Current conditions prompted the 2011 Warner Brothers movie Contagion to skyrocket to the top of the studio’s most-watched films, lingering only behind the Harry Potter series. It’s a bit morbid to think about people watching a fictitious movie from nine years ago during current events, but the flick was surprisingly prescient and held to high standards of scientific reality.
1. A study by the American Society for Microbiology in 2007 stated:
Paper published in 2007: "The presence of a large reservoir— Pablo Strobl-Mazzulla (@PstroblM) March 17, 2020
of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with
the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a time bomb". pic.twitter.com/nU8dPAaKP4
What does this have to do with Contagion? Well, the film’s MEV-1 virus is a strain containing pig and bat DNA that Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) contracts in Hong Kong.
Paltrow worked on the film for almost no salary as its Patient Zero.
2. In Contagion, MEV-1 made its way around the world and throughout countries in the span of days. Currently, COVID-19 is spreading rapidly as well, causing some countries to lock down cities and towns with reported infections of the disease to stop the day-by-day duplication of the virus.
The movie starred five Oscar winners and five nominees. Winners: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, and Steven Soderbergh. Nominees: Laurence Fishburne, Elliott Gould, John Hawkes, Jude Law and Bryan Cranston.
3. In a related bit of accuracy, the movie shows the spread of MEV-1 through contact tracing. This same methodology is used to illustrate the importance of staying home and avoiding unnecessary contact with other people in places where the virus is growing.
Damon, Paltrow, and Law previously worked together on the film The Talented Mr. Ripley.
4. The movie uses the term “fomite”, which refers to an item that can harbor the pathogens of a virus on its surface, allowing it to spread. Some of the film’s illustrations were accurate, including Paltrow’s character Beth using a credit card in a restaurant or touching other high-traffic objects after the virus was infectious. However, the items interacted with during the first hours of infection - like her ex-lover - were definitely for cinematic tension. WASH YOUR HANDS.
Jennifer Connolly was considered for the role of Beth Emhoff.
5. Contagion’s death rate is 20%, which is 10 times more than COVID-19’s 2% mortality rate. Paltrow’s character dies after only four days of illness with the onset of seizures beginning after two days. It’s a speedier incubation and infected period than COVID-19, which can take up to two weeks to present symptoms.
This was the first Soderbergh movie released into IMAX theaters.
6. The vaccine development in the movie takes only four months. At around four months past the initial reports of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, there is still not a vaccine available for deployment. Furthermore, a doctor developing the vaccine in the movie tests it on herself, which is not exactly the best way to make sure it will work for everyone. In reality, 45 healthy volunteers received a vaccination for COVID-19 on March 16 in order to test it on people of all ages prior to deployment.
Winslet and Law play a brother and sister in this movie, with the former playing an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer and the latter a fear-spreading conspiracy theorist. They portrayed siblings in one other film, The Holiday, but also played love interests in All the King’s Men.
7. The authenticity of the final scenes of Contagion that show how the virus came to be is so high that it has been shown to students studying infectious diseases. The forest habitat of bats is destroyed by crews, forcing the animals to alter their interactions and flight path. Infected bats drop half-eaten food into a pen holding pigs raised as food for humans, contaminating them. A chef preparing the meat from the infected pigs shakes hands with Paltrow’s character and the disease is off and running.
Cotillard was six months pregnant when she wrapped filming. Winslet only spent 10 days filming her part.
8. Finally, promotion of Contagion involved two Petri dishes in a Toronto storefront. As the bacteria in the dishes grew, it formed the film’s name and biohazard symbols.