When Pitt hears an emergency broadcast over the radio, it only says to stay indoors and try to maintain a supply of water. This information is wholly inadequate. In a crisis, government officials need to provide helpful and honest information to citizens without inducing panic. During the 2009 swine flu outbreak, Vice President Joe Biden said on “Today” that he “wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places,” a misguided comment that could have driven people away from air travel and public transportation had it not been walked back by the White House.
Governments’ responses to pandemic outbreaks can vary widely. During the 1919 Spanish flu, St. Louis wisely called for social distancing, warning against large-scale gatherings that could spread the virus. Philadelphia did not, and suffered a much higher death rate.
In the film, North Korea takes an extreme and predictably brutal approach to preventing the spread of the virus (hint: it involves teeth). Israel builds a wall to protect itself, a solution that, according to the film, stems from officials’ fears about existential threats facing the Jewish people. While Israel’s wall protects it, at least for a while, Israel also recognizes that our shared humanity outweighs political differences. When Pitt expresses surprise that Israel is welcoming immigrants from its mostly unfriendly neighbors, an Israeli explains that every uninfected entrant is one less zombie they have to kill. Orthodox Jews and Palestinians, not usually allies, sing together, recognizing that pathogens don’t respect borders or nationalities, and that we are all in this together.