On Tuesday, October 30, Haverford’s Biology Film Series showed the documentary Unseen Enemy in the Visual Culture Arts and Media (VCAM) screening room. Screened the night before Halloween, the harrowing documentary was a fitting choice. The film centers around pandemics in the 21st century and explores how modern connectivity makes the world more susceptible to widespread outbreaks than ever before. Through a series of case studies, the film guides audiences through the pitfalls of pandemics—their causes, their repercussions, and their ultimate effect on society and culture. For a documentary based in the sciences, this film examines epidemics in a surprisingly humanistic manner.
The film focuses on several individuals and families from all over the world affected by recent epidemics. We hear not only from epidemic survivors but also from those on the frontlines attempting to contain outbreaks. We encounter Dr. Soka Moses, a medical doctor who practiced in an Ebola treatment unit in Libya just two years into his medical internship. He claims to have had one day of official training before being inundated with sick patients. In a series of personal interviews, he tells us haunting stories only a medical professional could tell—what he sees, what he deals with, what limited resources he has. In a shot picturing Dr. Moses getting ready for his day by doing sit ups on the floor in his modest home, we are to recognize that doctors are also human. Medical professionals have only one advantage over outbreaks: preparation.
Vaccinations are key in preparing for and preventing epidemics. As we know today, vaccines can be a controversial topic. The film focuses on the politics of public health, even venturing into how epidemics could result in economic disasters. Worse still, the increasing lack of government-citizen trust means action cannot be taken quickly enough to prepare for and prevent epidemics. The film explores this dilemma and builds the crisis in such a way that it seems we can do nothing to prevent pandemics in a world with so many different opinions and where there are so many contributors to infection: global warming, overpopulation, and so on. Yet, with each new case study presented, we are further convinced that action must be taken.
By overwhelming the audience with stories of tragic loss and extracting sympathy, the documentary does an exceptional job portraying the personal implications of pestilence. At the same time, however, the film stresses the fatal magnitude of infection and urges everyone to play an active role in containing future outbreaks. The film accomplishes something acutely special in that it emphasizes group efforts but places the responsibility on the individual. More importantly, the moral of the story isn’t simply to “get vaccinated.” Instead, the film calls for action in all forms, encouraging viewers to get involved politically and environmentally to prepare for outbreaks. The ending confirms the inevitability of outbreaks—but epidemics and pandemics can be prevented with proper preparation. And of course, it doesn’t hurt to get vaccinated!
Written by Shayleah Jenkins ’22, English major.
Edited by Matthew Ridley ’19.