It’s difficult to write about a film like Contagion (2011) without referring to the current Covid-19 pandemic that has changed the lives of almost all of humanity since the beginning of 2020. What’s most striking about Steven Soderbergh’s film, in fact, is how he managed to predict with such accuracy what we are experiencing since the epidemic rapidly expanded from the city of Wuhan in China and eventually affected the whole world.
Contagion is the chronicle of a pandemic seen by many characters around the world: the husband (Matt Damon) of patient zero (Gwyneth Paltrow) and her daughter (Irina Strokous) in Minneapolis; two workers of the CDC in Atlanta (Laurence Fishburne and Kate Winslet); a WHO researching evidence in the area of the first outbreak in China (Marion Cotillard); a conspiracy anti-vaccine blogger (Jude Law)… In short, there are many characters and Soderbergh’s goal seems to make a plausible story rather than a real drama in which the audience could empathize with the tragedies that take place on the screen.
Mission accomplished! There are countless episodes in the film that we are actually experiencing in the real world due to Covid-19… Contagion realistically depicts the spread of the infection and Fishburne’s heartfelt appeal for social distancing, and for hygiene and the importance of washing hands, seems to be one of the many appeals made by our politicians at the beginning of 2020. The conspiracy blogger represents a large group of people who still refuse to get vaccinated and even question the existence of the virus, already more than 3 million people died of it and 150 million got infected (source: Worldometers.info). And what about the young people who don’t want to give up parties and gatherings because they are wasting their previous time (Matt Damon’s daughter says so)!
The whole initial part on the mathematics behind the reproduction number of the virus, the R0, is also very interesting. In the film it’s 2 and it seems that for Covid-19 it is between 1.4 and 2.5 (Edwards Deming, 2020) . The fact that each infected person could pass the virus to two other people means that the number of infected can quickly become very high if adequate measures are not taken.
In fact, there are two main differences between the plot of the film and the Covid-19 reality. First, the virus is much more deadly in the film (20/30% mortality compared to a Covid-19 rate that reaches 15% only for very elderly patients in poor health conditions, as explained here). Second, in the film, world governments take a long time to put in place containment measures limiting the mobility of their citizens, but in 2020 this happened pretty quickly all over the world. Nobody expected here in Europe to be forced by our governments to stay indoors for two months in March 2020, but… it happened.
The final explanation of the origin of the pandemic is also beautiful, with us humans destroying the natural habitat of wild species (bats, in this case) for profit, thus causing our own destruction.
In short, Contagion certainly made into cinema history for having predicted 9 years in advance the biggest pandemic since the Spanish flu that caused 50 million deaths between 1918 and 1920. Also, Soderbergh shot a very tight thriller that works beyond the scientific accuracy of its script (by Scott Z. Burns), with an exceptional cast that also allowed him to have surprising plot twists because nobody expects the death of big stars (a bit like Scream did with the death of Drew Barrymore at the beginning). I conclude by recommending Contagion without a shadow of a doubt, although you’ve probably seen it already when everyone did it back in March / April 2020! Ciao!