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Film / Contagion (2011)

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"Someone doesn't have to weaponize the bird flu. The birds are doing that."

Contagion is a 2011 American Disaster Movie thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh, starring Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, and Gwyneth Paltrow among many others.

While heading back to Minneapolis after stopping at Chicago for a layover following a business trip to Hong Kong, Beth Emhoff (Paltrow) begins to exhibit symptoms of a highly contagious disease. Shortly afterwards, several other individuals in Hong Kong begin to exhibit the same symptoms. Upon returning home to her husband Mitch (Damon) and their two children, she collapses and is rushed to the hospital, while across the world, thousands of people begin to die from the same symptoms.

The responsibility of identifying and treating the new outbreak falls to the World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control, with scientists around the globe researching the virus, including Dr. Ellis Cheever (Fishburne), Dr. Erin Mears (Winslet) and Dr. Leonora Orantes (Cotillard). Meanwhile, in San Francisco, conspiracy blogger Alan Krumwiede (Law) searches for answers, while a fellow doctor named Sussman (Elliott Gould) tries to identify the virus.


Mitch soon discovers that he's genetically immune to the disease, and desperately tries to protect his daughter Jordan from it, not knowing if she has inherited his immunity. This troubles Jordan because she can't risk infection to be with her boyfriend.

The film was critically praised for its realistic depiction of a contagious disease and grossed $75 million dollars at the U.S. box office.

Contagion contains examples of:

  • Abandoned Hospital: Due to nurses going on strike during the height of the MEV pandemic; this was hinted as being due to the futility of "putting healthy people next to sick people" with no biocontainment protocol in effect.
  • Acceptable Breaks from Reality: Everything involved in trying to figure MEV-1 out, which realistically would take years while the pandemic would burn through its initial waves broadly as depicted. In other words, no prospect of a vaccine to mitigate casualties. The Hollywood Science is so selective here in order to give the health officials a fighting chance rather than making the movie solely about a disastrous pandemic.
    • Given what happened with COVID-19, however, the scenario depicted appears far more realistic than what was thought when the movie first came out. While COVID-19 is far less lethal than MEV-1, the level of response is pretty close to the same, as is the scale of the science attempting to find a cure. Even the speed with which a vaccine is ultimately developed, a bit of artistic license in 2011, turned out to be ahead of its time, as by 2020, research into mRNA had advanced enough that safe, effective vaccines could be developed and distributed less than a year after the first lockdowns.
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  • A Father to His Men: Dr. Cheever makes sure to tell Dr. Mears before she leaves for Minnesota to call him "if you're staring at a wall at 3 AM wondering why you took this job." Later in the film he makes sure to ask her how she's doing and when she starts talking about what she's doing he steers the conversation back to her mental and emotional state.
  • All of Them: During the autopsy on Patient Zero, the moment they take a look at what's left of her brain.
    Younger Pathologist: (backing away) Should I call someone?
    Older Pathologist: Call everyone.
  • An Aesop: The worst thing we have to fear is fear itself. In a crisis, don't panic, stay rational, trust the professionals and don't look for scapegoats. And, at the very end, the most important lesson of all: wash your hands!
  • Anyone Can Die: Aside from Mitch Emhoff (the only person in the film who shows an immunity to the virus), everyone else in the film is susceptible, and many people die, including Beth Emhoff and her son, Dr. Mears, and tens of millions of other people across the planet. In particular, Dr. Mears' death is meant to show that nobody, not even the professionals trying to control it, is immune in a pandemic...and deaths of professionals like Dr. Mears is a massive obstacle to containing the pandemic, as it causes things like a nurses' strike.
  • Apocalypse How: A Class 1. Hundreds of millions of people have died by the end, but the pandemic is eventually stopped, the world recovers, and life goes on as if this never happened.
  • As Himself: Dr. Sanjay Gupta cameos in an interview with Dr. Cheever.
  • As You Know: Dr. Mears lecturing the various officials of the Minnesota Department of Health on Epidemiology 101.
  • Asshole Victim: John Neal is infected by Beth and it's implied that he died. Considering that he was ruining her relationship with Mitch for his own sexual gratification, it's not particularly upsetting. Also counts as an unusual example of Death by Sex.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Mostly averted. However, there were a few obvious fictionalizations:
    • The trouble that they had growing the virus in cell culture, the reason cited that it "killed all the cells". Though some viruses are extremely difficult to grow in cell culture in real life, culture killing usually indicates a successful attempt to culture the virus.
