It’s okay if you feel a bit anxious about the news. Yesterday the U.S. passed China for the most confirmed cases of coronavirus infection in the world, and social distancing has quickly become a fact of life. It’s understandable then that folks have turned to entertainment to contextualize their anxiety, if not fully distract from it. Indeed, Steven Soderbergh and Scott Z. Burns’ Contagion has become one of the most digitally rented and streamed films of the last several months. In February alone, it shot up from Warner Brothers’ 270th most rented movie to their second most.
A cold and clinical vision for a world brought to its knees due to a fictional strand of novel influenza (called MEV-1) spreading across the globe, Contagion’s realistic depiction of a pandemic is arguably only getting its full due now. We ourselves have noted the eerie prescience of Soderbergh’s vision, right down to its depiction of demagogues and conmen sowing confusion for their own benefit.
Now, nine years after Contagion’s release, the cast and stars of the film have reunited for a series of public service announcements while COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, spreads. You’ll note much like the film they lack the cheeky humor of other recent celebrity PSAs, but they are refreshingly direct about facts—something we could all use more of.
“So a few years ago a bunch of us did this movie called Contagion, which we’ve noticed is creeping its way back up on the carts on iTunes for obvious reasons,” Matt Damon said in his video. “So the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University reached out to the cast and asked if we would have a virtual reunion to do some PSAs for everyone, that might be helpful…. So everything you hear from us has been vetted by public health experts and scientists.”
For Damon’s part he stressed the importance of social distancing.
Said Damon, “People can have COVID-19 and have very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. So even if you think they’re healthy or you think that you’re healthy, don’t take that chance, it is not worth it. Every time that you pass this virus to someone else, you are actually giving it to three or four other people as well, and then those people are going to do the same. So before long that one person turns into hundreds, which turns into thousands, and that’s how we got into this situation in the first place.”
Jennifer Ehle, who plays the CDC scientist who discovers a vaccine in for the fictional MEV-1 also had some wise words for those who are attempting to manipulate COVID-19 for political reasons, or attempt to dismiss and downplay its danger.
“First, this is not a Chinese virus or a virus that has no effect on the young and healthy,” Ehle said. “It is what they call a novel virus, and that means our immune systems have never seen it before. So until we have a treatment or a vaccine, every single one of us, regardless of age or ethnicity, is at risk of getting it.” She goes on to note scientists currently speculate that a vaccine will take anywhere between 16 and 18 months. “Scientists and doctors are the people we need to be listening to right now, they are the experts. That means tuning out the voices with other agendas no matter how powerful they might be.”
In the below video she goes on to talk about the process of testing and verifying a vaccine’s effectiveness and safety…. While also noting the reason, ahem, vaccines are useful.
Marion Cotillard, who was the most recent member of the Contagion cast to release a PSA, brought an international perspective to the very real COVID-19 crisis.
“Here in France we are a few days ahead of you in America in dealing with this virus,” Cotillard said. “So let me tell you right now that there are two features for those of you who have not seen the worst of this virus… There is a future where you listen to your public health experts, and that means you go home now and stay there until they say it’s safe… and then there is the future where you ignore the experts who are trying to help us. In that future we watch our medical systems collapse as the virus spreads uncontrollably, and the most vulnerable among us die in unfathomable and unnecessary numbers.”
Kate Winslet, meanwhile, walks you through the reasons it is crucial to wash your hands for 20 seconds.
Remembering her time on Contagion, Winslet says, “To prepare for the role, I spent time with some of the best public health professionals in the world. And what was one of the most important things they taught me? Wash your hands like your life depends on it, because right now, in particular, it just might. Or the life of someone you love, or even the life of someone you might not know but is still deserving of your consideration.”
While Laurence Fishburne, who played the very active head of the CDC in the movie, reflected on one of the film’s most memorable scenes in which his character talks about the history of handshakes:
“You extended your hand and showed the other person you were meeting that you didn’t have a weapon, that you weren’t carrying one. Well now the way we are living is like we’re all carrying a weapon and we don’t even know it. What we do know is that the virus travels through human contact, that is one of the ways it travels. It needs us to survive, so let’s not give it any help.”
We recommend watching all four videos, which are filled with some common sense information but also context and added clarity that feels reassuringly vetted in these times of misinformation. Kind of like the film. Remember that the world did not end in Contagion. It was not a movie about the apocalypse, but the story of a world responding to a crisis and surviving it.
As Damon astutely observed at the end of his segment, “Please do your part. Other generations have been asked to do extraordinary things. We’re being asked just to stay at home. We’ve got this. Please let’s respect and protect our elders.”