As we are now in the midst of a global pandemic, it seems apt that we should take a look at a film to depict such a crisis. Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, released in 2011, is one of those films. Boasting an all-star cast, including Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, and Marion Coultard, among other names, it simply shows how a contagion, such as the Coronavirus, can slowly and almost inevitably become uncontrollable in its attack on the population. The film attempts to show the real fears that such a Contagion can cause the world.
Contagion Follows The CDC and WHO As They Battle The Virus
Soderbergh uses the film to highlight how governing bodies such as the CDC (Center of Disease Control) and the WHO (World Health Organization) will embark on a battle between life and death to understand the virus, create a cure, and try to save as many people as they can. The film illustrates the procedural steps such governing bodies follow in order to go about finding a cure for a killer unknown illness. Like the characters in the film, the audience is just as unaware of the origin of the Outbreak. Soderbergh does not show this until the end, and in doing so makes the film stronger. As the pandemic worsens and more people die, the audience is just as baffled as to the characters, gripped by the attempts of the powers that be to understand Contagion.
The disease travels from continent to continent quickly, infecting more and more people. The audience likes that character, realize how fragile we are, and how little hope there is to stop something like this once it has started. Soderbergh captures the panic such a Contagion would cause and goes on to shoe the inevitable breakdown of law and order. The film is a sobering and non-sensational depiction of a potential reality which only adds to its power. He shows that no one can be saved, as even though the hazmat gear, members of the CDC fall victim to the disease.
Contagion – Too Many Characters?
One critique of the film is that there are too many characters and not enough depth of characterization. However, the film is trying to show a fully rounded picture of a pandemic. The main character is the disease itself. The other characters are merely additives showing different elements of the virus. In essence, the film then becomes more of a behavioral study, en masse, about how our society would cope in such a situation. It highlights the very real flaws in our species, that we are actually quite weak, and despite centuries of civilization we are a mere stone throw away from our true animal nature. Indeed, the civil facade we tell ourselves falls almost instantly in the face of true horror. It is a fight for survival. Self-preservation above all else is what actually matters to most people. The members of the CDC who put themselves in danger are nicely contrasted to this panic. They are hope.
Soderbergh poses many questions in Contagion, and the parallels with the ongoing Coronavirus are easy to see. The disease is spread far easily through unhygienic behavior, such as not washing your hands. How many times do you touch your face? It is hard to quantify, probably hundreds of times, and absentmindedly. In the film, 27 million people succumb to the virus in four months. These figures are not beyond the realms of possibility with the Coronavirus.
Contagion Star, Matt Damon, Was Immune To The Virus
Matt Damon’s character seems to be immune to the virus. But, the film does not explore the possibility that immunity may be the key to finding a cure, which is a little disappointing. However, a positive aspect is that when they do find a cure after some months of intense research, Soderbergh shines a light on the difficulties of mass-producing the cure, and then distributing it to the millions of people who are suffering from the illness. It simply will not be ready in the right number to save millions of lives.
Only at the very end do you see how Gweneth Paltrow, the first person to catch and die from the disease, contracted it. A bat drops some fruit into the stall of a fruit vendor in Hong Kong, and Paltrow eats the fruit. The image of how the disease spreads is uncomfortably similar to the images we are seeing how the Coronavirus is spreading. It simply takes on a life of its own. With the reality of airlines and incubation periods, how can you stop an Outbreak hitting all continents before anyone shows any symptoms? This is a terrifying and real prospect that is now being played out in reality.
Hopefully, the Coronavirus may not be as deadly as the illness in Contagion. However, the film has some very key things correct. It will spread, it will be hard to stop it, people are going to panic, and some are going to die. It is a deadly disease outbreak. This film is not a spectacle. It doesn’t need to be, it is designed to cut you deeper.