Watching Steven Soderbergh’s grim disaster drama Contagion (2011) can be an uneasy experience at a time when countries worldwide are struggling to contain the pandemic of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Yet, reports indicate that Soderbergh’s film is one of the most widely watched ones on Amazon Prime Video and Google Play. The film is distressingly real and packaged with moments that remind us of the ongoing crisis repeatedly. Each actor in the movie’s fantastic ensemble cast delivers, making it a terrifying close-to-real viewing experience.
Matt Damon is Mitch Emhoff, an ordinary American citizen who loses his wife and stepson to the disease. Mitch is kept in self-isolation, a practice we are being advised to adopt every day.
Jude Law is Alan Krumwiede, a conspiracy theorist and blogger who turns the crisis into a financial opportunity to make quick bucks while he can. Law is brilliant as the film’s only villain and makes us hate him whenever he appears on the screen. Gwyneth Paltrow is Damon’s philandering wife Beth Emhoff, who has sex with her former lover. She is identified as the index case — the first documented patient in an epidemic — by Dr Leonora Orantes (Marion Cottilard), a World Health Organisation epidemiologist.
Kate Winslet is an Epidemic Intelligence Officer, a fiercely dedicated healthcare professional willing to take risks and deal with any crisis that confronts her. She perseveres until she falls sick and dies.
Laurence Fishburne is Dr Ellis Cheever, a physician with the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, is a deeply compassionate individual seeking solutions to tame the global menace. It is Jennifer Ehle as Dr Ally Hextall, a research scientist, who discovers that the hitherto-unknown MEV-1 virus causing deaths is a mix of the genetic material of bat and pig viruses. Her character utters the most famous line of the film: “Somewhere in the world, the wrong pig met up with the wrong bat.”
Elliot Gould playing the research scientist Dr Ian Sussman would identify the MEV-1 cell culture, and Hextall produces a vaccine that turns out to be the right medicine. Praised for its scientifically accurate portrayal, the outcome of in-depth research conducted by screenwriter Scott Z Burns, Contagion tells the viewer how quickly and mysteriously a pandemicspreads and how lethal it can be. The medical community tries what it can, also suffering because of the risks it takes.
The average person must maintain social distancing, try hard not to touch his or her face, and stay indoors to the extent possible. Nothing else can be done until a solution is found, and that need not happen overnight.
Contagion forces us to take our eyes off the screen for a second or two when a convulsing Beth lies on the floor with foam trickling out of the sides of her mouth. It tells us that desperate people can break queues and snatch ready-to-eat food when there is a shortage. The film would have been a fascinating watch if the world wasn’t dealing with a deadly virus and people weren’t getting infected – and dying. Watching it today is tough, but there are those who will do it anyway