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Ten Icons of Social Distancing from TV and Movies

Tom Hanks in ‘Cast Away’ is far from the only character who can give us useful lessons about life in quarantine

Before we get into the list proper: Yes, obviously, there’s Cast Away. This movie is clearly the number one example of social distancing, and since Tom Hanks was one of the first high-profile people to announce that they had coronavirus, Cast Away is at the forefront of almost everyone’s mind during these days of isolation.

Hanks’ Chuck Noland does pretty well during his isolation in the movie — sure, he tried to kill himself for a little while there, but he learns some valuable survival skills and even forms a friendship for the ages with Wilson.

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Once he’s back home, he finds out that Helen Hunt has dumped him, thinking he was dead, which is a major bummer, but the ending of the film suggests that new possibilities — and even romance — lay ahead. All in all, not a bad go of it!

While Hanks’ time-obsessed FedEx employee offers a useful message about fending for yourself and letting go of your normal routine, he’s far from the only example of a fictional character who gets isolated from humankind. There are valuable lessons to be learned throughout pop culture on how to handle social distancing — you just have to know where to look. 

The Grinch

Why He’s Social Distancing: The movies about The Grinch suggest he’s alone due to some childhood trauma as an orphan, but in the original book and cartoon, he simply seems to have an aversion to those noisy, endlessly cheery, lacrosse-playing Whos — and a hatred of lacrosse is as good a reason as any to distance oneself.

Life During Social Distancing: While he may show a bit of affection to his dog here and there, The Grinch’s undersized heart seems to harden over his 53 years up on the mountain. While singing from balconies may have inspired Itay and the world, for the Grinch, all that singing in Whoville infuriates him to the point where he’ll stop at nothing to get a little silence.

Life After Social Distancing: The Grinch originally thought all that singing was the noisy companion of a commercialized holiday, but when he hears that sweet sound in the absence of presents, it touches his heart, causing it to grow three sizes. Suddenly, he’s all about Christmas — and he, he himself, the Grinch, carves the roast beest.

The Important Life Lesson: While all of us might get a bit grumpy and grinchy in our current isolation, remember to let in the music and the other small beauties of the world — they may just change your heart.

Wilson from Home Improvement

Why He’s Social Distancing: Unclear, but it seems that Wilson knew to keep his distance from Tim Allen well before the rest of us figured it out. 

Life During Social Distancing: Wilson seems to have become a wise old sage as a result of keeping his distance. By not wasting time with others, Wilson has been able to explore scholarly pursuits, like astronomy, painting, bird calling and yam farming. Indeed, Wilson seems to thrive in isolation, pursuing endless hobbies and always expanding his knowledge.

Life After Social Distancing: Wilson is almost always seen behind that picket fence in Home Improvement, but on the rare occasion he ventures out, he seems unable to adjust to the world around him. He ends up feuding with his friends or making a spectacle of himself, which appears to be why he always felt safer in his own little backyard. 

The Important Life Lesson: Perhaps, when some of us are done with quarantine, we’ll find that instead of running around all the time, slowing our pace and having a bit of downtime to broaden our horizons may not be such a bad thing.

Edward Scissorhands

Why He’s Social Distancing: His daddy — played by Vincent Price — died before he completed Edward’s hands, and since Edward was unfinished, he never ventured into the world outside of his creepy mansion. 

Life During Social Distancing: While he has his hedge-trimming hobby to keep himself busy, Edward does seem lonely at the beginning of the film. It’s unclear, though, how much Edward understands of the outside world — while his dad never finished his hands, he did waste time by giving Edward bullshit etiquette lessons, which suggests his dad’s sense of priority was way out of whack.

Life After Social Distancing: Edward’s time in the town below is short-lived — a few months at most — but in that period he’s exploited by the townspeople, called an instrument of the devil, turned into a criminal, thrown in jail, narrowly avoids sexual assault and destroys a perfectly good waterbed. All in all, his time in suburbia is so shitty that he nopes the fuck out and heads straight back to his mansion.

The Important Life Lesson: Maybe life in isolation is just better for some people?

Rapunzel in Tangled

Why She’s Social Distancing: An evil old witch abducted her for her magical hair, as evil old witches are wont to do. 

Life During Social Distancing: In a secluded tower, Rapunzel spends most of her days painting the walls and brushing her impossibly long hair. While she has the classic Disney trope of a cute animal sidekick to keep her company, she clearly longs for something more, waiting, indeed, for her life to begin.

Life After Social Distancing: Rapunzel shows what would have happened to Edward Scissorhands if he’d been a bubbly blonde princess instead of an awkward, scissor-handed Frankenstein’s monster. Rather than face scorn and exploitation in the outside world, Rapunzel finds love in the handsome thief Flynn Rider and brings cheer to everyone around her, including a hardened bunch of ruffians at a local saloon. 

While she does struggle a bit during her introduction to the new world and spends some time on an emotional rollercoaster, in the end, everyone lives happily ever after (and then finds themselves swept up in a frankly awesome adventure story if you count the excellent spin-off TV show, but we’re not here, so shhh). 

The Important Life Lesson: No matter how long you’re in isolation, try to remember that greater possibilities lie ahead once the world is able to open up for us.

The Bubble Boy from Seinfeld

Why He’s Social Distancing: According to his Yoo-hoo-truck-driving dad, the Bubble Boy has a rare immune deficiency in his blood, causing him to have to live in a bubble. He’s a bubble boy!

Life During Social Distancing: He lives at home with his endlessly patient parents who dote on him day and night. He enjoys The Tonight Show and seems to have a fair amount of knowledge of 8th century Spain.

