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‘Contagion’ movie finds relevance in coronavirus pandemic, 9 years after release

Nothing spreads fast like fear.

Amid fears stocked by the coronavirus, the 2011 film Contagion about a pandemic with potentially strange similarities to recent events has seen it top charts as people use fiction as a means to process reality.

Many people across the globe rattled by the new virus have turned to the movies to make sense of what is going on.

The epidemiology thriller released on September 9, 2011, features a stellar cast that includes Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Winslet.

In the movie, the death of Beth Emhoff and her son leads to the discovery of a deadly virus that causes worldwide panic, as the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) struggles to curb its fast spread.

In the real life, the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) that broke out in China’s Wuhan province was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has sent panic far and wide threatening the world’s economies.

Yet the film Contagion is only one example of a recurring theme in movies from Hollywood associated with such a serious outbreak, a longtime staple of science fiction that has always been informed by scientific facts.

The confirmed cases of coronavirus (2019-nCoV, officially known as SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19) in China and other countries stands at more than 161,000 with 5,900 fatalities even as more than 75,900 people have recovered.

In 1995 two movies 12 Monkeys, a science-fiction plot about using time travel to try to thwart a growing plague set to wipe out humanity; and Outbreak, a more grounded premise in which an airborne virus is inadvertently smuggled into the US from Africa, forcing a team of doctors to race against time to save a town where the infection is spreading fast do not even come close to Contagion.

Contagion relates most directly with the current danger, beginning as it does with a woman who returns to Minnesota with a strange illness after a trip to Hong Kong.

In a matter of days, she’s dead, leaving her husband in a state of shock, before others begin exhibiting the same symptoms, as the outbreak spreads across the world.

The movie offers an alarming glimpse at a worst-case scenario. Rumors and panic begin to spread, and the guardrails quickly start to come off the society as the days click by, amid quarantines, looting and chilling scenes of vacant airports as is being experienced now.

Contagion is both horrifying and a little comforting as the scientists do eventually find and release a vaccine, and even though a lot of people die, most of the world’s population manages to survive.

But watching Contagion in 2020, what’s most striking about the movie is not really the central virus itself, though seeing the rising coronavirus fatality count has been heartbreaking and WHO is yet to find patient zero.