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Home > Contagion (2011): A Review

Contagion (2011): A Review


A Frighteningly Realistic Vision

Simply put, Contagion is horrifyingly realistic. Many rediscovered its brilliance nearly ten years after its premiere due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the star-studded Steven Soderbergh thriller was unnerving back in 2011 — before anyone anticipated the ongoing virus. 

The synopsis follows an unknown violent illness that spreads easily and wreaks havoc on earth. Sound familiar? The Contagion introduces Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is on a business trip in Hong Kong and interested in hooking up with an old flame even though she’s married. After she returns to Chicago two days later, her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) brings her to the hospital when she suddenly has a seizure. After she dies, the entire world falls into chaos as everyone becomes infected, one by one. Even the CDC workers are stymied at how to get a grip on this as they race against the clock to develop and release a vaccine. 

Although Contagion could have been just as brilliant without a famous ensemble, the well-known names made an impact in their individual performances. Kate Winslet skillfully portrayed Dr. Mears, the epidemic specialist who gets infected. She performed her physical decline that the virus brought perfectly but also clearly did her research on her character: a doctor urgently trying to save as many as she can in such little time. 

Damon also, as always, brought his A-game, especially as the overprotective father to his teenage daughter. But his talent really shined in his reaction to hearing that Beth died; instead of flat-out screaming at the doctors, Damon maintains a completely stunned look in his eyes. 

Then, there’s Jude Law, who played conspiracy theorist Alan Krumwiede. Law brought such an intensity that real-life conspirators bring to the table whenever they sit in for on-air interviews or crafting their websites. Although Alan initially seems like a jerk, Law pushes us to grapple with the fact that his character, unfortunately, was right about some things. 


As for Laurence Fishburne, the actor created a character who we as viewers have now all seen in reality. He’s a medical professional who is struggling to reassure humanity that they have everything under control, while inwardly thinking about the inevitable repercussions they would face. Fishburne’s dedication to keeping a calm and collected demeanor resembles how modern CDC and WHO workers look and sound. 

Soderbergh did his homework when he developed the film. After all, Contagion resonated with all of us much more in 2020 than it did in 2011. This was because the director consulted with professionals, including epidemiologists Larry Brilliant (yes, that’s his name) and W. Ian Lipkin. He soon learned that the mindset of scientists wasn’t “if” this type of event would happen; it was “when” it would eventually happen. 

Although some moments in the film seemed far-fetched — like the abandoned, demolished grocery store and the traffic blocks — Soderbergh calculated every bit of this film. He wasn’t exaggerating in each scene, which we now understand since we really saw nationwide travel restrictions and public brawls unfold in 2020. But what’s even more chilling in the film pre and post-COVID  are the shots of the empty airports, stores and other public venues. The audience sees the catastrophe quickly unraveling as more and more deaths plague the population. The mass grave burials are quite striking, even when it first premiered in 2011. The sight of that is just too much to absorb because of how realistic it looks, let alone accept that it actually happened. 

Although Contagion doesn’t attempt to be a gory horror, it’s ultimately a horrific thriller. It strikes a nerve with all of us because we can relate to the deep fear the characters feel; we are all aware that everyday life can be altered in the blink of an eye, but Soderbergh just did an eerily accurate job of showing us how it would all look and feel in the end if it were real. 

It looks like we might see another Soderbergh terror hit the big screen again — the director claimed he was already working on a “philosophical sequel” to Contagion. Let’s not even attempt to imagine what that one will be like for now.


Contagion (2011) Official Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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Elisabeth joined Dead Talk News in 2022 and loves movies and TV! After working for various sites, including Screen Rant and Showbiz Cheat Sheet, Elisabeth joined DTN to critique and review various movies, from horror flicks to Disney live-actions.