“Contagion,” the nation’s new number one movie, will have you reconsidering that nasty habit of dragging your paws through those communal bowls of snacks at the airport lounge. Or ever again accepting a glass of wine from a bartender. Or perhaps ever again leaving your home. The highly effective thriller, directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne and Gwyneth Paltrow, focuses on Atlanta’s Centers For Disease Control and Prevention as its disease detectives attempt to stop a swift-moving global pandemic from snuffing the earth’s population. How swift-moving you ask? Spoiler alert! Just 25 minutes into the movie, Coldplay singer Chris Martin‘s missus is being autopsied.
Spoiler alert! Since we were more focused on determining why Matt Damon resembles 300 pounds of bad veal in “Contagion,” we opted to ask along Atlanta author Maryn McKenna to last week’s media screening to answer our lingering medical science inquiries. The Atlanta journalist is the former CDC reporter for the AJC and the author of “Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA” and “Beating Back the Devil: On the Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of Epidemic Intelligence Service.” “On the realism scale, I would give it an eight,” McKenna told us after the screening as we snapped up 10 billion shares of Purell on our ShareBuilder app. “There’s so much science presented in this film, portions of the script could have been taken out of an epidemiology textbook. The content is incredibly realistic.” To read McKenna’s Wired magazine story on “Contagion,” click here.
Portions of “Contagion” were filmed at the CDC in Atlanta and disease detectives from the government agency served as consultants on the movie. “Warner Brothers first came to the CDC to discuss this project back in 2008,” explained Dr. Barbara Reynolds, CDC Crises Communication Senior Advisor. “Some of our disease detectives also worked with members of the cast to give them a better sense of the day to day activities of someone who goes out to do an outbreak investigation in the field.” MEV-1, Soderbergh’s villainous virus in the film, also shares a lot of characteristics with the Nipah Virus, a real-life counterpart. “We recognize this is a fictional account of what would happen if an emerging infectious disease broke loose on the population,” said Reynolds. “But in terms of biological plausibility, it has it. It’s there.”
Spoiler alert! Adding to the fright factor, Soderbergh shot a cameo with CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta for the film, who tries to conduct a heated on-air conversation between Fishbourne’s CDC doc and Law, an off the rails medical blogger. “It’s a little unsettling, certainly,” Gupta told us. “Soderbergh really focuses on realism in this film. His mantra and [screenwriter] Scott Z. Burns‘ mantra for the film was that everything they present is possible, from the pathogen that causes the pandemic to the way people deal with this in terms of social structures.” Spoiler alert! In the film’s final moments, Soderbergh, telling the story in reverse, reveals to the audience how the outbreak begins. Incidentally, you may want to be finished with your popcorn by this point.
And Dr. Gupta’s professional advice for “Contagion” film goers? “Try and watch the whole movie without blinking if you can,” he suggested. “If you blink, you might miss me.”