Contagion sums up our lives in Covid-19 times
Contagion has been going viral (pun unintended) on the internet, and with time on one’s hands like never before and a pandemic declared, we can see why it might be so alluring.
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It is perhaps not very often that you could refer to a piece of fiction as a manual for what could happen in real life. The 2011 film Contagion is the manual that we are talking about and the parallel in real life is Covid-19 (no prizes for guessing that).
The movie has been going viral (pun unintended) on the internet, and with time on one’s hands like never before and a pandemic declared, we can see why it might be so alluring. If you haven't watched the movie yet, we suggest you do that before reading further. Contagion can be streamed on Amazon Prime Video.
For starters, in Contagion, a bat (the initial carrier of the virus that causes MEV-1 outbreak) drops a piece of a plantain that is eaten by a pig. That pig is then slaughtered for consumption, passing on a virus to humans. It is widely believed by the scientific community that the new strain of coronavirus which has infected nearly 4,00,000 people worldwide with Covid-19, may also have come from bats, with pangolins being the secondary carriers. Eerily similar? Wait for more.
Remember the part of the movie when looting and violence break out after several cities are placed under quarantine? I was talking to my colleague the other day and she told me that after the lockdown was announced, her neighbour ordered groceries online. The grocer delivered the consignment outside her door. However, before she could take the package in, someone had stolen ALL her groceries. It is times like these that bring out the real face of humanity and people tend to act in an extremely selfish way, resorting to even looting. Clearly, director Steven Soderbergh foresaw this.
The doctors dying and the governments lying? Jog your memory cells back to the news on Xi Jinping’s administration that concealed the outbreak of the virus from the first case — the 55-year-old Hubei resident who contracted this novel coronavirus back in November 2019 could have been ‘Patient Zero’— till December 31, 2019, when China finally informed the World Health Organization about the cases of an unknown illness.
In fact, a recent study shows that if Chinese authorities had acted three weeks earlier than when they finally did, the number of coronavirus cases could have been reduced by 95 per cent and its geographic spread limited. But then, we know not to expect consideration and such proactiveness from China.
Kate Winslet explaining the outbreak of various diseases to the public administration in Contagion. (Photo: Warner Bros)
The case of Dr Erin Mears, an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer (played by Kate Winslet) in Contagion is way too similar to that of whistle-blower Dr Li Wenliang in real life. Dr Wenliang wrote on social media about the possibility of an outbreak in December 2019 and was admonished by Wuhan Police for "making false comments on the Internet". He later died after contracting the Covid-19 infection. In the film, Dr Mears, who traces the infection to ‘Patient Zero’, is similarly admonished by local bureaucrats for causing panic in the movie. Further, she also contracts the infection at her job and dies. Spooky!
And then, of course, is the character of Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) — the conspiracy theorist who claims he cured himself of the virus using a homoeopathic cure derived from forsythia (a flowering plant). The parallel? The innumerable WhatsApp forwards that we get claiming cow's urine, onions, garlic, sesame oil, mustard flowers, and every other herb in your kitchen having the potential to cure Covid-19. And not to forget US President Donald Trump, whose tweet about hydroxychloroquine resulted in medicine stores running out of stock.
HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine. The FDA has moved mountains - Thank You! Hopefully they will BOTH (H works better with A, International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents).....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 21, 2020
Remember that Krumwiede was eventually arrested for spreading (and profiting from) misleading the people and promoting fake cures. You have been warned, professors of WhatsApp University.
Jude Law in Contagion plays the part of WhatsApp University in today's world. (Photo: Warner Bros)
However, most of all why Contagion has become the go-to movie in our current predicament is because it accurately depicted the uncertainty and helplessness that grips us today. Unlike other medical thrillers, Contagion does not vilify China or the Oriental world where the virus originates. I say this despite the movie showing the Chinese kidnapping epidemiologist Dr Leonora Orantes (played by Marion Cotillard) and holding her hostage to procure vaccines for their people. The desperation and suffering of the people is portrayed very sensitively. Contagion shows a mirror to the society on how little it takes for things to go disastrously wrong even in the ‘developed’ world. The exact situation that is unfolding in front of our eyes even as you read this.
Learning could come from various quarters for the people and the administration. Some strange foresight of Steven Soderbergh in the form of Contagion could be one such quarter.