Sometimes the scariest movies are the ones that feel the most real. That is the case with the 2011 film from Steven Soderbergh, Contagion. As we speak, the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disease is making its way into more and more populations, infecting thousands of individuals. Even at the time of its release, Soderbergh’s medical thriller was unnerving in its realistic portrayal of how quickly a virus can become an epidemic that can turn healthy individuals into statistics. With the Coronavirus in full swing, suspending just about all professional sports leagues imaginable, as well as delaying the release of just about every film being released theatrically in the next month, Contagion feels less like a fictional thriller and more like a documentary right now.
We start off with a black screen and the sound of someone coughing. We learn this cough belongs to Gwyneth Paltrow’s character Beth Ehmoff, who is on a business trip to Hong Kong. Once she returns home to her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) in Minneapolis, she has a frightening seizure in their kitchen (which is witnessed by her young boy – yikes) and within days, she’s pronounced dead of an unknown cause. An autopsy is performed on her brain, revealing something disturbing that we don’t see (ratcheting up the dread even more) that leads one of the doctors to tell his partner to step away from the table and call everyone.
This brings the DHS and CDC into the picture. We meet CDC director Dr. Ellis Cheever played by Laurence Fishburne, who dispatches Epidemic Intelligence Officer Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to Minneapolis to investigate. She traces the outbreak back to Beth and while investigating, she comes across the man who had picked Beth up from the airport. He starts experiencing similar symptoms to Beth and she comes racing to his aid. Shortly thereafter, Mears becomes infected herself and eventually succumbs to the virus. This is the movie reminding the audience that nobody is safe. Medical experts may know the most out of everyone in the room about the key to wellness, but they aren’t out of the woods.
As the film goes on, we see the widespread panic begin to escalate. Conspiracy theorist Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) uses his blog to claim that he has cured himself from the virus through a homeopathic cure derived from forsythia. As a result, pharmacies become raided by the panicked many that are seeking forsythia. In a key scene, Cheever chastises Krumwiede on live television for creating fear through means of rumors, basically stating the fake news he is spreading is far more dangerous than the disease itself. And might I remind you that this movie came out back in 2011?
Though we eventually arrive at the cure in the movie, it isn’t the (somewhat) optimistic ending that imprinted itself on my mental state once the film concluded. It was the the film’s sheer authenticity in its depiction of a frighteningly similar epidemic that is currently in the air. It was the unshakably chilling final scene that pulls back the curtain, revealing the virus’ source and through montage, how it found its way to its patient zero, Beth. How man’s carelessness, even those like her immune husband, who heedlessly rests his hand over his mouth while watching television, is scarier than anything.