“We’re working very hard to find out where this virus came from. To treat it and to vaccinate against it if we can. We don’t know all of that yet, we just don’t know. What we do know, is that in order to become sick you have to first come in contact with a sick person or something that they touched. In order to get scared, all you have to do is to come in contact with a rumor, or the television or the internet. I think what Mr. Krumwiede is uh… is spreading, is far more dangerous than the disease.”
I wanted to watch this film today firstly because it seemed topical with the COVID-19 pandemic spreading across the world right now, and also because I guess I hoped it would poke fun of the situation and therefore make me less worried.
Have to say, watching the film did successfully calm my nerves for one reason, and scared me to my core for another which I will get to it a little bit.. P.S. This review is a bit longer than I normally do because there was a lot to wrap my brain around and I really, really want to unpack that. aka TLDR… Here goes!
Firstly, the fictitious virus that spreads in the film (MEV-1, inspired by the nipah virus) is obviously a very agressive virus. It spreads easily through both touch and droplets released from the nose and mouth making it extremely contagious, and the fatality rates are very high as it causes inflamation of the brain. So in a way, I was calmed because I know COVID-19 is not as contagious and that the mortality rates are actually quite low in comparison (in the region of 3-10% depending on the country, the host’s ability to access quality health care and some factors around their health and age, whereas the virus in Contagion affected and killed people indiscriminantly so regardless of their health). In the film they said 1 in 5 would contract the virus, but it seemed to kill every person who came into contact with it. With the exception of Matt Damon…….. **big big hollywood sigh**
However, the film was unsettling to say the least. I’ve watched many outbreak films before and there’s always something ridiculous about them. For instance, Shaun of the dead, 28 days later, I Legend and countless others. All of them seem so far from current reality that I can sit comfortably in that and enjoy the ride. In Contagion the makers obviously wanted the film to be scientifically as close to reality as possible. They did their research about how viruses spread from ground zero onto other hosts, they mentioned stats about death rates of real viruses like Spanish Flu (the 1918 pandemic that killed 500 million people and killed somewhere in the region of 50 to 100 million people) and they showed how easily viruses spread through tense scenes following infected parties touch people and items like inside of buses, food and so on. The icing on the cake which literally gave me chills was the end scene which reveals the route of the virus to patient zero (Paltrow) whereby a bat comes into contact with a fruit, which comes into contact with a pig, which comes into contact with a chef who does not wash his hands and then goes on to shake hands with Paltrow. Before, it is presumed Paltrow contracted it whilst having an affair with another party, and there’s this sense almost like that makes it less tragic, but when you find out how it actually happened you realise nothing could have prevented it (except good hand washing hygiene, wash your hands people). Also, bats are known to have zoonotic diseases, i.e. diseases which can easily be spread across species. The fact that they used bats as the source of the virus in this film, which could very well have been the source of the COVID-19… You know, when I was a kid I was never really scared of bats like other people were. Batman used to be a symbol of fear, and I remember one film Ace Ventura 2 where Jim Carrey is seen fearfully running with this sacred bat over his head and screaming.. none of that scared me… but seeing that cute little bat drop that little fruit and kill Paltrow scarred my very core and I will be forever changed.
The other scary part of the film, and the point the quote gets at in the film, is how dangerous misinformation can be spread, because words can spread and takeover a host as quickly and be just as deadly. Firstly people start to panic and protest and loot. There is also a supposed prophet tells vulnerable people that a herbal medicine called forsythia is the cure that the government have been holding back, and 6 million people trust in this man and potentially die – though you never see the real consequences to people in the film, only the consequences to the perpetrator of the lie.
Ultimately though, the team saves the day and develops a widespread vaccine in four months… FOUR MONTHS?! Get out of here. That’s the least believable part. That and Matt Damon’s acting when he finds out his wife has died. Like did you even like her? Joking aside, the makers of the film went to all the trouble of making sure it was as believable as possible only to fastrack a vaccine which we all know takes longer than 4 months to produce…
So all in all, very chilling film. Has a surpringly low rating of 6.5 on IMDB. I assume this is because there is very little action in this despite being filled to the brim with MASSIVE names like Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Bryan Cranston, Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, and obviously Gwyneth Paltrow. But I thought it was really well done, pretty tense throughout and gave me a lot to think about and would definitely recommend.