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Contagion is a 2011 film directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring an ensemble cast of Hollywood stars, including Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, and (somewhat ironically) Gwyneth Paltrow. Its plot concerns the birth and spread of a deadly virus that causes a worldwide pandemic, and the efforts of various people, from CDC scientists to bloggers to average Joes, to deal with it. The film saw renewed popularity with the COVID-19 pandemic, as its plot points anticipated the response that various groups of people had to COVID, both good and ill.
Portrayal of scientists
What makes the film of interest for skeptics is the manner in which it portrays scientists and the spread of woo and conspiracy theories during a crisis. Refreshingly, the film comes down solidly on the pro-science end of things; unlike so many other movies that use the stock "evil scientist" character who causes a disaster due to "playing God" or "researching things man was not meant to know," the scientists in Contagion are ultimately the heroes, developing a working vaccine that ends the pandemic. (Seriously, there are not a lot of these out there.) When they act in a manner that puts people at risk, it is not out of malice, but because they either lack the information they need to do the right thing, or (in one case) because they want to protect their loved ones. They are chiefly good people who simply don't know what to do in the beginning, and their goal is to figure out what they should do and respond accordingly. In other words, they behave like fucking scientists.
Portrayal of pseudoscientists
The anti-science characters, meanwhile, are depicted as cranks who engage in deceit in order to push an agenda and make themselves rich. This is exemplified with Jude Law's character, Alan Krumwiede. Alan is essentially a more attractive (because hey, this is Hollywood) version of Mike Adams or Alex Jones, a blogger with an inflated ego who spouts various unsubstantiated allegations about the pandemic, including claims that it was genetically engineered. His pet theory, however, is that the disease can be cured via a homeopathic remedy that he is promoting, and making millions off of, through his blog, going as far as to pretend to be sick so that he can "cure" himself with the drug and create false hope among his loyal followers. All the while, he tells people not to get the vaccine for the disease, claiming that it will make them even sicker, while conveniently leaving out his conflict of interest. At one point, he goes onto national television and accuses the CDC director (Fishburne's character) of suppressing research into his alternative remedy in order to allow Big Pharma to make more money with their vaccines. Fishburne counters that they have already tested it just to be safe, but (unsurprisingly) got negative results. The film ends with him barely dodging a prison sentence for the fraud he committed, and he winds up discredited and ranting at people who are in line for vaccines.
As expected, for daring to depict alties as anything other than holy and for not giving the CDC and the WHO horns and a pitchfork, some of the usual types claimed that this film was a Big Pharma/NWO/what-have-you propaganda piece.
- "The Contagion of conspiracy mongering and pseudoscience", Respectful Insolence, 13 September 2011.
- Let the folks at Above Top Secret "tell it like it is."