This animal carries a deadly virus, and the greatest medical crisis in history is about to begin.
Try to remain calm.
Imagine you are hunting a killer. The perpetrator is insidious, invisible, and deadly. It is reactive and fast. Its victims suffer and die in horrifying pain. There is no reasoning with it, no bargaining with it, and no way to stop it. The military wants to avoid a panic. The media questions the methods being used to stop it. It is a billionth your size
is a 1995 suspense film
directed by Wolfgang Petersen
and starring Dustin Hoffman
, Rene Russo, and Morgan Freeman
(among many others: Donald Sutherland
, Kevin Spacey
, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Patrick Dempsey, etc.), depicting a what-if scenario surrounding a deadly fictional African virus called Motaba, inspired by real-life Ebola outbreaks, and speculating on the measures taken by the military and the Center for Disease Control if such an outbreak occurred in the United States.
In 1967, a deadly virus, Motaba, ravages a war-torn African village. The U.S. Army sends in colonels Donnie McClintock (Sutherland) and Billy Ford (Freeman) to appraise the situation, and they promise to send for help. But what's really sent is a fuel-air-bomb which vaporizes the village and everyone in it.
Flash-forward thirty years, when an infected monkey from this very area has been captured and smuggled to the United States, and into the hands of Jimbo (Dempsey), a young man who plans to sell it for the pet trade. The smuggled monkey spits in Jimbo's face, on his way to sell it. When it turns out unsuitable (after having scratched the pet shop owner and having lost her banana to another monkey in the shop), Jimbo sets it free in California and hops a flight home to Boston — during which he falls seriously ill. He greets his girlfriend with as passionate a kiss as he can muster, then passes out. In Boston, Dr. Robby Keough (Russo) takes care of the victims of the infection, and that's that. But the cat is out of the bag. Cedar Creek, California becomes infected with a mutated and airborne strain of the virus.
McCormick and Ford, now generals, dispatch Robby's ex-husband and USAMRIID doctor Sam Daniels (Hoffman) to Cedar Creek along with Dr. Casey Schuler (Spacey) and Major Salt (Gooding). With Robby's help, they race against time to find a way to cure the deadly virus. Meanwhile, the Army, seeing projections of the virus's progress across the North American continent, advises the President to take drastic measures... without sharing with him the information that they have a cure for the African strain and want to be able to use it as a biological weapon. McClintock concocts a plan to firebomb Cedar Creek.
Can Daniels find a way to cure the new Motaba strain and get it back to Cedar Creek before the Army wipes it out to save the country and keep their weapon?
The film was nominated for various awards but failed to garner any major award nominations. Notable in that it was set-up as a counter-production
to a film adaptation of the novel The Hot Zone
that never materialized.
Outbreak contains examples of:
- Armies Are Evil: Variation. The entire U.S. Army is not evil; the film takes great pains to show that individual soldiers obey orders even when they visibly have concerns and questions, but General Ripper McClintock definitely is.
- Artistic License – Biology: Motaba has more in common with the Andromeda Strain than Ebola. Most notable examples:
- There is serious debate as to whether or not it is even possible for a virus that is not airborne to evolve that rapidly.
- At one point, a character working in BSL-4, Casey, is infected within seconds after his suit rips. This is why pressurized suits are used in the first place; Motaba would need powered flight to get to him.
- Ebola is murder on primates, making a monkey reservoir species unlikely to say the least.
- The cure is isolated and synthesized in large quantities within hours. It gives Hollywood effectiveness for how rapid and complete recovery is from a virus that has been described as liquefying the internal organs of its victims.
- Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Both Casey (played by Kevin Spacey) and Robby (Rene Russo) are infected at different times with Cedar Creek Motaba, for which there is no cure so far.
- Casey's symptoms are portrayed with horrifying detail: blood streaming from his eyes, nose and mouth, skin destroyed.
- Robby looks a little bit feverish, her eyes are a little fever-bright, and her hair is slightly disheveled. It's been a matter of hours, at most a day between Casey becoming infected and Robby becoming infected. Even once she has entered the later stages, her makeup has been made to make her look pale and dried out, but she is not bleeding from her face like Casey was at the same stage.
- Chekhov's Skill: While going over Major Salt's personnel file, it's mentioned he's a trained helicopter pilot.
- Could Say It But / Suspiciously Specific Denial: General Ford tells Daniels and Salt exactly how to stop the bombing run at the end of the movie, under the guise of warning them of the dire consequences of doing so.