    • There were repeated references to genomic DNA; paramyxoviruses are RNA viruses.
    • The vaccine is depicted as imparting instant protection from the virus during both the off-protocol testing and public distribution, whereas most take some time to become completely effective as the immune system "learns" to defend from the disease.
    • After he fails to show symptoms and discovered to be immune to the virus, Mitch is released into the population again. No acknowledgement of the phenomenon of healthy carriers (people who don't show symptoms but are capable of transmitting the disease, like the infamous Typhoid Mary) is made, though this would be a well-known risk.
    • The granddaddy of them was when the viral envelope protein structure was solved within days of the virus' discovery. X-ray crystallography is often a process of many months to years, and co-crystalization of proteins which bind to each other (such as depicted) is even more difficult and time consuming.
  • Attention Whore: Krumwiede, who claims he'll do anything to get the right scoop, and turns out to have been faking effective treatment so he can make lots of money.
  • Badass Bookworm: Most of the scientists, who go above and beyond (even working while afflicted with the virus as Dr. Mears does and making themselves into human guinea pigs for the vaccine, in Doctor Hextall's case) to research a vaccine.
  • Bad Influencer: Krumwiede is a blogger that claims to be an Intrepid Reporter. He's also a Conspiracy Theorist that disrupts the doctors trying to do their jobs, slows down their progress, and peddles the bunk "cure" of Forsythia to make money, which causes potentially hundreds (if not thousands) of additional deaths.
  • Bait-and-Switch: A scene begins with a close-up of Dr. Cheever's wife looking sweaty and disheveled, which has been visual shorthand throughout the movie to convey that someone has the virus. Turns out, she doesn't; she looks that way because burglars have broken into her home looking for the vaccine they think is there.
  • Big Bad: The titular contagion is one of the "omnipresent situation" variety — it isn't sentient (or alive for that matter), but even so it stirs up the conflict and causes all the problems the protagonists work to solve.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Mitch, his daughter Jordan, and Andrew, the boy she liked, manage to survive, but Beth was Patient Zero, and her son, Dr. Mears, and a lot of other people paid for itnote . Krumwiede may or may not get punished for his role in the deaths of potentially thousands of people. Dr. Cheevers is also probably going to be used as The Scapegoat by Congress, but he’s able to redeem himself in his own eyes by giving his dose of the vaccine to a young boy who likely wouldn’t have gotten vaccinated otherwise.
  • Black-and-White Insanity: Krumwiede seems to consider himself to be an Intrepid Reporter and firmly believes all of the professionals doing their best to help are actually trying to keep the virus going for their own ends, and encourages others to take this viewpoint. Subverted later on, where he reveals that he doesn’t believe any of this and just wants to make money off of people. Even then, he continues to justify this to himself, claiming that since other people have made money this way throughout history, it’s okay for him to do it, too.
  • The Brigadier: The Rear Admiral who heads the department of Homeland Security, played by Bryan Cranston. He's only brought in after the virus kills a CIA outpost, but nonetheless, tries to help.
  • Business Trip Adultery: At the beginning of the film, Beth's on the phone with someone other than her husband, thanking the person for a nice night. Unbeknownst at the time, she was already sick with the virus she caught in Hong Kong. Following her death, Mitch (her husband) learns her ex-boyfriend caught the virus at a similar time, and he puts two and two together.
  • Caged Bird Metaphor: Early in the film, the camera focuses on a small cage of colorful songbirds right before an infected man boards an elevator crammed with people wearing similarly bright-colored clothes.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Dr. Cheevers is a kindhearted, empathetic Reasonable Authority Figure who does everything in his power to help stop the virus. The one time he exploits his power, by warning his wife to leave Chicago, Krumwiede uses it to get him branded as a scapegoat.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Midway through the film, Dr. Orantes reviews the security footage taken at the casino where Beth was believed to have contracted the virus, and finds that she interacted with (and took pictures of) several people during a party (but can't identify which one would have had the virus). Later on, Mitch finds her camera, and cries as he goes through the pictures, stopping at a picture Beth took with the casino's chef. In the final scene, a flashback to Day 1, we see how the virus was transmitted - it was carried from an infected bat to a pig, which was subsequently sold to the casino and transmitted to the chef, who transmitted it to Beth when they shook hands.
    • Jordan is texting to someone (presumably Andrew) who mentions they are 3 (meaning this person will receive the vaccine on Day 3 of the immunization drive). Later on (at least 3 days later), Mitch sets up a date between Jordan and Andrew, Andrew is seen with his vaccination bracelet.
