With the tagline: “Don’t talk to anyone. Don’t touch anyone”, this B-rated movie “Contagion” (2011), directed by Stephen Soderbergh, is eerily prescient nine years later.
A pandemic–“a novel virus”– is about to create havoc, beginning with the opening scene where Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) is at the Hong Kong airport, waiting to catch a plane back to Chicago. Her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) will soon discover that his wife is patient zero–the original carrier of the deadly virus which begins to get out of control in a matter of days. The CDC’s principal investigators, Dr. Mears (Kate Winslet) and Dr. Cheever (Laurence Fishburne), attempt to identify the virus and develop a vaccine while analyzing the exponential rate of growth. Everyone worldwide is advised to stay calm, maintain social distancing (yes, they use that term) and wear masks to avoid touching their own faces. It is unsettling to hear terms now commonplace such as fomites (the surfaces to which viruses cling) and R0 (“r-naught”)–the number of people a single carrier infects.
Several days pass before anyone realizes the extent or gravity of this new virus. In Contagion we see hospital workers with insufficient protective equipment,– some without N95 masks,– succumb as first responders. Do you hear the Twilight Zone theme song yet? The Centers for Disease Control, led by Dr. Cheever’s investigative team, is villified and accused of conspiracies. An unethical journalist profits from a homeopathic “cure” which creates mobs at local drugstores. Looting and panic ensue.
As the contagion spreads to millions of people worldwide, societal order begins to break down as people panic in the uncertainty that a vaccine will be developed.
The second time around, viewing Contagion is a chilling déjà vu. No longer a film of science fiction, depicting a dystopia in the distant future, Contagion is a cautionary tale right now… for all of us.