The COVID-19 crisis caught a lot of people flat-footed — including an alarming number of people in government — but to anyone who’s seen “Contagion,” this all seems a bit like deja vu.
The drama, which hit theaters in 2011, is about a regular family man (Matt Damon) trying to navigate a partial societal collapse after a deadly virus sweeps across the globe. As of Friday, it was the third most popular movie on iTunes — and the only film in the top 10 that didn’t come out in 2019.
The filmmakers, including director Steven Soderbergh and writer Scott Burns, set out to make a film that was as realistic as possible. And they accomplished that, in part, by consulting numerous real-life epidemiological experts.
“Their goal was to try and really show people as accurate a picture that could be conjured, in hopes that it would motivate political leaders to get mobilized,” says Laurie Garrett, one of those health experts consulted by the filmmakers.
Garrett is a former senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations who has been tracking outbreaks for decades. She published the bestselling book “The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance” in 1994.
In early versions of the film script, the bug was going to be related to the flu virus that killed millions in 1918. But then a virus from the same subtype — H1N1 — known as the “swine flu” hit in 2009, luckily with limited casualties.