- McClintock immediately starts berating him for "slipping up" like that, then has a bit of a subdued Oh, Crap reaction when he realizes what he's up to.
- Crying Wolf: Daniels is treated as doing this; it's just that he tends to go on alert much faster, and take infection risk much more seriously than his superiors would prefer.
- The Dead Have Names: Invoked by the White House Chief of Staff, dropping a stack of photos onto a conference room table:
- Divorce Is Temporary: As the movie opens, Robby used to be part of Daniels' crew he takes to all outbreak sites, but when their marriage ended, she got another job. They fight until they're forced to work together, but it's obvious they still love each other despite their differences. By the end of the film, it's obvious that they're going to give it another shot.
- The Dog Bites Back: From the moment General McClintock arrives in Cedar Creek, he treats Lt. Colonel Briggs like total crap. Just look at the grin on Briggs' face◊ when he gets to put McClintock under arrest at the end. The General is Genre Savvy enough to lampshade how pleased the Colonel must feel about this.
- Dramatic Drop: The mom to the little girl who has befriended a monkey she's named "Betsy" drops a plate of apple slices (complete with dramatic shattering of dishware) when she sees the announcement that the monkey is a carrier for the deadly Motaba virus.
- Ensign Newbie: Major Salt fits this pretty well. He is a young Army doctor who when first introduced, has never been in the field before. In Zaire, when he witnesses the true horrors of a "hot zone" for the first time and realizes that reading about horrible diseases in a book is a lot different than seeing it in person (something his older, more seasoned colleagues warned him about) he loses his cool, and starts vomiting and freaking out. And when working with a dangerous virus like Motaba, this can create more dangers for everyone. However, he gets himself together and toughens up, and really proves himself in the final parts of the movie. In fact he qualifies as Majorly Awesome by the end of the movie.
- Establishing Character Moment:
- The first time we lay eyes on Dr. Sam Daniels, he is in the middle of giving his two giant St. Bernard dogs a bath. He takes the call from Ford, then scolds the dogs for getting out of the tub while he was on the phone. He immediately relents when the dogs retaliate with Puppy-Dog Eyes.
- The first time we see Casey, he makes jokes at Sam's expense, then at Salt's.
- The first time we see Salt, we see him as a gung ho guy whose empathy is revealed the first time he sees suffering in the field.
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: Inverted. A capuchin monkey captured in Africa for the pet trade turns out to carry Motaba, infecting the first human victims and causing the outbreak. Also played straight, though, as on the other hand she is adopted by a little girl (whose mother thinks it's an Imaginary Friend), and turns out to have the needed antibodies for the virus that the CDC need to make a cure.
- Failsafe Failure: A lab technician is infected with The Plague when he carelessly opens and reaches into a centrifuge while it's still spinning, breaking a vial of infected blood and cutting his hand. In Real Life, lids on centrifuges lock until the spinning has completely stopped; it's impossible to open one while it's still in motion, therefore, in order to open that, the lock would have had to have been broken.
- Later, Casey gets infected when the oxygen line on his isolation suit gets stretched too far, causing the suit to rip open like it were made of tissue paper.
- False Reassurance: In the opening, McClintock tells the African doctor that he'll arrange an airdrop of medical supplies for the mercenary camp. He also tells one of the mercenaries that he'll be brought home and will see his girl again. A few hours later, a plane does come by and drop a large container...it's just said container is actually a fuel-air bomb which then vaporizes the camp.
- Flat "What.": Billy Ford's reaction when told by Daniels that there are two strains of Motaba, and the new one, despite what they were told about the prior strain, is airborne and highly infectious.
- Foreshadowing: As Casey and Sam are about to enter the secure environment, Casey catches a tear in Sam's suit and chides him playfully for being preoccupied over his divorce from Robby than with proper procedure. Later, Casey has worked himself so hard he begins to fall asleep at his post. Forgetting his oxygen line he walks away without unhooking it and tears his suit.
- Game of Chicken: Twice
- Salt does this with one of the helicopters chasing him and Daniels, to buy some time for them to get back to Cedar Creek.
- Ford roundabout suggests it to Daniels and Salt so they can try to prevent Viper One from dropping its bomb.
