What's Tony Thinking

Finding Encouragement in Watching the Movie “Contagion”


I was a little apprehensive about watching the 2011 movie “Contagion.” But we did. And I experienced something I had not expected — encouragement.

Sure, there were reasons for, “Gosh, they saw it all coming.” The movie does depict how a virus like this COVID-19 is transmitted unwittingly and insidiously — by touch, laughter, contact with a surface that has been exposed.  As now, the virus was “novel.” Its nature and way of working was not understood. No vaccine existed and the scientific community is, at least initially, stumped. Although in “Contagion” a vaccine is discovered more quickly than now.

But the movie is filled with dark predictions and episodes that have not come to pass. Things like people lining up for emergency food relief and when supplies run out, rioting and beating up others to steal what they had. Or home break-in’s by roving, masked bands, to steal food or other supplies. Or looting and destruction of stores. Scenes of urban devastation that are apocalyptic.

There are barricaded highways and closed state borders as people flee from various cities in mass exodus. Police and emergency services are overwhelmed or simply disappear. Basically, there are scenes of complete social and civic breakdown,  as fear and panic take over and bring out the worst, not in everyone, but in many.

One other part of the movie’s plot, is the promotion of quack cures over the internet, in particular, a homeopathic “drug” known as “forsythia.” This leads to further rioting and profiteering, as well as wide-scale distrust of agencies like the CDC and WHO, who are charged with having a cure but not sharing it. It’s beyond ironic that in our situation, the main source of such quackery and suspicion has been the President! But it is as if his well-established pattern — well-established over the first three years of his administration — of lies and self-serving attacks has inoculated most, if not all, of the population against these things.

The most dire predictions of the movie, of social breakdown and panic, have not come to pass. By and large, we have followed the guidelines recommended to us. Almost overwhelmingly, people have behaved decently, even heroically, towards one another. The panic buying of the early days stopped quite soon.

Much of credit for what has not happened has to lie with effective state leadership, most Governors and those in public health at the national and state and city levels. Beyond that, supply chains for food and other needed things, and those who operate them, have stood up — remarkably well.

But the credit, too, goes to every ordinary citizen who has done her and his part, who has not panicked, who has behaved decently and humanely. Credit goes to the families who have found new routines and patience. To people who have stayed connected to others by whatever means were available to them, providing support and aid. Credit too to the government for it’s aid packages, but with an implicit warning against cutting them off too soon.

I did not expect it. But I found encouragement in watching this movie.

One of the closing scenes is of Matt Damon managing a very limited high school prom, in the family living room, for his daughter and her boyfriend. Something a bit similar happened just last evening in the viewpoint park across the street from where we live, alongside Shilshole Bay.

A young woman, robed in the red graduation hat and gown, of Ballard High School, appeared with a photographer to have graduation pictures taken. They were socially distanced. A west wind provided some challenges. But the photos were taken, formal and informal, and will go into that young lady’s record and memorablia. It wasn’t difficult to imagine her showing them, one day, to her children, maybe grandchildren, and telling them how we got through COVID-19, back in 2020.

Maybe they will ask, “Did people panic?” And she’ll say, “No, not really. People did well, really well.”

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