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Why are we seeking comfort in pandemic narratives?

If anyone's making money during this pandemic, it's Steven Soderbergh...

As you've probably already noticed, the 2011 film Contagion has quickly become the most popular film to stream in the world over the past 3 months. The film is okay... definitely one of Soderbergh's better-known pieces, but certainly not his best. Nonetheless, the film has a star-studded cast and weaves a pretty frightening illustration of paranoia amidst an unknown deadly virus. The fictional MEV-1 virus spreads fast, infects millions of people worldwide, and sends them into a mass panic where some basically start purging their neighbourhoods. It's the only movie I've seen that has made me instantly want to wash my hands. Also, hats off to Soderbergh who hired an actual medical consultant to ensure his narrative was accurate to the facts on deadly viruses and pandemics. I must say, however; rewatching this film during the time of an outbreak was quite a realistic nightmare.

Contagion is definitely not the first film about a deadly virus that has been cited throughout the COVID-19 outbreak. Many meme accounts have been using scenes from 28 Days Later, a film about a zombie-rage virus that infects the citizens of the UK, to crack jokes about what it's like to walk outside during a quarantine. Yet, Google has seen an upsurge of people searching "How similar is COVID-19 to the virus from Contagion?," not "Will COVID-19 turn people into zombies," so it's safe to say that Soderbergh's thriller has had a global impact about 9 years too late. But why are people enjoying this movie so much? Why cause yourself more paranoia whilst being trapped inside your house in social isolation? Well, it may have something to do with the fact that Contagion has become a sort of "bible" for sicknesses, and the events that unfold within the movie kind of hit the nail on the head for what's been a glorious start to the new decade.

Answering the question of whether COVID-19 is similar to Contagion's narrative is difficult. Had I written this blog post at the beginning of March I could've easily told you that Contagion contrastingly told the story of a pandemic, portrayed a mass paranoia that had people rioting the streets, and killed thousands of people. However, telling you that the film has no similarities to our current condition as of May 21st, would be a bit of a lie, wouldn't it? At a time where the cast of Contagion has had to get together on Zoom to share tips about washing your hands, staying healthy and staying positive during quarantine, it's safe to say that people have noticed the film's similarities as well. Both viruses were even presumed to have been started by a bat.

So why is everyone so eager to watch a depressing movie during an equally stressful and mindnumbing time? Well, because it's a way better-- and a lot healthier-- method of getting through this pandemic than watching the news.

In an article for, a psychologist named Dr. Pamela Rutledge suggested that watching movies like Contagion or Outbreak are actually an important way of finding closure during this tough time. While the films' journeys are incredibly anxiety-inducing, all the fear and paranoia surrounding their pandemics are ultimately resolved by the end. In fact, Contagion gives its audience a pretty happy ending considering its depressing plot. Something that Rutledge sees as being a gratifying experience for a viewer. She states "A lot of collective fear around the unknowability of the virus also compels us to turn to the screen for answers, or solace..." (Rutledge). What the ending of Contagion tells us is that this time will pass, the world will heal, and society will get back on track (at least eventually). And as hard as it may be for us to have faith in this film's ending, that does not take away from the good feeling it gives us to see Lawerence Fishburn's character give his vaccination away to a less fortunate family and Matt Damon's character hold a prom for his daughter. Maybe, for the time being, this little light of fictional hope is something we can all enjoy right now.

But while we are all seeking guidance from Soderbergh's film, I ask that you pay close attention to one specific narrative in the story, because boy does Soderbergh accurately illustrate how pandemics impact different cultures. In the film, Marion Cotillard's character, an epidemiologist for WHO and a public health official in Hong Kong, is kidnapped from a government official in order to obtain the MEV-1 vaccine for his village. When she is subsequently released, and WHO provides the village with the vaccine, she is informed the doses given were placebos. The film never returns to this minor plot point but based on our own knowledge of how pandemics treat the less fortunate, we really don't need closure to understand what happened to the village.

COVID-19 has already had a terrifying impact on rapidly-decreasing rural communities across the world, raising important issues on just how differently this disease has been impacting low-income families. Not only have rural communities become a hot spot for the virus, but the virus itself is only a small increment of what has damned these families. Across Canada, small communities have lost their jobs, access to the internet, and have been struggling to provide for their families. What are people supposed to do when they don't have the resources to physically distance themselves? The disease and devastation it has caused will only continue to thrive.

Another lesson Contagion teaches that is of utmost importance during this is to please- FOR THE LOVE OF GOD- find factual news sources to get your information from and think critically before you find yourself taking part in a bullshit conspiracy about Bill Gates creating infectious diseases.

One of the film's minor- and possibly my favourite plot point, involves Jude Law's character, an infamous blogger and conspiracy theorist, creating a dangerous claim that he had cured himself of MEV-1by using forsythia, causing millions of people around the world to ransack their local drug stores. Turns out Law had never been sick in the first place and is later arrested on accounts of conspiracy and security fraud.

Weirdly enough, our pandemic has had a president tell a country to consider drinking Lysol to cure the disease, and a bunch of anti-vaxx mothers on Facebook share a link to a conspiracy documentary called Plandemic with the caption "this documentary does make a valid point." Not too far off. And as we approach month 3 of isolation, I have to tell you that nothing is more scary and frustrating to see as a media graduate than someone claiming that the real reason +310 thousand people have died is because a discredited doctor told them that wearing a mask "makes you sick," and diseases are manufactured by the US government to stop people from voting Trump.

Times like these are breeding grounds for conspiracy, and it can be hard for people to not jump to conclusions when the entire world is in a state of emergency. Research has actually shown that conspiracy theories are extremely common reactions to crises. It really can be hard to blame someone for believing in a conspiracy, when it is often being used as a way to come to terms with the changing world around them. But that doesn't mean that conspiracies are not extremely dangerous. As we saw in Contagion, a conspiracy theory allowed for people to develop a complete lack of trust in medical authorities and an increase in hostility and violence, leading to more cases. Hmm, sounds pretty similar to the marches that took place across North America a few weeks ago. And probably the most disgusting thing to come out of this pandemic, conspiracy theories and just an overwhelming lack of knowledge have led to racist attacks against Chinese communities. A pandemic is not an ideal situation for anyone and I understand that it can be hard not to seek out an easy understanding of why 2020 has been a terrible year. That being said, if you find yourself getting your information from a platform that has a reputation for spreading false information and conspiracy, then this quarantine is only going to continue to extend and my faith in humanity will continue to plummet.

So if you find comfort in watching Matt Damon, Lawerence Fishburne and Kate Winslet attempt to survive a deadly virus, then continue to watch movies like Contagion or Outbreak. In many ways, they give us something to relate to and endings that can give us consolation for the future of COVID-19, while also scaring its audiences into frantically washing their hands every 5 minutes (hey, it's a good thing!!!). Above all else, it will probably give you more accurate information on pandemics and deadly viruses than what you're receiving from Plandemic (seriously, PLEASE do anything else but give this documentary more attention... I'm really starting to get annoyed).

**A bit off-topic but we could all use a fun-fact right now. Remember that final scene in David Fincher's psychological thriller, Seven, that may have involved Gwyneth Paltrow's head in a box? Well Fincher had originally planned to show the head in the film, having the practical effects team construct a pretty decent fake head that would later be debuted in the actress's autopsy scene in Contagion... I love a good recycling fact.

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