As the coronavirus COVID-19 continues to spread across the world and into the United States, widespread comparisons have been drawn between this outbreak and the global pandemic depicted in the 2011 Steven Soderbergh feature Contagion. Like many of Soderbergh’s directorial efforts, Contagion is an ensemble piece, with this particular movie using that extensive cast to explore various perspectives in the middle of a virus wiping away out significant parts of the human race. Among the perspectives explored is a frightened father, Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon), an Epidemic Intelligence Services officer, Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), and a conspiracy theorist blogger, Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law).
Contagion (2011) Official Trailer:
Released on September 9, 2011, Contagion, like the majority of Soderbergh’s works, attracted widespread critical acclaim, particularly for how it managed to juggle a number of disparate storylines without undercutting its ominous tone. Contagion was a box office hit thanks to a $75 million domestic, $135.5 million worldwide, box office haul. However, Contagion’s financial and critical success aren’t the reasons this motion picture has seen a resurgence in its pop culture presence in recent weeks. Instead, this 2011 film about a worldwide health epidemic has become all too relevant to a world now grappling with the effects of the coronavirus.
A number of specific plot elements found in Contagion‘sscreenplay by Scott Z. Burns have proven to be reflective of aspects of the current coronavirus outbreak. Many of these elements that have ended up paralleling reality can be attributed to how both Soderbergh and Burns wanted to make a movie about a global health scare that seemed realistic. Unlike other thrillers tackling similar subjects, Soderbergh and Burns intended for Contagion to embrace a more grim and grounded atmosphere that would take cues more from then-recent health epidemics like the swine flu, rather than other films in the genre, like The Crazies. As a result, Contagion stands out as a thriller that is also believable — resulting in Contagion mirroring a number of aspects of the 2020 coronavirus scare.
Just as the coronavirus has already inspired online doomsayers looking to drum up fear and clicks, so too does Contagion feature a character who spreads a sense of terror nearly as powerful as the film’s deadly disease. Contagion accurately depicts how much hysteria over a disease can be magnified by malicious uses of modern-day technology. Specifically, Contagion supporting character Alan Krumwiede spreads fear and uncertainty by perpetuating misinformation regarding the government having any kind of cure for the killer virus. In the process, his words, rooted in little-to-no factual accuracy, increase already volatile levels of fear in the general public.
In another parallel to the coronavirus outbreak, Contagion’s depictions of powerful officials responding to a health scare similarly ring true to reality: such depictions include the numerous instances in Contagion in which the audience is shown that government officials are putting economic concerns (specifically related to Thanksgiving shopping) and the safety of government officials above the well-being of the general populace. This element of Contagion is the most eerily-accurate of all its parallels to the Coronavirus outbreak; specifically, instances of government officials in Contagion choosing to keep the disease under wraps from the public mirror how Chinese government authorities initially subdued any acknowledgment of the existence of the Coronavirus even as the death toll for the sickness racked up. In both cases, attempts to minimize knowledge about a fatal epidemic were done in an attempt to mitigate potential public panic. In the end, though, such deceit on the part of government entities only caused greater and deadlier problems for their people in the long-run.
There is a sense of terrifying uncertainty for everyday people, like character Mitch Emhoff, just trying to survive from one day to the next in Contagion‘s epidemic. Emhoff’s struggles, as well as numerous other aspects of how Contagion approaches depicting a worldwide health scare, feel all too relevant to the similarly complicated coronavirus-infected world that present-day moviegoers find themselves enduring. Through such tough times, the realistic moral complexity and equally authentic terrors of Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion can provide some solace to viewers in reminding them that they’re not alone in their harrowing disease-related experiences.