasteless exploitation cinema – remain. They’re going to continue yelling at me through my subconscious. Re-writing the course of the pandemic which we are very much living through seems tasteless to say the least. Who will want to immerse themselves in an even darker vision of our future than the one we are facing? Is this somehow belittling the horrors we are already seeing? Of the million plus families who have lost loved ones to this, who did they talk to? Who thought this would be a good idea?
What surprised me most, however, was when I started to wonder what my Dad would think about it.
The answer came: my Dad would bloody LOVE it.
He was an army veteran. He never called himself that. He just used to say he served in the British Army, in the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers (R.E.M.E.) to be precise. He served in Malaya as the Union which was part of its name at the time, dissolved, yet another area of the world which had been interfered with by the East India Company and which was eventually handed back. He served in the jungle helping fix radios and equipment for the Gurkhas. Over the years his stories about his time in the jungle got increasingly outlandish, Big Fish-style, to the point where I think even he had lost the truth of events. We *think* there was a pet orangutan in there somewhere, but who really knows?
He would, however, have LOVED this Michael Bay version of the virus which killed him. To be seen to be part of something so epic and global would absolutely have appealed to the macho veteran in him. He would far rather have been seen to have been battling something which required helicopters and flame throwers than his quiet end in a hospital, on a ventilator. To be part of something momentous and LOUD would have ticked all his boxes. He was not a man of nuance or subtlety and indeed I tried to introduce him to many more artistic films but he liked things to be linear and with heavy exposition. He would have appreciated the Michael Bay approach.
I am therefore letting you off, Michael. My Dad would have been pleased to have something which makes his death feel meaningful and part of something bigger and he certainly would have liked the romance elements (he was a softie).
Now I hope you don’t put dogs in peril or we might fall out again.