  • Color Wash: Many scenes are tinted green or blue or yellow.
  • Contamination Situation: Mitch is exposed to others who died from the virus, and is isolated pending any possible symptoms. He's immune. This becomes a running theme in the first half, where the main characters struggle to track down the chain of infection, both globally and with individual infectees.
  • Convulsive Seizures: What happens shortly before you die of the virus.
  • Creator Cameo: Director Steven Soderbergh voices John Neal, the man Beth was seeing in Chicago (and calling from China), at the beginning.
  • Darkest Hour: Mears is dead, the virus' infection rate is increasing, no one has any answers, tens of millions have died, cities are deserted and the WHO or CDC realizes that it will take months to develop a viable vaccine and inoculate the population... and then Dr. Hextall discovers that one of her vaccine samples works.
  • Dead Star Walking: Gwyneth Paltrow as Beth Emhoff.
  • Death by Cameo: Gwyneth Paltrow, who dies about five minutes into the film, though she appears occasionally in flashback sequences.
  • Death of a Child: It's mentioned the virus has claimed several children, and one does die on-screen (Mitch's son Clark). There were doubtless many more over the six or so months the film covers. One of the first places MEV-1 (an invisible airborne disease with 25% mortality and no treatment) spreads is an elementary school. Exemplified in Mitch Emhoff spending the rest of his movie trying to keep his daughter away from any possible source of infection.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Dr. Mears is set up as a potential hero early on in the film. Then she gets sick and disappears for a chunk of time, only to be revisited as she tries (in vain) to give her jacket to a fellow patient just before she dies.
  • Definitely Just a Cold: In the opening, Beth dismisses her little cough as this, even as she is visibly sweating and not looking quite well. Then she dies not long after returning home from her trip.
  • Dies Wide Open: As evidenced by the autopsy, Beth died this way.
  • Disaster Movie: The director clearly stated he was inspired by movies like The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. That said, the actual disaster takes a backseat to the personal dramas. There's scenes demonstrating the "low level" effects of the pandemic: sealed state borders, National Guard curfews, looting and burning of businesses, runs on basic supplies, garbage piling up, roving gangs killing people in their homes, etc. The utilities stay on, though, which is what ultimately keeps this from becoming Apocalypse How.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: In-Universe example. The earliest victims of the virus are treated this way by their loved ones. Mitch in particular is completely stunned at the sudden and unexpected death of his wife without even knowing what caused it. He has such trouble processing the news that he asks the doctor if he can talk to Beth even after the doctor tells him she died.
  • Due to the Dead:
    • Defied: Despite Mitch and Beth's mother wanting a proper burial, the local funeral home refuses to bury Beth on the basis that they may get infected with the virus as well.
    • When Mears dies and is buried in a mass grave, her colleague places flowers by her.
  • Expy: Krumwiede seems to be based on infamous embezzler and writer Kevin Trudeau, who's become controversial for his claims of having the cures for cancer and other diseases. And like Krumwiede, he's Only in It for the Money.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: As much of a jerkass and a fraud that Krumwielde is he does look upset when he discovers that Lorraine has died.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: When Mitch goes through the pictures on Beth's camera at the end of the film, the last few are of her shaking hands with a chef. A minute or so later, it is revealed that this specific interaction was the origin of the virus.
  • Flower Motif: Whenever there is personal loss or tragedy, look for the yellow flowers. One of the first detected clusters is in the Chrysanthemum Complex in China. Forsythia, a homeopathic cure for MEV-1, is the name of a yellow colored bush. When Dr Mears is placed into a mass grave after dying of MEV-1, their colleague holds yellow flowers to mourn.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • If Krumwiede was supposedly "cured" of the virus by taking Forsythia, why does he still walk around in a jury-rigged hazmat suit for most of the film? And why doesn't he give Forsythia to the female reporter from the beginning of the film? And what's with the "Prophet / Profit" signs?
    • When first showing the female reporter the video of the man dying of the virus on the bus, Krumwiede says "Print media is dying. I'll save you a spot on the bus." The reporter later dies of the virus, in no small part due to Krumwiede lying about Forsythia being a cure, as she gets infected at a clinic handing out Forsythia.
  • For Inconvenience, Press "1": Mitch hears several gunshots and sees a group of burglars exiting the house across from his, so he calls 911. Unfortunately, they're so overburdened that the system has been replaced with an automated helpline which is primarily designed to aid people in dealing with the outbreak, rather than deal with common crime.
