When Beth Emhall returns from an international business trip feeling unwell things rapidly get out of hand, and it’s not long before it becomes evident that a dangerous pandemic is likely. Scientists begin work immediately on trying to develop a vaccine. This seems a distant hope until Dr Hextall notices that one of the trial monkeys has survived…
Originally made in 2011, Contagion is one of the popular home-watch movies at the moment. You might wonder what would make us want to watch a fictional account of a global virus during a real global virus. It’s not always an easy watch, and not for everyone. But if nothing else it serves as a timely reminder to stay home and stay safe. It shows us why distancing is such a good thing. Why we are all a vital part of saving lives. Perhaps too there’s a sort of strange curiosity in watching this kind of story, maybe an odd kind of escapism, this isn’t our virus after all. It’s effects and impact are quite quite different. They are made up.
And this is not the only thing that is different. There is something missing. Something that perhaps would detract from the tension. Or maybe the film makers just couldn’t imagine it. The acts of kindness. The reaching out to each other. The applause out of our windows. The use of social media to inform, cheer and encourage. The unexpected heroes inspiring other unexpected heroes. There is little sign of this. Contagion is after all a thriller. But I find something oddly heartening in the way the makers failed to predict goodness. They imagined disruption and panic buying and stressful exchanges. They envisioned the worst but missed the best. They failed to see beyond the troubles to human nature at its finest. People embracing true humanity, in the midst of trouble. Their lives different, their priorities altered. Because caring has become a priority.
This reminded me of another ancient film – ‘So Long at the Fair’ (early Dirk Bogarde). A visitor to Paris in the year of the Great Exhibition disappears. Everyone conspires to obliterate all trace of him. The story follows the determined effort of his sister to find him. The reason for his ‘disappearance’ is that he has plague and everyone is terrified that any rumour of contagion will drain Paris of all visitors, with devastating financial consequences. The difference between how unpleasant news is dealt with between then and now is striking. If we did not have mass media today how would the government be dealing with Covid? While being grateful that everything possible is being done to control the outbreak, I wonder what official reaction would have been if cover-up was possible.
Thanks very much for telling me about this film Dave. I agree with you that it is heartwarming that so much kindness is being shown. My worry about our present crisis is that we are very uncritical of the faith in science and technology that is so pervasive in the western world. In 1985 Walsh and Middleton wrote an outstanding book entitled The Transforming Vision that discusses the secular idolatry of Science, Technology and Economics. They call this the Unholy Trinity. A very insightful book about contemporary idolatry.