Steven Soderbergh had been a prolific filmmaker who made movies on such a diverse range of subjects that he was at some point bound to predict the future.

There will inevitably be a countless number of movies made about the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. But unless they are focused - Fahrenheit 9/11 style - on how the administration running the richest and most powerful country in the world criminally botched up a manageable emergency, a general narrative of what went down will be redundant.

There is already a movie made about the Coronavirus pandemic, however, and it is called Contagion. Released in 2011, it eerily parallels a lot of what is happening now, and if we do not act early, how bad things could actually get.

The film opens with Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), an American on a trip in Hong Kong. We do not know it at the moment, but she is patient zero. After spending some time at a Casino there and a layover in Chicago, she goes back to her husband, Mitch (Matt Damon), and son in the US.

A couple of days later, she has a seizure; and after being taken to the hospital, dies. The doctors are not sure what the cause of her death was. When Mitch returns from the hospital, he also finds his stepson dead. Like his mother, the child had foamed from the mouth before expiring.

Mitch is put in isolation after health authorities begin to suspect that they may be on the brink of a disease outbreak. Many other people she had come into contact with have also suffered similar symptoms, but they are not easy to locate. Before containment is possible, the disease spreads in the United States, Asia and in the rest of the world. It is a pandemic.

The fictional disease in the movie, dubbed MEV-1, is linked to pig and bat viruses. It spreads by fomites, kills at least a quarter of all those that contract it and has an infection rate of four additional cases for every person who acquires the disease.

Since it is a new disease, and no known medication exists, developing a vaccine will take months. In the meantime, governments enforce quarantines and advise social distancing. The public is told to maintain basic hygiene, such as thoroughly washing hands, ceasing handshaking and staying at home when sick.

This is the stage that we currently find ourselves in, and what happens in later scenes may be an indication of what may be about to happen.

People do not start panic buying at first. But as desperation rises, they try to flee areas where there is community transmission. When the economy collapses and resources become scarce, law and order breaks down. The structure of society crumbles under the weight of panic.

Worse still, conspiracy and superstition get the better of people. One of the more potent and sobering subplots of the film is a Fox News-type misinformation campaign that costs lives. Jude Law brilliantly plays a scheming, Alex Jones-type internet personality who begins disseminating unsubstantiated information to the millions of watchers of his video blog.

Prophesying the claims that certain herbs and viral medications able to treat patients of the coronavirus, he asserts that a homoeopathic substance has already cured him. The character and what he is able to get away with is a depressing look at how predictable we have become, allowing filmmakers to recreate how we would behave with unnerving accuracy.

How much we have come to repeat history, how persistently we replicate our faults, is not merely tragic. It is bordering on boring. Every time there is a crisis or a disaster of some kind, we can expect someone to try to profit from it and many others to be duped into believing their deceit despite the access to information at their disposal.

It is not even an amusing observation into the human psyche. It is a tiring monotonous cycle of history we may never succeed in stopping.

Beyond what it says about society and humans, Contagion is also a well-directed and acted movie. While the film was never panned, it is strange how the film would have been a footnote in the biographies of Soderbergh and his ensemble cast of Marion Cotillard, Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Law, Paltrow, Kate Winslet and Bryan Cranston had it not been for the current Coronavirus pandemic.

Its profile will be substantially raised now. Like Bill Gates and the countless scientists across the world, it is a movie that told us how things would turn out if we allowed nationalism to flourish again, defunded scientific research and allowed multilateral institutions to become caricatures of what they were originally intended to be.

Contagion is smirking at us. It is saying, “Well, you thought I was fictional, but I was a prophecy.”

PUBLISHED ON Apr 04,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1040]

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