  • For Want of a Nail: The end sequence shows the chain of events that caused the pandemic. If any one of those links had been broken, it might never have happened.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Krumwielde starts the film as a struggling conspiracy theorist and blogger who has to yell and ambush people to get any attention. Despite his arrest at the end of the film he's got 12 million unique viewers, gets interviewed on at least one major news network and can potentially have a huge impact on how many people get vaccinated based on how many people trust him.
  • Gaia's Vengeance: The final scene reveals the epidemic to be one of the metaphorical variety. A construction company bulldozer disturbs the natural habitat of some bats, setting off a chain of events that result in the virus being unleashed on the entire world. Starting with a director at the company, no less.
  • Ghost City: San Francisco and Hong Kong are shown to be mostly deserted.
  • Gilded Cage: Of a sort. Orantes is kidnapped and brought to a remote Chinese village by Sun Feng in an effort to bargain for vaccines. It's far from a luxurious place to be technically imprisoned but she's treated very well, bonds with the villagers, becomes a teacher and sympathizes with them enough to warn them when she discovers that they received placebos.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: An early scene has a pair of doctors peeling Beth's scalp up over her decayed face, with the inside of her scalp clearly visible, and cutting her skull open to take a look inside (with audible "sloshing" sound effects). Contagion is a PG-13 film, which makes it all the more shocking.
  • Government Conspiracy: Subverted. There is no such conspiracy, but Krumwiede is determined to convince every single person he can that there is one, and he'll use any medium that will give him a soapbox to stand on. It later turns out he's the one doing the lying; the more the public buys his theories the more he will profit from pushing his bogus cure.
  • Government Procedural: The film gives the viewer a look at how the CDC (a US federal government agency) and WHO (an intergovernmental UN agency) would handle a supervirus. Several crises that must be overcome involve local and federal bureaucracy.
  • Green Aesop: The virus is unleashed upon the world by bulldozing a forest, done by the corporation Beth works for.
  • Handshake of Doom: At the end of the movie, it rewinds to show that Beth contracted the disease via a handshake with a chef who hadn't washed his hands. And like that, millions of people - including Beth herself, her son, and her lover - all died.
  • Hanlon's Razor: Krumwiede nitpicks everything the government is doing about the virus and portraying it as the result of massive conspiracies. In reality, the government is just working as quickly and efficiently as it can under the circumstances.
  • Hate Sink: Since you can't really hate the actual antagonistic force of this film (a nonsentient virus), Krumwiede fills the slot of a legitimately unlikable villain by constantly undermining legitimate relief efforts, pushing conspiracy theories on fake science, and being a toady for homeopathic corporations by pushing a fake cure.
  • Hazmat Suit: Justified, varying by resources. Most people would like a better grade of protection than what they can come up with.
  • Heroic BSoD: Surprisingly averted for most of the movie by Mitch, until the very end, when he finds his wife's camera and looks at her final photographs.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Several doctors, contracting the disease by saving others from it and in many cases dying from it themselves. The one who used the untested vaccine on herself first survives, however.
    • Cheever giving his dose of the vaccine to his friend's son instead of himself as a result of feeling bad for his mistake earlier in the film.
  • Hilarity Sues: It is implied that Krumwiede is going to be subject to a lot of lawsuits after people realize he lied about forsythia to make a profit.
  • How We Got Here: The end of the film shows how the virus started—a bulldozer (owned by the company Beth worked for) knocked down a tree, disturbing some bats in the process. One of the bats flies off to a banana tree and eats some bananas. The bat then dropped some of the banana into a pigs' pen, where the banana was eaten by a piglet. Later, the pig was harvested, killed and prepared for cooking. The chef handling the raw pig meat opted to wipe his hands on his apron rather than wash them and shook hands with Beth, transferring the mix of bat and pig viruses to her and starting the pandemic.
  • Hypocrite: Krumwiede, who rants at length about how the government officials trying to stop the virus are in the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies and spreads paranoia and distrust among civilians, and then sells out to the pharmaceutical companies himself and starts exploiting people’s fears to make money and justifying it to himself.
  • Humble Hero: Dr. Hextall.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Dr. Sussman exits his building while loudly discussing sensitive information on a phonecall, which is then overheard by Krumwiede. His dialogue also implies that this isn't the first time Krumwiede has ambushed him at work.
    • Dr. Cheever makes it very clear to his wife that she should quietly leave Chicago and drive straight to Atlanta, without stopping or talking to anyone. Cut to: a scene of her bulk-buying emergency supplies in a supermarket and telling her friend confidential information about the impending quarantine of the city, which leads to Cheever being called out on TV for giving preferential treatment to his loved ones.