- General Ripper: McClintock, whose go-to option for disease control can be summed up as "Kill It with Fire". This is because he wants Motaba as a biological weapon, which won't work if it can be cured by anyone else.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Played with. There are a few shots of bloody, lesion-covered Motaba victims reflected in the hazmat suit masks. The shot either tightens in on the eyes of the person in the mask so you can see their horror, or cuts away.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Played with. Daniels pulls off his hazmat helmet in Robby's hospital room, knowing full well the virus is airborne, to give Robby the will to fight until the antiviral serum is completed. It's more of a calculated risk, since Sam knows that Salt is already producing the antivirus for the airborne strain as fast as he can.
- Hiding The Infection: Casey does this after the incident that tore his suit. He just goes on working without a word of complaint or a hint that he's been infected until Motaba gets into his lungs and causes respiratory arrest.
- Hope Spot: The "experimental antiviral serum" works on original Motaba, but not the new strain. Then Casey and Robby each become infected. And Daniels realizes the Army knew about the first strain of Motaba and the antiviral was produced en masse already for the troops so they could use Motaba as a bioweapon.
- If I Do Not Return: There's a sick soldier in Africa who is pathetically grateful to see the Americans even if they're in faceless hazmat suits. But he's realistic, and asks them to tell his girl he loves her. The False Reassurance mentioned above includes "I'm not gonna tell her. You tell her yourself."
- Infant Immortality: Played with.
- The thing that sets Salt's panic reaction off is seeing a toddler-age child, clearly infected, crying in bed with his parents who are obviously already dead.
- When Jimbo is on his flight home, already sick with Motaba (which by now the audience knows is seriously deadly), a little boy in a cowboy outfit asks for his cookie. Jimbo, despite being quite ill, playfully tells him he can have it. But his mother stops him before he can touch the infected cookie.
- Completely inverted later in the movie, when it is mentioned two children died from the new strain of Motaba.
- Insistent Terminology: A downplayed case. Despite multiple people reminding him that he and Robby are officially divorced, paperwork and all, Sam Daniels continues to refer to her as "my wife". This is used against him by Ford, cited as his tendency to distort facts.
- Irony: Sam and Casey get into an argument because Sam is being his usual obstinate self and insisting they've overlooked something. Casey tells Sam he should get some sleep, which only makes Sam angrier. Sam snaps that Casey should get some sleep. Casey as is his wont, jokes about having slept in july. The next shot is Sam having given in to sleep, and Casey still working, until he starts to fall asleep on his feet — which is why he walks away without unhooking an tears his suit. If he'd listened to his own advice.
- It's the Only Way to Be Sure: A fuel-air bomb is used to sterilize an infected camp in Africa, and another is nearly used to sterilize an American town. They do in fact have the cure for the original Motaba strain, but jump to sterilization because it would make a very effective biological weapon.
- Just Following Orders: Daniels tears this excuse apart as he's trying to stop the town from being bombed.
- Kill It with Fire: The government's response to a deadly viral outbreak.
- Lack of Empathy: McClintock's big defining personality trait. He berates everybody for sentiment and calls it silly. He has a clue about empathy though, because he makes precision strikes against others in ways that will hurt them emotionally.
- A Million Is a Statistic: Wisely navigated when demonstrating the impact on the town's populace. The soldiers begin rounding up infectees in the quarantined small town, and we get to see only one woman say a tearful goodbye to her family. We follow her for a few minutes while they take a blood sample during her initial medical exam. There is even a close up of the phial, labeled "Sample 612". In a later scene, we see Casey examining blood slides and becoming increasingly frustrated as he pronounces:
Casey: "Sample 607: Infected. 608: Infected. 609: Infected. *Frustrated sigh* They can't all be infected. 610... Infected. 611...Infected. 612... Damn! Still infected!"
- We're later treated to a shot of her in a body bag.
- Defying this trope is the crux of the speech given by the White House Chief Of Staff, who asks everybody in the room to make damn sure that is necessary to wipe out Cedar Creek, damn sure that the American people understand there was no other choice, and damn sure that nobody gets the funny idea of lying about which decision they took after the fact.
- Misplaced Wildlife: A capuchin monkey is a New World Monkey, not native to Africa where Jimbo gets it from.
- Mood Motif:
- There's a brilliant motif, full of hopefulness and wonder as Jimbo sets the host monkey free in the thick, lush California forest, underscored with a significant tension of strings and low notes because the monkey is the host and Jimbo is already starting to become symptomatic.
- There's an uplifting and hopeful tinkly tune when Daniels looks up to see the test monkey with African Motaba shows that the serum given Daniels by Ford works effectively as a cure.
