No one can deny that 2020 has been an historic year. Since nearly the beginning, there have been conflicts, unrest, and a worsening pandemic that has affected us all in many ways. It should come as no surprise, then, that the current COVID-19 virus and fallout was eerily predicted 9 years earlier in the thriller Contagion, a story told through various perspectives that at times seem inconceivable and at others all too real.
Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) recently returns from a business trip in China to her home in Chicago. Shortly after her return, she falls ill and dies, “Patient Zero” of a new disease that is beginning to spread in countries around the world. Several perspectives are analyzed, including Drs. Ellis Cheever and Erin Mears (Laurence Fishburne and Kate Winslet), members of the CDC who are trying to control spread of the “MEV-1” virus by enacting quarantine; Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon), Beth’s naturally immune widow who is attempting to keep his teenage daughter from falling ill; Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), a conspiracy theorist blogger who pushes a phony cure on the public in an attempt to profit, and Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard), a WHO epidemiologist who is kidnapped by a desperate Hong Kong government official that only wants to save his village. As MEV-1 grows more widespread and out of control, with no vaccine in sight, these perspectives all collide and intertwine through the shared experience of survival in a world under attack.
I probably don’t need to point out the similarities in Contagion’s events to the real world. The fact that MEV-1 is a bat-borne virus which spreads through respiratory droplets, requiring masks to limit spread from those infected, the fact that a false cure is advertised heavily by a controversial public figure who has financial holdings in said “cure’s” producer, the fact that stay-at-home orders and quarantine are met with opposition and chaos…these are all coincidences that one would find rather eerie after experiencing 2020. It adds to the film’s allure in that sense; how could one piece of media be so on-point? How could humans be so predictable? The performances from the entire cast help add to that realism, and at times I imagined that any of them could be real people right now, experiencing COVID-19 with the rest of us.
But regardless of how well Contagion matches up with real life, there were many things that did not; namely, the coherent and professional response to the MEV-1 pandemic by the US government. I wish that that wasn’t the case. I wish that real life was more like the movies. But I guess that’s what makes it real life.
In the end, while Contagion is a bleak reminder of the current events of the world, it does end in a positive note (spoiler alert): a vaccine is found and humanity begins to recover, with many new insights and challenges to wrestle with as time goes on. Let’s hope that 2020 can take a hint from Hollywood and do the same.
My Rating: 4.5/5
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%