    • Dr. Cheever himself also gets overheard having this conversation by Roger!
  • Ignored Epiphany: Krumwiede feels genuinely guilty when he realizes that his attempt to make money off of people’s fear has resulted in the death of Lorraine, one of the few people he cares about, but continues exploiting people and justifying himself.
  • The Immune: Mitch Emhoff. There are a few others, but offscreen.
  • Impairment Shot: Beth right before she keels over at home.
  • Imperiled in Pregnancy: Lorraine is pregnant when she contracts the virus. She does not survive.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: The Movie. Oddly, the virus is mentioned as having a 25% mortality rate, yet viewers don't meet a single person that survives contracting the virus.
  • Irony: Early in the film, Dr. Mears exasperatedly tells one of her colleagues to stop touching his face, especially since it was established that viruses can spread through fomites. She winds up dying despite all of her efforts and knowledge in tracing and stopping the spread of MEV-1, while the colleague is last seen in completely good health and has presumably survived by the end of the film.
  • It's All About Me: Everything Krumwielde does is for his own enrichment. Even the rare moments where he makes a decent point - such as accurately pointing out that Dr. Cheever abused his power to get his loved ones out of a quarantine - is done to make him look more credible for his own benefit. This becomes especially clear when he's exposed for lying about forsythia being a cure.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Dr. Orantes is horrified when her associate tells her that Sun Feng's village including many children received placebo vaccinations. He fairly points out that governments around the world can't be seen as rewarding or encouraging abductions, especially by organized crime groups to ransom actual vaccines.
    • Krumwiede does initially make some good points about the dangers of the virus and how pharmaceutical companies can put profits ahead of peoples' lives...even if his response to this is to basically do the same thing. Despite being a online scam artist selling a bogus cure to the disease he also accurately points out that Dr. Ellis Cheever has abused his power to get his loved ones out of danger.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: While he's constantly abrasive, at the beginning of the movie, Krumwiede is one of the first people to become aware of the virus, trying to warn people before it spreads wide (albeit partially for his own career). Then, he begins to unnecessarily spread hysteria, hampering efforts to fight the disease, while profiting off of it all the way.
  • Justified Criminal: Despite living in a deserted neighborhood (with only a handful of other residents left), Mitch never takes anything more than a rifle from his neighbor's house to protect himself and Jordan. Only two other times is he given an opportunity to steal. The first time, at the supermarket, looters have already stripped most of it. Although willing to take some needed supplies, he gives up when an infected woman appears there, deeming it not worth the risk. The second time, during the looting of the FEMA truck, he's the only person on-scene rational enough to realize that the looters are breaking into an empty truck.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Alan Krumwiede, who fakes being sick in order to promote a drug that supposedly (but doesn't) cures the disease, and profits big time from it. He's arrested by Homeland Security, but is bailed out by his online followers and encourages more people not to vaccinate. It's unclear whether he'll meet justice or not after the film's events. He still has to face trial, though, so there's that.
      • It’s also implied that, once people realize he lied about forsynthia, he’s going to be the subject of multiple lawsuits that will result in him losing the money he made off it.
    • Also Sun Feng, who gets away (at least on-screen) with kidnapping Orantes, although the vaccine he gets turns out to be a placebo.
  • Karmic STD: Of sorts. because he had an affair with Beth, John Neal became one of the first to become infected with the virus and die.
  • Laser-Guided Karma:
    • A bulldozer owned by AIMM outside Hong Kong destroys a forested area so it can be developed. This causes a bat to move to a barn where it infects a pig with the disease. The pig is slaughtered and taken to a kitchen, and while a cook prepares it, he is interrupted to meet a businesswoman and shakes her hand, causing her to become Patient Zero. The important woman, of course, works for AIMM.
    • Sun Feng kidnaps Leonora Orantes for the vaccine for his village, but ends up getting a bunch of placebos
    • John Neal ends up being one of the very first infected with MEV-1, and it is implied that he's also one of the first casualties. This wouldn't have happened if he hadn't had an affair with Beth in the first place.
  • Law of Conservation of Detail : The virus does have a terrifyingly high fatality rate, but it's still less than 50%, especially early on. Despite this, many characters who we see coming down with the disease die from it. However, some other characters, like Beth's coworker Aaron Barnes and his family, Dr. Hextall's father and a few others don't have their final fates revealed.
