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'Viral' Exposure: Why the World is Suddenly Obsessed with Old Films Like 'Contagion' and 'The Flu'

Contagion official poster

Contagion official poster

Movies and TV shows have exploited on natural disasters like these over the years, making it a full-blown genre.

While the whole world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic which has already claimed more than seven thousand lives globally, everyone seems to be suddenly obsessed with a film made in 2011 by Steven Soderbergh, Contagion.

On retrospection, the film, which stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Matt Damon and others, was near-prophetic in the manner it depicted a pandemic and its aftermath. The scenes from the film are eerily similar to the ones we're seeing now as most cities around the world go into lockdown to prevent and treat coronavirus.

As of now, a total of 7,007 people have died, with a 175,536 infections recorded globally and the number of cases in India have risen to 125.

But why is everyone freaking out about the Contagion?

The film begins with Paltrow returning from Hong Kong with a disease which no one has heard of before. She dies soon, but what follows is exactly similar to what's happening around the world now. The disease, which in the movie is airborne, spreads rapidly and ends up killing thousands even as doctors strive to find a cure.

There are quite a few other things which the film got right. For example, Gwyneth Paltrow's character contracts the virus from an animal. In the case of coronavirus too, the ground zero for the pandemic is considered to be a market in Wuhan Province in China which sells animal meat.

Sounds familiar?

Also, guess the punch line for the movie? "Don't talk to anyone or touch anyone." Now isn't that what we're calling self isolation or social distancing these days?

Nearly deserted airports. Empty roads. Government enforced quarantines. No, we aren't reiterating the current situation around the world. We're describing scenes from the movie.

Alarmed yet? Wait, there's more. In 2011, Soderbergh had given an interview in which he said that a pandemic like this was due. Turns out, he was right.

But Contagion isn't the only film that has dealt with pandemics in the past. A South Korean movie about a viral pandemic, The Flu, was released in 2013. The film, much like Contagion, depicts the aftermath of a national disaster where a deadly strain of H5N1 virus spreads through the country and the world killing thousands.

In 2019, an Indian movie named Virus was released which was set in the backdrop of the Nipah virus outbreak of 2018. The film, staying true to the events, showed how a patient was brought to a hospital in Kerala where he died of an unknown illness. The disease was then passed on to 16 other people and resulted in fatalities too.

To be honest, movies and TV shows have gorged on natural disasters like these over the years, making it a full-blown genre. Even the zombie movies are based on a similar concept - of a brain-eating virus that ravages through populations.

The execution is always the same. There's always a patient zero, who usually dies but not before passing on the disease to hundreds others. There's always a team of dedicated scientists in a race to find a cure and most of the films paint a heartbreaking picture of the chaos, trauma and despair in the case of such an outbreak.

But why are people turning to these movies now? The question arises, why would people, exasperated with news of coronavirus bombarding their phones everyday, turn to movies on the very same theme?

Well, science says it could be all about exposure therapy. For the unaware, exposure therapy is exposing the perso concerned to the root of anxiety and fear in order to cure him or her of it.

In other words, as more and more people are being forced into quarantining themselves with the pandemic spreading faster than one could possibly imagine, they're turning their attentions to movies like Contagion or the 1995 movie, Outbreak, which gives them some solace, some tips on how to deal with isolation and how to protect loved ones and at the same time, kills time.

So, if you're working from home during the pandemic, you could add these movies to your binge-watch list!