- There's a Scare Chord when Casey's suit rips.
- The Strings of Suspense play during Sam Daniels' impassioned plea to the pilots of Viper One not to drop the Fuel Air Bomb.
- There's a musical lilt that goes soft and gentle after Viper One releases its bomb over the water, indicating that Daniels' plea was successful and the pilots chose not to bomb the town despite orders.
- No FEMA Response: The town is quarantined, and then the plan is to Fuel Air Bomb it to stop the infection from spreading.
- No Ontological Inertia: Once the protagonist has found and isolated the antibody from the monkey's blood serum, by the next scene there's enough antiserum for all those infected through Hollywood production speed. Once injected into the dying people, it nigh-instantly cures them and everything is soon on the road to normal, with no lasting ill effects.
- No OSHA Compliance: We get a shot that shows the disease is airborne as it must have traveled from the isolation ward to the room of another patient who's had no contact. But a hospital would have heavy and redundant filtration for just that reason even if they were told the virus isn't airborne.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: Daniels encounters one of these, but convinces him to cut the crap by informing him that he has come all the way from the disease-infected city, clutching the man's hands very earnestly, and offering to cough on him if he doesn't believe him.
- Oh, Crap:
Col. Daniels: It's airborne!
- When Sandman's pilot and co-pilot see the Loach hovering in their path to Cedar Creek.
- One Dose Fits All: The film shows everyone getting the cure to Motaba in IV bags. The specification Sam gives Robby is that every patient is getting 200 ml. This would probably need to vary by age and size of patient, and whether they could be brought back from the later stages of the virus.
- The Oner: The credits sequence, which has a camera going through the Army biological hazards lab, with helpful subtitles showing which specific Biohazard level people work on.
- Operation Blank: McClintock's plan for bombing Cedar Creek is code-named "Operation Clean Sweep".
- Orbital Shot: The camera spins dizzyingly around Jimbo and his fiancee before he collapses.
- The Plague: Motaba.
- Played for Laughs: Daniels and Salt use their having just come from Cedar Creek, site of the viral infection, to get people to stop obstructing them. It works like a charm when Salt yells loud enough for everyone to hear.
- Please Don't Leave Me: Imploringly spoken by Sam Daniels as Robby looks like she might succumb to her Motaba infection. Followed by his calculated risk.
- Precision F-Strike: Done twice:
- Daniels gets to the point where has had enough of McClintock and his warmongering obstructionism when the former threatens to shoot down the latter after being told he has the way to cure the remaining early-stage Cedar Creek patients.
McClintock: With all due respect, Colonel Daniels, if you do not follow us to Travis Air Force Base, I will blow you out of the sky.
Daniels: General, with all due respect, fuck you. Sir.
- Daniels to Ford, before Viper One is close enough to drop the bomb.
Daniels: This is murder, Billy, any way you fucking slice it.
- Refuge in Audacity: Daniels' favorite trick.
- How Daniels gets onto the military flight to Cedar Creek.
- He does the same thing again to steal a helicopter so he and Salt can try to find the host.
- Revealing Cover-Up: Ford provides the team with a serum derived from the Motaba samples taken back in the Sixties, which they find out works just fine against the first, un-mutated strain. Daniels' insistence in finding out where it came from puts Ford in a rut of increasingly Implausible Deniability.
- Rule of Drama: There are several instances in the film that are done specifically to ramp up the tension and suspense for the audience, nevermind whether it's realistic.
- How fast Motaba mutates.
- Infection of airborne Cedar Creek Motaba is practically instantaneous. Casey is infected within seconds of his suit ripping despite a rigorous decontamination regime.
- Rule of Empathy: Who the viewer is supposed to empathize with goes up and down.
- Jimbo was engaged in illegal activity. Unsympathetic. But he is kind to children. Sympathetic.
- Jimbo's fiancee Alice comments that Jimbo looks terrible when he gets off the plane. Sympathetic. But despite seeing her fiance looks ill, she deep kisses him. Stupidity warranting reduced sympathy.
- The Centrifuge operator is not a sympathetic character because he wasn't paying full attention when he stuck his hand in a still-moving centrifuge full of blood.
- Worse still, he goes to the movies not feeling well, and doesn't cover his mouth when he coughs, pretty much exposing his girlfriend and the entire movie theater.
- The doctors don't want to touch Jimbo and Alice to autopsy them. Unsympathetic but understandable.
