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Contagion •••

Movie Greg Scott



Scott, as infectious as your personality is, what say we continue with our COVID-19 series by reviewing Contagion?

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Glad you appreciate my toxic personality, Gregger. Happy to spread it deep and wide. Let’s recap.

We’re introduced to Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) who has returned from a supposed business trip after a tryst with a friend in China. When her husband, Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon) comes home to find her in a seizure, he rushes her to the hospital. Later she and his stepson both die of the infection. Mitch is confined to the ICU as the doctors of the CDC try to isolate the virus he’s contracted.

Doctors soon learn that Mitch carries an immunity to the disease and thus may hold the key to developing a vaccine. CDC epidemiologist Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) begins an investigation to track the spread of the disease, becomes infected herself, and dies. Meanwhile, conspiracy theorists begin spreading rumors and peddling homeopathic cures. In addition, panic ensues in the cities, causing looting and rioting.

Scott, this film has its ups and downs. On the plus side – it is eerily prophetic in its depiction of a pandemic. The parallels to the COVID-19 pandemic are such as to beg the question “how could we not see this coming?” There is the origin of the virus (China’s wet markets), the conspiracy theory that the virus was a bioweapon, the conflict between politicians and scientists, a politician who warned his wife to evacuate, a hoax cure, and more. However, the mortality rate of Contatgion’s virus is 25-30 percent (compared to COVID-19’s 4%). So while the movie got a lot of the potential facts right, the rate the virus expanded and the death toll were significantly worse.

As a film I felt the plot meandered and lost its focus. The major investigator, Dr. Erin Mears () contracts the virus and dies at about the movie’s midpoint. This is problematic since the person who looked like the hero of the story is killed off just as we were getting to know her. Killing off this major character at the middle meant that we had to find a new hero to follow and care about.

Too much time is spent on Jude Law’s conspiracy theorist and the extremes he goes to in an effort to prove a fake cure using “forsythia” (similar to hydroxychloroquine) was real. He creates videos showing himself apparently infected, and then getting well under the drug’s use.

In the end I enjoyed this film mostly for its Nostrodamus-like prophecy. The performances were good. The effects and cinematography were good. I liked this film enough to award it 3 Heroes and 3 Reels.

Watching Contagion is a surreal experience in its all-too realistic depiction of our current COVID-19 pandemic. So many of the references are painfully familiar – the referencing of the 1918 Spanish flu, the panic buying, the social distancing, the origin of the infection in bats, etc, etc. Even the name of the illness, MEV-1, bears a resemblance to COVID-19. In addition, the symptoms of MEV-1 are eerily similar to our current coronavirus.

Given that Contagion boasts an impressive star-studded cast, I was surprised at how slow, plodding, and uninspired it was. Yes, there are heroes at work here attempting to unravel the mysteries of the virus, but with the exception of Kate Winslet’s character, I wasn’t dazzled by these heroes. I do give kudos to Matt Damon’s character for portraying an “everyman” perspective on the outbreak. Mitch is a flawed individual who does his best to navigate his way through the horrors of pain and loss.

As with all the pandemic movies we’re reviewing, this film has some elements that collide with reality, such as a miracle vaccine that is developed almost overnight. The story is also packed with simple character tropes such as the heroic scientist, the conspiracy theorist, and the everyman. But there is just enough reality to frighten us all and get us emotionally invested in the dire situation.

Movie Greg Scott

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