The first time I saw Contagion, I was on a plane and I also happened to be sick with flu-like symptoms. I knew it was only a movie, but I will admit there was a small part of me that was nervous; I wasn’t nervous that I had MEV1, because I knew that was totally made up. But nevertheless I was nervous. I was sitting on a plane breathing recirculated air with 500 other people, any of whom could be carrying (if not MEV1) a strange new microbe. I was already already sick with something and wondered what would happen if I was the one infected with some strange new disease that would infect the entire plane. After about ten minutes worrying about this, I just gave up and went to sleep. There was nothing I could do about it, anyway. My flu-like symptoms disappeared a week later and I didn’t develop any strange new disease.
Of all the films we’ve seen and the books we’ve read this semester, none has shaken me as much as Contagion did. Thinking back on that first time I saw it brings me to one obvious question: why in the world was I so scared from it?
The whole idea of a pandemic and biological warfare fascinates (and terrifies me) – I’m going to be writing my final paper on this topic, actually. In doing my research for the paper, I have read some crazy things (for example, “The Coming Plague” by Laurie Garrett) that have only validated what I have come to understand about my initial reaction towards Contagion. My conclusion is this: I was so shaken by Contagion because it’s so realistic; this isn’t some hazy The Road type apocalypse- this is something that has happened in the past (think 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic, or even the global spread of HIV/AIDS) and can certainly happen again at any time! With every advance we make in science, it becomes clearer and clearer that the microbial world is at a distinct advantage: we can’t predict what they’re going to do next.
Contagion reflects society’s great fear of the microbial world and biological warfare. It’s a fear that’s well deserved; in our battle against the microbes, we’re not always victorious. Think of the vaccine-resistant strains of diseases that emerge every once in a while: we can fight our hardest, but sometimes that’s just not enough.
It’s a scary thought.