- One doctor agrees to but he's so terrified that his hands shake too much to hold the scalpel. Sympathetic.
- Donald McClintock's Establishing Character Moment is his appearance in Africa in a faceless, black mask Hazmat suit, wherein he lies to a dying soldier before ordering the bombing of the village. Everything we see about him going forward tells the audience he is not a sympathetic character.
- Billy Ford is a man who has a long career in the Army and went along with his superiors, but finds himself conflicted when the Outbreak puts him between doing what's right and following orders.
- Sam Daniels is good hearted through and through. To a fault.
- There's a young mother in Cedar Creek who has come down sick and is obviously terrified. She bids goodbye to her children, who she can't even touch because she's contagious. She tries to speak reassuring words to her family that she visibly doesn't feel. She's sympathetic until the moment we see her zipped into a body bag and carried off to be burned.
- Sad Clown: Casey. He is Daniels' best friend and covers up his emotions with jokes.
- When his suit tears and he fears he has been infected, he tells Robbie. "Just a sudden case of the Willies. I hate those Willies. Don't you think they should call it the Sams (referring to Sam Daniels, Robby's ex-husband)?"
- When he is in the early stages of the illness, and Daniels forces him awake, he says, "I had a wonderful dream, Auntie Em. You were there, and you were there..."
- When he's in the final stages, he weakly manages to joke to Robby that she should give Sam Daniels a chance because he has a huge crush on her.
- Scare Chord: Used somewhat effectively when Casey collapses as a result of the infection.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: Daniels does this so much that his superiors just barely tolerate him. If he weren't as good as he is, he'd probably be reassigned or discharged.
- Second Law of Metafictional Thermodynamics: Subverted. The viewers were given plenty of information about the residents of the town about to be bombed. So naturally the day is saved.
- Sociopathic Soldier: McClintock is a good example of one that made it all the way to General Ripper: smug, manipulative, imperious, completely lacking in empathy, and willing to kill thousands of people without hesitation for the sake of keeping the Motaba (which can easily kill millions if properly used) as a viable option for bio-warfare (and has no problem saying that it's all for the good of America).
- Sophisticated as Hell: Daniels' response to being ordered not to interfere with the bombing of a small town:
- Sting: These are used practically all the time. And I do mean all the time.
- Stunned Silence: Daniels cannot speak for several seconds when he realizes he was about to go into a level 5 hot zone lab with a tear in his suit, if Casey hadn't spotted it.
- Taking You with Me: McClintock threatens to sink Ford's career alongside his if he's arrested at the end. Ford, by that point in time, is beyond caring and orders the General's arrest.
- Tempting Fate: Daniels interrupts General Ford's party to say he needs to put out an alert for Motaba. Ford, however, brushes him off, noting other times when Daniels expected a major outbreak, but didn't happen. In addition, Motaba kills so fast, it's hard for it to get very far. Afterwards, they agree that the odds of Motaba coming to America are about a million to one. Cue one Motaba-infected monkey arriving in America...
- Too Dumb to Live: The guy who thought firing on a military attack chopper, which had already fired warning shots at his truck, was a good idea. Suffice it to say he did not live long after that.
- Up to Eleven: Known hemorrhagic fever viruses like ebola have an incubation period of seven to twenty-one days, with a fatality rate of 30-90% depending on the strain. Motaba patients have symptoms within hours with a fatality rate of 100%. Even the scientists are shocked at how fast and deadly Motaba is.
- With Due Respect: See Sophisticated as Hell, above.
- Working with the Ex: Daniels works with his ex-wife Robby. Naturally, they get back together at the end of the movie.
- Wronski Feint: After finding the host animal, Daniels and Salt are intercepted in their Loach by a pair of Hueys commanded by General McClintock. After an aerial chase, Salt manages to trick the two Hueys into nearly colliding. While they both survive, it distracts them long enough for Daniels to fire some missiles into the forest, keeping the Hueys even further distracted while they make it back to Cedar Creek.
- You Shall Not Pass: In the climax, Daniels and Salt fly their helicopter right into the path of Sandman to prevent the bombing of Cedar Creek.
- Your Cheating Heart: Actually works in Daniels' favor in trying to get the name of the boat Jimbo's monkey was brought in on:
Mrs. Pananides: I have a friend in the Coast Guard I could call.
Daniels: How close a friend?
Mrs. Pananides: Closer than his wife would like...