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Why we shouldn’t let Contagion scare us

What we can learn from the disaster movie.

It seems like pandemic movies and documentaries are being re-watched in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. Maybe out of trying to understand more about the predicament we find ourselves in, in the shape of informational documentaries…or maybe it’s some sort of self flagellating, “I-want-to-heighten-my-fears-about-diseases” kind of way. This week, an older movie has been on people’s minds: Contagion. Though it was released nearly 10 years ago, the movie has regained popularity lately, especially these past few days because of the news regarding the medical consultant for the film, Dr. Ian Lipkin (the director of Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity). He has tested positive for the coronavirus.

It also came back into the limelight because the actress who played “patient zero” in Contagion (Gwyneth Paltrow) has been vocal on social media, claiming that she’s “been in this movie before.”

Whereas the movie toes the line between Hollywood thriller and scientific cautionary tale; we can try to learn from the situations put forth in Contagion and not end up in the same tumult and chaos that this film’s third act depicts. The most chilling moment is the final shot, where we see just how quickly a virus can spread, starting in a farm, working its way to a restaurant and then the chef shaking hands with a customer. While the movie ends on an ominous note, the current pandemic can have a lesser effect if we take lessons from the movie.

So, how can we learn from the movie and what are the measures to take?

WHAT TO DO? Healthy skepticism.

Quarantine/ Self Isolation

Respecting the boundaries and the curfews set out saved a lot of people in the movie. I’m sure we’ve heard about flattening the curve and there’s a good reason why (AKA, not overcrowding hospitals and saving the lives of the elderly/immunocompromised).

Take Safety Measures

Matt Damon plays Mitch, the husband of the Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow), who was seemingly the first to die from the disease. Mitch saw his wife and stepson die before him. He knew the precautions to take and he wouldn’t let his daughter Jory be near her boyfriend or affectionate (no kissing or hugging) which ultimately saved her life.

Mitch’s daughter Jory spent her Prom night at home.

WHAT NOT TO DO? Panic.

No hoarding supplies

In the film, the food rations are scarce and not everybody has access to it. In today’s real world, people are panicking over toilet paper. That same mentality of hoarding contributed to more deaths in the movie. If interested in a reason as to why we are hoarding toilet paper, here’s a rather interesting psychoanalytical explanation: What Would Freud Make of the Toilet-Paper Panic?

Not giving into the fear

There’s a reason the tag for Contagion is “Nothing spreads like fear” (see poster above). When fear and panic set in, we can get transported to a very primitive part of our brains that triggers our survival mechanism. When the cure finally hits the market in the movie, people kill each other over it, people looted businesses and general mayhem becomes normal. That situation can be avoided if we listen to Contagion’s message of not letting an unhealthy dose of fear guide us.

Let’s not make Contagion a reality.

At the end of the day, Contagion is just a movie. So stay calm, take things day by day and believe that you can make a difference.

Though not strictly a Movie Review, below is an Incluvie scale for reference.

Representation of women and POCs in highly respected positions and professions. Unfortunate that they made the disease start in China/Hong Kong.

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