  • Left Hanging: It’s left unclear what happens to Sun Feng’s village, since he was given a placebo rather than the real vaccine. Dr. Orantes is last seen on her way to warn them, but depending on when she gets there it’s possible several villagers could contract the virus.
  • The Load: Despite going to stay with her dad to provide him with emotional support, Jory is a disgruntled teenage girl. However, after all he's been through, having to focus on her likely kept Mitch emotionally stable.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Krumwiede for using his blog to convince others to buy a drug that doesn't work, and later protesting a vaccine that does.
  • Married to the Job: Dr. Hextall, which her co-worker pokes fun at early in the film. Even after she's hailed as a hero for finding the vaccine, she'd rather spend her time following vaccine distribution than spend a few minutes on-camera (though part of that is being a Humble Hero).
  • Mega-Corp: AIMM, the company Beth works for and whose logo looms in several scenes. While not in any way purposely malevolent, the company's deforestation of the area the first infected bat was residing in was what caused it to spread the infection.
  • New Media Are Evil: Krumwiede and his blog are the focus of this. Sussman goes so far as to call his blog "graffiti with punctuation", partly because Krumwiede is harassing him. Krumwiede blames corporations and government organizations at every turn. This increases when Krumwiede turns out as a massive internet celebrity with a major amount of influence on the public's opinions on the virus and the cure... namely, by encouraging people to look into alternative treatments and stirring up paranoia over the vaccine, later claiming he's been cured by forsythia, and essentially killing more people by inducing paranoia of the new vaccine. He seems to be a critique on how blogs spread skewed rumors, and tend to be trusted more than educated opinion, plus obviously conspiracy theorists and or/certain alternative medicine advocates.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: A subtle and unintentional example: some of the initial attempts to contain the virus are done in ways that would easily spread it. For example, Minnesota shuts its schools down mid-day, gathering the students together in hallways and then putting them on crowded buses. Doctor Mears also tells one of Beth’s infected colleagues, traveling to work on a bus, to leave it immediately, causing him to stumble off, touch everything, and then attract passer-by who try to help him.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Cheever's introduction is his conversation with one of the CDC janitors about getting help for the janitor's young son for an ADHD diagnosis. And of course, giving the janitor's son Cheever's assigned vaccination instead.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Zigzagged. While the vaccine development is unusually fast, it is the modern world's greatest emergency and still shown to be in such short supply that there is a public lottery and widespread criminal desperation to jump the line. On the other hand, it is very unlikely that any crash vaccine program could outrun the upgraded R-nought of 4.
  • No FEMA Response: Averted. The CDC and FEMA really get rolling when they realize how bad the disease has become, but their efforts are constantly constrained by both time, limited supplies, a panicking public, government distrust, and medical personnel going on strike.
  • Not That Kind of Doctor: Dr. Cheever says so when the janitor asks if he can treat the guy's son for ADHD, but adds that he will refer the kid to someone.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Mears has to deal with the governor of Minnesota early on in the film. She's a subdued example, as she isn't outright blocking Mears, but she's short-tempered and questions every move if it impacts the state in any way.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Soon after Beth dies, Mitch learns on the phone that his son Clark has fallen ill.
      Mitch: Hang up the phone right now and dial 911! Right now!! 911.
    • When Dr. Cheever is informed that the virus' R-nought has increased to 4 - measles or polio level of infectiousness, and four times more infectious than the flu.
    • Cheever and Dr. Mears have one when they each find out that she's been infected with the virus.
    • And when the pathologists get a look at Beth's MEV-ravaged brain during her autopsy:
      Older Pathologist: Oh, my God.
      Younger Pathologist: Do you want me to, um... take a sample or...?
      Older Pathologist: I want you to move away from the table.
    • Mears gets one when Aaron Barnes tells her that he's exhibiting viral symptoms and that he's on the bus - meaning he just infected a large number of people.
  • Outside-Context Problem: Overlapping with Out-of-Genre Experience - Bryan Cranston's character pops in to debrief Cheever on what the virus is doing to US spies (namely, killing a CIA outpost), injecting an odd bit of Spy Fiction into the movie.
  • Overprotective Dad: Mitch Emhoff is a mild and justified version, keeping his daughter from meeting the boy she likes even though neither of them are sick (played with, as this is likely as much to protect him as her). Even though there's a chance she's immune as he is, he's not going to take it. When the boy is vaccinated, he immediately makes up for it by setting up a personal prom night just for them.
  • Patient Zero: Beth. At the end, the chain of events leading to Beth and the other known first cases getting infected is shown.
