Contagion, the Movie

I finally got around to seeing the movie Contagion tonight. It was very good, lived up to all the positive reviews. I don’t know that I can add much to the reviews that have already been out. I appreciated that they gave a very natural and possible origin for the virus. It wasn’t a weapon or caused by human manipulation, or some weird alien. Nature is wilder and less predictable than fiction.

It was hard for me to watch as a regular viewer. I kept checking things off my list that should happen or checking to see that things looked accurate. For the most part they hit most of the things that should happen and got it right. A few things were sped up a bit — that was awfully fast vaccine production for a novel virus. It also gave the impression that people were safe as soon as they got the vaccine, when in reality it takes a couple of weeks to generate the immunity.  I also don’t know what a statewide quarantine was supposed to do.

Contagion has educational value. This type of movie is probably the best way to reach the general public. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well it is doing at the box office. If the public learns anything at all about epidemiology it was worth all the time the experts put in advising on the movie. If it encourages a few more people to go into public health all the better. I think it could also be useful for training public health students, biosecurity students in particular. They put into practice some of the plans that were discussed in my biosecurity program. By making it an encephalitis they omitted the ventilator debates and provided about as tidy of a death as a rapid infectious disease can bring. The movie did a good job of showing the social reactions to a severe pandemic — strikes or job walk-offs, difficulties with quarantines (and teenagers), quack medicine, people preying on public fear and runs on pharmacies and grocery stores. I thought the funeral home turning away grieving families over liability concerns was a nice touch. Mortuary practices are a very real problem in pandemics.

I’m more interested now to know what people outside of biology, healthcare and public health think of the movie. The only reaction I have heard personally was “scary”. Ironically I didn’t find it scary, probably because I’ve spent so much time on similar scenarios in my public health training. If you have seen the movie, please share your thoughts in the comments below.


2 thoughts on “Contagion, the Movie

  1. I haven’t seen the film but I’m interested to hear that you think the science of it is plausible – and comforted that you weren’t scared as it suggest that if ‘it’ happened, some people somewhere know what to do about it!

    I think you’re right, the silver screen can help popularise desciplines. I shouldn’t think the police have much problem recruiting forensic scientists following all those CSI programmes, and I was pleased to hear that the number of UK students doing science qualifications has shot up since we’ve had a rash of ‘sexy’ science presenters… a bit embarassing, I grant you, but if it works – !


  2. The best description I’ve heard is “possible but unlikely” and I would agree with that. It is certainly possible. The recent H1N1 spread as fast and as easily, it just wasn’t as deadly.

    Well, if it was reality, then I would have plenty of anxiety. Knowing what should happen and being able to do it are very different things, especially if you aren’t in a position to have much influence. I already know what that was like – watching H1N1 from the sidelines was frustrating.


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