Life After Social Distancing: When George Costanza pays the Bubble Boy a visit, the Bubble Boy’s sense of entitlement is on full display, complete with rudeness and temper tantrums. He ultimately ends up getting his bubble popped while trying to strangle George over a game of Trivial Pursuit

The Important Life Lesson: This one might be a bit of a cautionary tale to those who decided to return home to wait out quarantine with their folks. 

Dr. Dave Bowman from 2001: A Space Odyssey

Why He’s Social Distancing: HAL 9000, the sentient computer aboard Dave’s spaceship, has killed the rest of the crew because he feared they were going to disconnect him.

Life During Social Distancing: With the rest of the crew dead, Dave does indeed disconnect HAL and proceeds on his mission to Jupiter to find the Black Monolith — kind of a big black rectangle, which is the first proof of life from beyond Earth. On his way to the Monolith, Dave gets to experience a pretty dope light show, though it seems to leave him psychologically rattled. He soon begins to bug the fuck out, hallucinating images of himself as an old man. He then enters the Monolith and becomes a giant space baby (by the way, this is not made any more coherent by actually watching the film). 

Life After Social Distancing: Once he becomes one with the Monolith, Dave digitally visits his loved ones, as seen in 2001’s forgettable sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact

The Important Life Lesson: While what Dave becomes after merging with the Monolith is never fully explained, perhaps this can be seen as a warning against too much screen time during quarantine, lest we forever merge with our devices, making later separation ultimately impossible.

Ripley from Alien

Why She’s Social Distancing: An alien killed her crewmates — it was pretty gruesome.

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Life During Social Distancing: Ripley grows into her own during isolation and becomes a total badass, finally defeating the alien by blasting it into the vacuum of space. She’s then so wiped out from the whole thing she sensibly decides to take a nice cryosleep nap.

Life After Social Distancing: Things go from bad to worse after Ripley wakes up. First, she discovers that she’s been asleep for 57 years, then she finds out that a bunch of people decided the alien homeworld sounded like a dope vacation spot. Ripley decides to return to help exterminate the aliens, but pretty much everyone ends up dying all over again.

The Important Life Lesson: Even if it feels like you’ve been isolated for decades, don’t come out of quarantine until it’s finally made safe to do so — otherwise, shit will only get worse.

Jack Nicholson in The Shining

Why He’s Social Distancing: Jack Torrance is hired as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel during the winter months when the hotel is closed. While staying up there with his wife and child, Torrance also hopes to use the solitude of the hotel to finish his book.

Life During Social Distancing: Cabin fever hits Torrance hard, as it’s no doubt doing to many parents right about now. In the movie, Torrance imagines himself drinking with an imaginary bartender and eventually goes totally bonkers, chasing after his family with an axe.

Life After Social Distancing: Fortunately for his family, Torrance is reduced to a Jack Nicholson-shaped popsicle, sparing them from harm.

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The Important Life Lesson: For parents quarantined with kids, try your best to keep your cool. There’s never a happy ending when you lose it in front of your family.

Every Jedi Not Murdered By a Clone in the Star Wars Movies

Why They’re Social Distancing: Mostly it’s because of Order 66, a protocol that tells the Clone Troopers to suddenly kill the Jedi. For more on this, see Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (or don’t, it’s really not great).

Life During Social Distancing: Obi-Wan Kenobi becomes a “strange old hermit” on the planet of Tatooine, spending his time forgetting all of his droid friends from the old days and sneaking up on sand people while inexplicably still dressing like a Jedi and using his real last name. Good hiding, Jedi master!

Yoda hides out on the swamp planet of Dagoba, cracking up to the point where he’s fighting with a droid over a flashlight.

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Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader, who regularly practices social distancing by hiding away in a giant Easter egg.

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Luke Skywalker probably fares the worst of the Jedi, though, when he goes into hiding after trying to murder his nephew. He then becomes a mean old grouch who spends his days reading the old Jedi texts while sucking blue milk from giant space monster tits. 

Life After Social Distancing: Obi-Wan fares the best after coming out of hiding, making a few new friends and enjoying one last adventure among the stars — he even manages to pass along some words of wisdom along the way. Then he dies and stuff, but, y’know, not a bad run.

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Yoda fades away into space dust, but not before telling Luke that he’s been making out with his sister.

Vader finally bonds with his son, but this means killing his boss, so now he’s unemployed. Oh yeah, and then dead. Honestly, he was probably better off in that egg.

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As for Luke, he never really recovers from his experiment with social distancing, dying on the island where he secluded himself, letting down all future Jedi and 40 years of Star Wars fanboys. Despite this, he does manage to pull off the greatest work-from-home moment in cinema history, when he Force-projects himself to another planet, distracting Kylo Ren so the last members of the Resistance can escape. Let’s see your Zoom conference room do that.

The Important Life Lesson: Honestly, the most important lesson here is probably to avoid that Star Wars binge you’ve been planning, you’re just going to be disappointed.

Wheezy from Toy Story

Why He’s Social Distancing: His squeaker broke, so Andy’s mom put him up on a shelf, causing Andy to forget him. It could happen to the best of us.

Life During Social Distancing: Despite an ability to move and an inability to really get injured, Wheezy never simply jumps down from his isolated position on the shelf, which he’s perfectly capable of doing. Instead, he grows depressed and despondent, giving up on life as he watches the world from afar.

Life After Social Distancing: Despite spending months in isolation and being hopelessly depressed, once Wheezy is down from the shelf and his squeaker is fixed, he is completely recovered and begins singing like Robert Goulet

The Important Life Lesson: We can only hope to all snap out of our secluded sorrow like Wheezy does. When it’s finally time to come out, remember to party like hell.