  • Pet the Dog: The one time Krumwielde isn't an abrasive jerk is when he's confronted by a deathly ill Lorraine, whom he sincerely urges to go home. He also notably tries to wave off her pleas for forsythia rather than easily make a quick buck off her by giving her a fake cure.
  • The Plague: Though the Doomsday variety is avertednote , the plague in this movie is all the more frightening for how realistically it depicts an emergent pandemic disease, and the scientific battle against it.
  • Professor Guinea Pig: One of the CDC scientists injects herself with an experimental vaccine for the virus. It works.
  • Properly Paranoid:
    • At one point a Minnesota health official complains to Dr. Mears that his wife is forcing him to use the garage like an airlock, changing clothing before coming inside. She has to be overreacting, right? Mears' response: No.
    • Dr. Cheever concedes this is also true of the nurse strike. They're fundamentally right - there is no way to adequately protect them (Cheever considers MEV-1 a BSL-4 threat, which means spacesuits) and they are, in effect, being asked to die.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: All the main authority figures are doing their best, in spite of constant criticism from Alan Krumwiede that they are in the pocket of pharmaceutical companies. However, several doctors are forced to override orders when they get in their way, showing that the system isn't perfect.
  • Red Right Hand: Jude Law's character is given a snaggletooth to foreshadow the revelation that he's a crook and a liar.
  • The Reveal: In the last scene, we find out the origins of the virus and how Beth contracted it.
  • Ripped from the Headlines:
    • The case where a scientist injects herself with a vaccine while it's still untested, much to the worry of her scientist father, is presumably loosely based off a case during the Ebola outbreak where African scientists transferred blood from an Ebola-immune subject to a nurse who was infected (both cases worked, by the way). The Nobel Prize-winning self-experimentation of Prof. Barry Marshall is mentioned, too.
    • The scare over the vaccine is very similar to the MMR scare that happened in the early 2000's and was similarly ill-supported by evidence, only gaining public attention due to scaremongering.
    • The origins of the epidemic (disturbed fruit bat infects pig infects human somewhere in East Asia) are taken from the 1999 Nipah virus outbreak in Malaysia.
  • The Scapegoat: Dr. Cheever becomes the scapegoat for the whole affair thanks to warning his wife about getting out of Chicago, in spite of having done his best to contain the virus outside of that. At the very least, he’s allowed to continue to have his position until the virus is dealt with, and after Dr. Hextall finds the cure, it’s implied he’s going to be kicked out of his position at best.
  • Science Hero: Reconstruction. The medical/scientific community works hard at containing and stopping the virus, and aside from some Artistic License, is generally portrayed the way real doctors and scientists would operate in this kind of situation.
  • The Scourge of God: The first person to die of the disease was committing adultery at the time. Make of that what you will.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!:
    • Sussman goes against orders to destroy his research samples in order to successfully culture the virus in a lab... a vital first step to getting a vaccine. Doubles as a case of Screw the Money, I Have Rules! since it's speculated by Hextall that Sussman have gone into business himself with the discovery and made a fortune, and was probably approached about it.
    • Hextall later injects herself with an untested but viable vaccine sample, since the proper procedure would have taken many times longer to get results. It works, ultimately stopping the pandemic.
  • Shout-Out:
    • When talking with government officials in Minnesota, one of them notes that a plastic shark would cause more panic than a sidenote about a virus... then go on to screw things up, a la the mayor, by complaining that causing a panic now would disrupt shopping sales.
    • Krumwiede's line about the recently created vaccine potentially causing autism or cancer is a reference to the anti-vaccine movement. Andrew Wakefield had falsified a paper that showed a link between the MMR vaccine and autism and was struck off the UK's medical register. The anti-vaccine movement in general took Wakefield in as a martyr and continues to push anti-vaccine tropes which are causing outbreaks even to this day.
  • Shown Their Work: The film is a relatively scientifically accurate portrayal of a pandemic:
    • The fictional MEV-1 virus is based on the real life Nipah virus (which does cause pneumonia-like symptoms and seizures).
    • The film's portrayal of how the pandemic began: "The wrong bat met the wrong pig", is actually how epidemiologists theorized the original 1999 Malaysia Nipah outbreak began (an infected bat dropped a piece of half-chewed fruit into a pig pen, the pig ate the bat-saliva-laced fruit and got infected, and passed the disease to humans who butchered the pig).
