Contagion is a 2011 American thriller film directed by Steven Soderbergh. Its ensemble cast includes Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle, and Sanaa Lathan.
The plot concerns the spread of a virus transmitted by respiratory droplets and fomites, attempts by medical researchers and public health officials to identify and contain the disease, the loss of social order in a pandemic, and the introduction of a vaccine to halt its spread.
To follow several interacting plot lines, the film makes use of the multi-narrative “hyperlink cinema” style, popularized in several of Soderbergh’s films.
Following their collaboration on The Informant! (2009), Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns discussed a film depicting the rapid spread of a virus, inspired by epidemics such as the 2002–2004 SARS outbreak and the 2009 flu pandemic. Burns consulted with representatives of the World Health Organization as well as medical experts such as W. Ian Lipkin and Larry Brilliant. Principal photography started in Hong Kong in September 2010, and continued in Chicago, Atlanta, London, Geneva, and San Francisco until February 2011.
Contagion premiered at the 68th Venice International Film Festival in Venice, Italy on September 3, 2011, and was theatrically released on September 9, 2011. Commercially, the film made $136.5 million against its $60 million production budget. It was praised by critics for its narrative and the performances. It was also well received by scientists, who lauded its accuracy.
Renewed Popularity (COVID-19 Foreshadowing)
In 2020, the film received renewed popularity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which bears some resemblance to the pandemic depicted in the film.
Contagion (2011) – Theatrical Poster
Returning from a Hong Kong business trip, Beth Emhoff meets with a former lover during a Chicago layover. Two days later, back home in suburban Minneapolis, she has a seizure. Her husband, Mitch Emhoff, rushes her to the hospital, but she dies of unknown causes. Returning home, Mitch finds that his stepson, Clark, has also died. Mitch is isolated but found to be naturally immune; after being released, Mitch protectively keeps his teenage daughter, Jory, quarantined at their house.
In Atlanta, Department of Homeland Security representatives meet with Dr. Ellis Cheever of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over concerns that the disease may be a bioweapon. Cheever dispatches Dr. Erin Mears, an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer, to Minneapolis where she traces everyone who had contact with Beth. She negotiates with reluctant local bureaucrats to commit resources for a public health response. Soon after, Mears becomes infected and dies. As the novel virus spreads, several cities are placed under quarantine, causing wide-spread looting and violence.
At the CDC, Dr. Ally Hextall determines the virus is a combination of genetic material from pig and bat-borne viruses. Research on a cure stalls because scientists are unable to discover a cell culture within which to grow the newly identified MEV-1. Dr. Cheever determines the virus too virulent to be researched at multiple labs and restricts all work to one government site. Dr. Hextall orders University of California researcher Dr. Ian Sussman to destroy his samples. Believing he is close to finding a viable cell culture, Sussman violates Cheever’s order and eventually identifies a usable MEV-1 cell culture using bat cells, from which Hextall develops a vaccine. Other scientists determine the virus is spread by respiratory droplets and fomites, with a basic reproduction number of four when the virus mutates; they project that 1 in 12 of the world population will be infected, with a 25–30% mortality rate.
Conspiracy theorist Alan Krumwiede posts videos about the virus on his blog. In one video, he claims to have cured himself of the virus using a homeopathic cure derived from forsythia. People seeking forsythia overwhelm pharmacies, turning violent when limited supplies run out. During a television interview, Krumwiede discloses that Cheever secretly warned his fiancée to leave Chicago before quarantine was declared. Cheever is informed he will be investigated. Krumwiede, having faked being infected to boost sales of forsythia, is arrested for conspiracy and securities fraud.
Using an attenuated virus, Hextall identifies a potential vaccine. To expedite the vaccine development, Hextall bypasses the informed consent test subject process. She instead inoculates herself with the experimental vaccine, then visits her infected father. She does not contract MEV-1 and the vaccine is declared a success. The CDC awards vaccinations by lottery based on birthdates. By this time, the death toll has reached 2.5 million in the U.S. and 26 million worldwide.
Earlier in Hong Kong, World Health Organization epidemiologist Dr. Leonora Orantes and public health officials comb through security video tapes of Beth’s contacts in a Macau casino and identify her as the index case. Government official Sun Feng kidnaps Orantes as leverage to obtain MEV-1 vaccine doses for his village, holding her for months. WHO officials provide the village with earliest vaccines and Orantes is released. When she learns the vaccines were placebos, she runs to warn the village.
In a flashback to the spillover event, a bulldozer razes palm trees while clearing a rainforest in China, disturbing some bats’ natural habitat. One bat finds shelter in avv pig farm and drops an infected piece of banana, which is eaten by a pig. The pig is slaughtered and prepared by a chef in a Macau casino, who transmits the virus to Beth via a handshake.
Predictive Programming is the concept whereby conspirators plan a false flag operation, they hide references to it in the popular media before the atrocity takes place; when the event occurs, the public has softened up, and therefore passively accepts it rather than offering resistance or opposition.