Since the Black Death ravaged most of Europe in the mid-14th century, people have been on alert for its return. Every outbreak of infectious disease gives rise to the inevitable question: Is this the one? In today's ultra-cosmopolitan world, a global outbreak would devastate every aspect of society.
When Sars arrived in 2003, people resorted to wearing masks and perpetual hand washing. We flinched every time someone sneezed or coughed. All that terror, panic, government intervention and politics behind the lethal virus are brought to chilling reality once again in the Steven Soderbergh thriller Contagion.
'It's not often you get the opportunity to make a movie that touches on themes that resonate with everyone, and can also be an entertaining thriller,' says Soderbergh.
Contagion follows a deadly virus that leaves its victims dead within days of infection. Much of the film's impact comes from the immediacy of deadly viruses that have gripped the world over the last decade. 'I love a good zombie movie, but we know that's not real,' adds co-producer Gregory Jacobs. 'The impact here comes from dealing with a horror set in our own backyards that manifests, at first, like the common cold. People look normal, they're functional, so they move around and spread it without being aware.'
After a business trip to Hong Kong, Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) falls severely ill. At first she thinks it's jetlag - but two days later, she's dead. Her husband, Thomas Emhoff (Matt Damon) demands answers, but doctors have no clue what caused the sudden death of a healthy woman.
Meanwhile others, from all parts of the globe, are exhibiting similar symptoms, all of which lead to death. Casualties begin to multiply and soon the entire world is in the middle of a major pandemic. Soon the number of casualties multiplies as a pandemic sweeps through the world, leaving death in its wake.
Deputy Director Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) and others at the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention work feverishly to break down the genetic code of the mutating pathogen, all the while putting the life of a heroic doctor (Kate Winslet) in peril. The entire globe is in panic, as activist blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) sparks fears that the government is being anything but transparent in its findings about the virus.
Contagion was inspired by the numerous airports Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z Burns visited during The Informant!.
'Steven and I spent a lot of time on planes, and we talked about how often it seems people get sick when they travel,' says Burns. 'So the idea began as an exploration of the vulnerability of human beings in public places.'
'Having been through the research now, I will never again think the same way about how we interact with one another,' Soderbergh adds. 'You cannot immerse yourself in this world and not be forever altered by your awareness of it.'
Contagion opens on Thursday