Coordinates of Contagion: Interrogating Public vs. Private Space and Horror Film Verticality in Variola Vera (Yugoslavia, Goran Marković, 1982)

Authors: Khara Lukancic*, Southern Illinois University
Topics: Media and Communication, Social Geography, Geographic Thought
Keywords: geohumanities, geography and film, public sphere, private sphere, verticality, politics of location
Session Type: Virtual Poster
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 51
Presentation File: Download



This poster collides Jürgen Habermas' work on the public sphere with Siegfried Kracauer's postulation about the function of the hotel lobby; arguing that the spatial politics of the public space versus private space are reconfigured in times of crisis, such as during epidemics and pandemics; especially when spaces undergo quarantine.

Many films about human diseases and viral pandemics focus upon the movement of transmission: that is the north/south, east/west movement tracking the transmission of contagion from person-to-person across the film's population of characters. However, Variola Vera is a film that instead interrogates a vertical movement of the healthy population of a hospital threatened by smallpox. As more and more people are infected within the hospital, the healthy population moves to lower floors of the building. The breakdown of society (civilized behavior) parallels the downward movement of the film's characters under an enforced quarantine.

One way of interrogating the relationship between civilization and spatiality is using Bodo Winter's metaphor of "EVIL IS DOWN." He observes that the horror film seeks to foreground the negative domains for verticality (down). In Variola Vera, as the disease progresses and we descend a few floors, the social hierarchies dissolve as the situation gets more grim. Downward movement is used to portray a negative situation: the disease and people's behavior are both getting worse. Thus, this poster seeks to better understand the significance of geography and film through the lens of the politics of location, interrogating private and public spheres, and verticality.

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