Finding Comfort In ‘Contagion’ During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Earlier this month, Business Insider reported that Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film, Contagion was “ surging in popularity due to the coronavirus” and the New York Times reported that while the film was ranked 270th in the Warner Bros. catalog as of December, it has now jumped to second, right behind the Harry Potter films.

Societal norms act as invisible brakes on the worst parts of human nature, so perhaps watching a movie that depicts how those societal norms break down in the wake of a pandemic as the world is currently in the grips of COVID-19 makes no sense. For some, it’s certainly ill-advised to the point of being foolish. However, human nature also seems to include morbid curiosity about the worst possible outcomes we may face as individuals and as a people. Somehow, it seems we find comfort in flaunting our new closer proximity to catastrophe.

Contagion doesn’t necessarily do much to illustrate answers to the deeper questions around the then somewhat abstract scenario of a truly global pandemic. Instead, it keeps its scope relatively contained to a mainly nuts and bolts procedural portrayal of what people should potentially be afraid of going forward from that point. Examined in the light of when it was produced and released, soon after the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and in the wake of other then recent pandemics and epidemics, the film seems meant almost as a stab at attitudinal correction for anyone who didn’t take those threats seriously.

Today, it may be worrisome and sobering to watch the film and recognize terminology and scenarios that are now echoed in our current lives. Maybe, though, it is also comforting to recognize that the filmmakers merely took those elements from experts who had been thinking about the possibility of a catastrophic pandemic and planning for its eventuality not only since 2011, but well before. Even though this is all mainly new to most people, it has been a deadly real possibility to some for a long time. Now, we can only hope that those real life experts are allowed to apply their knowledge and abilities to this very dire reality we now live in that may seem like something out of an old B-movie plot or its upscale version from nearly a decade ago.

‘Contagion’ is directed by Steven Soderbergh, written by Scott Z. Burns, and distributed by Warner Home Video.