A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Outbreak is a 1995 feature about a fictional American government's response to a lethal pandemic, which includes the possibility of bombing a California town where most of the residents have become ill. Kids may be frightened by the graphic depiction of the disease, a hemorrhagic fever that causes bleeding from ears, nose, mouth, and eyes. Army infectious disease doctors try to save victims but are stonewalled by a government cover-up. Dead bodies are seen. The army shoots at escaping civilians. A monkey is shot with a tranquilizer. A bomb is dropped into the ocean. A man gets a rip in his hazmat suit and contracts a disease. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," and "bitch."
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What's the story?
OUTBREAK begins in Zaire, 1967, where a deadly hemorrhagic virus is killing both American army soldiers and mercenaries. After taking a blood sample from a dying patient, an army doctor leaves the outpost and orders the place bombed, wiping out all the people, and virus, he's left behind. Cut to "the present," 1995. A lab monkey, infected with a new strain, is stolen and released into the California woods, but not before biting several people. The disease runs rampant through a small town, where the army imposes a strict lockdown and prepares to bomb it, too. Enter Colonel Daniels (Dustin Hoffman), an army infectious disease specialist who has never seen anything this lethal or this easily spread. His ex-wife Robby (Rene Russo) does the same job for the federal Centers for Disease Control and they meet in California, where they learn the reason the government hasn't done enough to contain the virus. Daniels must heroically act to prevent the town from being bombed by the army.
Is it any good?
This is a Hollywood cliché of a disaster movie, trying to tackle an "important" issue but using the language of overwrought, stiff 1930s dramas. A guy in a hazmat suit comes rushing in and dramatically declares, "Doctor, I think you're going to want to see this." Another chides his superior for not doing enough to help with the outbreak, citing "the sacred oath" they took as doctors. Beyond that, even to a layman, some of the science seems a little shaky. For more than two hours we are persuaded that simply finding the "host," a monkey that all by itself, probably -- who knows -- passed the virus to humans, will magically enable a bunch of doctors in a remote little town to then immediately whip up an antidote and also cook enough gallons of that serum to cure a town full of 2,600 victims.
Some of this may sound familiar in the time of the coronavirus, as Outbreak describes a spreading pathogen causing flu-like symptoms, but this one has a 100% mortality rate. For kids worried about the current public health situation, this movie might pose an opportunity to discuss real and imagined threats.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what responsibilities health officials have to be honest with the public about a health hazard. What can be learned from Outbreak about current public health safety issues?
The movie came out in 1995 and promotes a skeptical view regarding government truth-telling when it comes to public safety threats. How is this message still relevant?
What parts of this movie seem believable and what parts don't?
How does this compare to other disaster movies you've seen?
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