I've been holed up in my apartment for nearly two weeks since the coronavirus rendered it unsafe for the citizens of New York City to roam the streets freely. While I'm admittedly experiencing cabin fever, (how many times will I get up to eat? I'm running out of quarantine snacks!), my new normal has forced me to seek creative ways to escape the terrifying reality of a distressing situation. In trying times, we turn to what’s comfortable. For me, that’s my favorite movie: The Count of Monte Cristo.
Released in 2002, the film is a screen adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' 1844 novel by the same name. It stars a young Jim Caviezel as the eponymous Count/Edmond Dantès, a man fueled by revenge after being betrayed by his very best friend (Guy Pearce).
The reasons to watch The Count of Monte Cristo are many: It's a great movie, and Caviezel's luscious hair — the real reason that I watch it every quarter — is a dream. But the film also provides a timely example of how to live a full life in an enclosed space.
Naive and kind-hearted, Edmond finds himself at the heart of a deep-rooted conspiracy with international ramifications after being accused of high treason. The unfair charges land him a cell in the notorious Château d'If, a fortress prison island where inmates are condemned to solitude, and often death.
Edmond spends his first couple of months raging against the machine. He hasn't done anything wrong, and everyone knows it — even the warden of the prison acknowledges Edmond's innocence. But rules are rules, and once you're in the Château, you never leave. Spiraling, Edmond grows a struggle beard (which, I admit, made me feel some things) and obsessively carves one phrase into the stone wall: "God will give me justice." He becomes a cog in the unfair system, seemingly destined to live out the rest of his days in a filthy cell. Until he meets the Priest.
As it turns out, someone has been hearing Edmond's anguished cries after all. His next-door-neighbor is an old priest and former soldier in Napoleon’s army (Richard Harris) who's been locked up for more than a decade, who helps Edmond unravel the mystery behind his sudden imprisonment.
What follows is a great example of social distancing, though admittedly in the most extreme of cases. The days are long, and the work is hard, but Edmond and Abbé Faria (Harris) busy themselves with their new purpose: Seeking revenge on their enemies. The inmates' detailed plan starts with daily reading, writing, and sword-fighting lessons, aimed at transforming Edmond into a cultured man. When they're not learning, they're digging a hole into the ground towards their freedom. (Revenge plots are a lot of work!)
Edmond entered the prison kicking and screaming, a mere sailor with few prospects. But our hero emerges (in a body bag, no less) with drive and a title. His seven years in a cell have shaped him into a new man: The Count of Monte Cristo. And he's got a score to settle.
All kidding aside, Edmond’s time behind bars also speaks to the very real circumstances of imprisoned people all over the world right now. Inmates are among the most vulnerable populations in this public health crisis. The Count of Monte Cristo is a fictitious work, but prison is reality for many people, and the prison system rarely has the capacity (or the desire) to protect the people it houses. Extreme measures must be put in place to ensure their survival. Right now, across the U.S., jails are releasing thousands of low-level offenders and at-risk inmates in an effort to slow the spread of the disease.
Obviously, not everyone has the privilege of gleaning life lessons from throwback films during this time; being able to binge-watch movies in the comfort of my own home and actually be tired from doing nothing is a level of enjoyment that many don’t have. Healthcare professionals and service employees are working around the clock to provide services to the masses without the solace of an off-day. Many have lost their source of income and are worrying about how to pay their bills. Those facts alone should add much-needed perspective to your perpetual boredom. There's a lesson to be learned here, especially in times of the 'rona. Not being able to leave the house except in case of emergencies does blow, but it also presents the opportunity to do some of the things that you weren't able to in the past.
Reports from various sources speculate that the suggested self-isolation efforts might have to last for several more months. Now's the perfect time to take a page out of Edmond's page and work on your craft so you too can stunt on your enemies when you finally get out onto the streets — I mean, be a more well-rounded person with a cool new hobby.
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the CDC website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.