A film from 2008 about parents on a cross-country road trip and a young girl’s grief

The girls in Pandemic have remarkable survival skills, but they are often overwhelmed by the outpouring of grief they experience after the loss of an older sibling.

“They are the ‘forgotten gravergisers,’ or the most grief-stricken victims,” says co-director Adam Brooks.

“I read a quote where a Holocaust survivor said, ‘Everyone told me that you get past this. It doesn’t happen to us. We survived it, but people have said that we did not. We’re in it for ever, forever. We’re never ever gonna survive it.’

“It’s what a lot of survivors would say.”

Before the film’s first screening at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2007, Brooks realized it would be incomplete without addressing this problem. “We put the issue into the context of our lives,” he says. “It’s very traditional for a film to have a very morality tale ending, but it shouldn’t have. It should be about what it feels like to be 11 years old at the beginning of something that is so apocalyptic.”

And since then, the lost little girl, Sara (Julie Pinson), who appeared at the start of the film as an imagined apparition, has gradually become more real.

Grief is omnipresent in the life of the young girl, before and after her brother’s death. During the school year, the film follows Sara through the self-evident and unsettling contrast of a rural, frontier-style boarding school with a hospital in Antarctica, where Sara’s brother was being treated for what should have been a few hours.

Sara’s parents, William (Clive Owen) and Abby (Frances McDormand), are stoic, skeptical of everyone’s intentions in a movie that presents these two disparate worlds as somewhat equivalent. William and Abby are homebound, disoriented by an unexplained death, and no one wants to fill the vacuum left by Sara’s grief, so they leave her to fend for herself. They must become both parents, sister and both caretakers in a world that is invisible to them, growing almost to resent Sara for her isolation.

“It’s not a film that’s interested in the cry-out, so I can’t answer that question,” adds Brooks. “All I can say is that what it’s about is survival. All my films are about survival. I’m fascinated by the primal reality that somebody is going to need to live through something. And that, to me, is life. Life is never not waiting.”

Pandemic, a Gunpowder & Sky release, is in limited release. It will expand to additional theaters on April 21.

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