Contagion (2011)

Contagion is an American medical disaster thriller film that was released in 2011, directed by Steven Soderbergh, and stars Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Jude Law, Bryan Cranston, Kate Winslet, and many other stars. 

When you hear about Contagion in passing as a film that centers around a deadly disease and the country’s efforts to survive it, you might not think it’s worth your time. However, the film is compelling and you actually feel fear. Scary movies about monsters and entities are scary, but you know it’s not possible for these things to happen. Thrillers about deadly diseases are a whole different ballpark, simply because at the back of your mind, you think this could happen, which makes the fear that much more real. 

The plot of the film center around the spread of a virus that’s transmitted by fomites and the effort of medical researchers and public health officials to identify the disease, contain it, and create a vaccine for it. What’s so interesting about this film is that we get to experience the two sides of the coin: the loss of social order that follows a pandemic and the behind-the-scenes work that must be done in order to stop the pandemic and regain that lost order. 

Contagion shows us these many different experiences beautifully because we’re watching several plot lines that interact with each other. The film uses the multi-narrative style, and you engage with every single story. 

We’re first introduced to patient zero, Beth Emhoff, who returns from a trip to Hong Kong with a cold. It’s revealed that it’s not just a common cold when she suddenly dies after suffering a severe seizure, and is then followed by her son. Her husband Mitch is severely distraught and confused. While he’s in isolation, it’s clear that he’s immune to the disease, so he gets to go home with his daughter Jory, but they’re not sure she shares his immunity. Through their experience, we see the loss of social order, and we see the struggles of surviving in a world full of chaos. 

We also meet Dr. Ellis Cheever of the CDC who meets with Homeland Security because they fear this disease might be a bio weapon attack. Dr. Cheever works with Dr. Erin Mears, and Epidemic Intelligence Service officer, who investigates and traces the outbreak to Beth. However, she becomes infected and dies. The country sinks deeper in despair as more and more people die.

At the CDC, Dr. Ally Hextall finds that the virus is a mix of genetic material from bat and pig viruses. However, they’re unable to discover a cell culture to grow the virus MEV-1 and find a cure. 

A UCSF professor violets orders from the CDC to destroy the samples of the virus, and he identifies a cell culture they can use. This breakthrough allows them to start working on a vaccine. They also discover that the virus is spread by fomites with a basic reproduction number of 4, and they project that 1 in 12 will be infected, which is 8.3% of the world, and the virus has a 25 to 30% mortality rate. 

As they work on a vaccine, the death toll skyrockets, but they eventually get it done. There are other stories on this multi-narrative film, but we leave them for you to discover. The source of the virus is also reveled at the end of the film, once the vaccine has been created and the world is restoring order, in an amazing sequence that follows the unfortunate meeting of the wrong pig with the wrong bat.