Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 thriller ‘Contagion’ was applauded for its fast-paced and scientifically accurate narrative of the rapid outbreak of a virus which quickly becomes a pandemic. Nine years from its release, the movie has come to life in real time with the Covid-19 outbreak which has crippled nations across the world and killed almost 350,000 people globally. The movie featured an ensemble cast with Matt Damon, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne and Bryan Cranston playing different characters caught in the the middle of a global pandemic.
Contagion featured a virus emerging through human activities encroaching on the natural habitat of bats – one of which drops an infected banana into a pig farm. A pig eats the infected banana and the mixing of the bat and pig DNA, creates a highly virulent strain of virus, which begins to infect people as they come in contact with the same. From Macau, China, the virus infects different people who in turn infect others across the world and being an airborne virus, it spreads rapidly across the world.
The Covid-19, also emerged in similar fashion, in the live-animal markets of Wuhan, China and through close contact and respiratory droplets produced by coughing, sneezing or talking, it rapidly spread across the world. The virus does have resemblance to bat coronavirus genome samples, thus suggesting that, like in Contagion, the virus could have originated in bats. The difference between the virus in Contagion or MEV-1 as it is called in the movie and the novel Covid-19 virus, is the mortality rate. The virus in the movie, had a mortality rate of around 25-30% while the Covid-19 virus has a mortality rate of 2-3% which is good for us.
However, the movie showed our tendency for procrastination, the political and bureaucratic incompetence among different global agencies and the altogether human trait of selfishness. In the movie, we had different agencies at odds with one another, gag orders on research into the virus, media persons spreading fake and inaccurate news about miracle cures against scientific evidence. Most people in 2011, accepted that as a creative license by the film-maker, to create sort of heroes and villains within the thriller. However, forward to 2020, in the middle of a real life pandemic, we see exactly the same situation in our daily lives – people stuck inside their homes, complete shut down of services and travel, mass graves in certain regions, politicians and the media parading false cures like Hydroxychloroquine, a drug used to prevent and treat malaria, which helped alleviate Covid-19 symptoms in some patients to a certain extent but was advertised by President Donald Trump and his followers as a cure despite being told the opposite by the WHO and the scientific community at large.
We also saw human greed, when nations began diverting essential supplies of masks and PPEs to their hospitals by overpaying and cutting other buyers from the same. We saw hoarding, demonization of certain ethnicities like the racist language towards Asian communities, and hostile business takeovers of pharmaceutical firms in different countries, to source vaccines for one’s own people, as we the President of the USA, Donald Trump do.
In ways, the real life politicians and media were far worse than the movie could ever depict, which says something about humanity. Times of crisis bring out the worst in most of us and the best in some. The real fight during a crisis isn’t against the external danger but rather it is the struggle to not let the darkness within us overwhelm the good. Watch Contagion, to gain an understanding of not just nature correcting itself at our expense but to also delve into human actions and arrogance that have resulted in the same.
A brilliant fast-paced thriller which comes extremely close to reality