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Contagion catches fire

Updated: Sep 3, 2020

A few weeks before the movie Contagion turned into a streaming phenomenon, I re-watched my DVD of it, spurred by memories of a believable look at how something like Covid-19 might work. Those memories proved solid; while specifics of the movie’s contagion act differently than Covid-19, many aspects and insights suit today’s situation even though director Steven Soderbergh made his film nine years ago.

No, no one specifically mentions a run on toilet paper, but the film shows empty shelves, looting, and various forms of panic at stores and pharmacies. With frightening accuracy, the film shows how frequently we touch our faces and spread germs at hyper speed rates. Believably enough, one character disseminates false information about a potential cure, something that seems to have happened now with garlic. On a recent shopping venture, I hoped to replenish my stash for cooking and stared in shock at empty bins where garlic usually lay. Wait a minute—garlic works for the Vampire Apocalypse, right?--not Covid-19.

Of course, differences from today’s pandemic and the movie’s outbreak abound. The movie’s contagion comes on more quickly and lethally than Covid-19. Mass graves result, leading to one of the film’s most unsettling scenes as a character played by an internationally famous star gets unceremoniously dumped in a mass grave of bodies. Which star? Not saying, but the movie offers a fair share: Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kate Winslet among them.

Their characters face various complications of a contagion’s impacts, ranging from abusing confidential information to using kidnapping to acquire special access for contagion treatments. And yes, both China and bats get involved in the story. Some elements move at speeds more common to movies than reality, including remarkably rapid development of a vaccination handled in a manner that breaks actual health procedures. But overall, director Soderberg’s Contagion sends a helpful message about the need to wash your hands, keep them off your face, and most of all, stay calm. You can stream Contagion on several services including Amazon, iTunes, and Youtube.

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