The Last Cruise (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): A cruise ship under quarantine

HBO documentary film “The Last Cruise” indirectly reminds me of how much things have been changed a lot since the COVID-19 pandemic was started in Wuhan, China around the beginning of 2020. Around that time point, I and many others in South Korea were not that serious about that alarming COVID-19 outbreak in China, but then things got pretty worse here within next several weeks, and then the whole world was also shaken a lot by the resulting global pandemic which has not been totally stopped yet even at this point.

The main subject of the documentary is what can be regarded as the prelude to what would subsequently happen around the world. When a big cruise ship named Diamond Princess began its latest voyage from Yokohama, Japan on January 20th, 2020, many passengers and crew members were not that concerned about the COVID-19 outbreak in China, but the ship was quarantined by the Japanese government when it returned to Yokohama on February 4th, and that was the beginning of their nightmarish situation which lasted for several weeks before they were all allowed to disembark.

Mainly consisting of a series of raw video footage clips shot during that period, the documentary initially shows us how things looked fine and well to everyone on the ship during the first day of that disastrous voyage. We see many passengers eager to have a good time during next two weeks, and we also observe how the crew members busily worked for serving more than 2,000 passengers on the ship. In case of one Indonesian crew member, he was well aware of how hard he and many other colleagues would have to work during next two weeks, but he was pretty excited about what he would see and experience during the cruise, and he willingly recorded lots of stuffs with his smartphone.

Not long after the ship left Yokohama, more news about the COVID-19 outbreak in China came, but many people on the ship still did not worry about that much even when the ship dropped by Hong Kong. Some of them took some caution as wearing mask, but many of them did not do anything to protect them from the growing possibility of COVID-19 infection, and that was how the virus eventually sneaked into the ship.

Anyway, everything still looked normal as the ship was sailing back to Yokohama, and its passengers kept having more fun and excitement as before, but, of course, that did not last long. When the ship arrived in Yokohama, the passengers as well as the crew members were prevented from getting off the ship, and the circumstance became all the more serious when 10 people were tested positive later. As a result, the ship was immediately quarantined, and the situation only got worse with more and more positive test results coming from the passengers and crew members of the ship.

As days went by without much progress, the passengers on the ship became quite anxious and frustrated as being isolated inside their respective cabins. Many of them were Americans, and they certainly expected their government to do anything for making them get out of the ship as soon as possible, but they remained stuck in the ship without getting much support or help from the US government, which was not so serious about the growing COVID-19 pandemic due to its incompetent commander-in-chief at that time.

However, the passengers’ growing inconvenience was nothing compared to what the crew members of the ship had to endure everyday. As usually confined in much smaller spaces within the ship, they were the ones most vulnerable to the virus infection, but they did not get any help at all, and they were still constantly demanded to provide whatever the passengers needed everyday. In the end, many of the crew members became more active in showing more of their ongoing predicaments to the world outside, and that certainly drew lots of attention from the media.

Several weeks later, the passengers of Diamond Princess were allowed to leave the ship before its crew members left next, but that was not the end of their nightmare. In case of American passengers, they were promptly taken back to their home country via a military airplane, but they were aghast to see that they were not still totally safe from the virus. There was a barely sealed section reserved for the folks tested positive for COVID-19, and others certainly felt uncomfortable whenever they passed by this section.

Meanwhile, American scientists quickly embarked on the analysis of the outbreak process within the ship for knowing more about the virus, but, as many of us know, the situation had already been out of control around that time point. Within a few months, the American society was turned upside down by the virus, and many other countries around the world were also struck hard by the virus during that catastrophic period.

Overall, “The Last Cruise” could delve more into its relevant main subject, but director/co-producer Hannah Olson did a competent job of presenting an inside look into what was going on Diamond Princess during that gloomy time, and it surely deserves to be watched along with other notable recent COVID-19 documentary films such as “76 Days” (2020) and “Totally Under Control” (2020). These documentaries may come to us a bit too early, but they are still worthwhile to watch as the raw and vivid records of the global COVID-19 pandemic, and you will be reminded again of how fragile the normalcy of our world really is.

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