    • The molecular biology of the virus: genome size, number of genes, even identifiable splice sites from different strains of the virus (bat vs. pig) pretty much match up with how viruses work in the Real World. Its inability to replicate in standard cell culture is also a feature of some real world viruses, such as Hepatitis-C.
    • The vaccine development. Rhesus macaques are one of the most common test animals for vaccine work, because their immune systems are extremely similar to that of humans, much more so than rabbits, rats or other experimental animals. The vaccine scenes suffer only from Hollywood Compression.
    • The plot-line about the vaccine scare? A Shout-Out to the MMR vaccine scare in which one 'researcher' fabricated results and caused massive distrust of both that particular vaccine and all others just to get rich. Said actions also went unpunished, and caused many deaths, though not as many as in the movie.
    • MEV-1 getting stored next to Smallpox and samples of other well-known lethal viruses. Such archives actually exist in military BSL-4 facilities such as Fort Detrick, MD, and in civilian ones such as the NIH's Rocky Mountain Labs. Generally, though, the security level is much greater than the one shown.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Bryan Cranston has a fairly substantial role as a Rear Admiral with the Department of Homeland Security (and was already a star thanks to his work on Breaking Bad), yet is nowhere to be seen in the marketing.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: This movie showcases how a pandemic brings out both the very best and the very worst in people. Health care officials, doctors, and scientists work tirelessly, including putting themselves in harm's way, to try to stop the spread of the disease, care for the sick, and develop a vaccine. Most people do seem to want to help or be there for others in anyway they can, but sometimes fear and panic takes over and they make poor, irrational decisions that make an already bad situation worse. And then there are the people who see a pandemic as a way to gain fame, notoriety, and money.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: "Merry Christmas," the theme that plays when Mears dies and her body is placed in a mass grave while the other CDC technician discusses ordering more body bags from Canada, is oddly uplifting. It becomes more appropriate the next time it plays, when Dr. Hextall finds a vaccinated rhesus monkey that survived, injects herself with the vaccine, and goes to her father's isolation ward for a successful test.
  • Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: A global map splotched with red shows the infection's predicted spread to major cities all over the world.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Dr. Orantes is kidnapped and held hostage to ensure that a large group of uninfected people will get a cure for the virus. However, when the film switches back to her story later in the film, the audience sees that she seems to be working as a schoolteacher and genuinely cares for the children in the village. Then she learns that the vaccines given for her release were fake, and runs off to warn them at the end.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: An In-Universe example, and unfortunately a very realistic case of such at that. After profiteering off of the epidemic by promoting a false vaccine, Alan Krumwiede is bailed out of prison by his online followers who paid for his release through individual donations.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Beth is portrayed this way by her mother, who insists that despite her mistakes she loved Mitch very much. We don't learn much about Beth herself but she seems happy to see Mitch and Clark when getting home from her trip.
  • Synthetic Plague: As fits his anti-government/science paranoia, Krumwiede immediately assumes this trope applies, even though we see for ourselves that the epidemic starts quite naturally, with a wild bat infecting a pig.
  • Tracking Shot: When Krumwiede runs through a park (with police and CDC officials in pursuit) after discovering his hedge fund broker was wearing a wire and tipped off the authorities.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Mitch loses his wife and stepson to a then-unknown virus in less than a single day. Then he discovers during questioning by Mears that his wife was having an affair and may have contracted the disease from her ex (even though she didn't he had no way of knowing this). Then he has to learn that Beth and Clark can't be buried on the family plot due to fears of spreading the virus. Then he has to deal with an increasingly strained relationship with his restless daughter while also dealing with the collapse of society during quarantine in his home city. Everyone suffers during the virus but among the survivors Mitch get the worst of it by far.
  • Trailers Always Lie:
    • The trailer makes it seem like Matt Damon's character is leading the plot.
    • They also imply some sort of government conspiracy surrounding the virus.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Dr. Mears, sounding sick, calling the hotel staff and asking for the names of everyone who cleaned the room she was sitting in.
  • Uncertain Doom:
    • Lorraine's baby, given that her pregnancy might have been far along for an emergency c-section before she died and placenta fluid often protects unborn children from their mothers ailments.
    • The virus itself only has about a 25% mortality rate, meaning that any sick character the audience doesn't see die (John Neal's wife, Aaron Barnes, Dr. Hextall's father) may very well have survived.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Beth as Patient Zero, as well as most of the early people she infects. She became Patient Zero in the first place because the chef didn't wash his hands after butchering the pig carrying the mutant virus.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Sun Feng wanted to protect the remaining people in his village from the virus. For him, this meant kidnapping Dr. Orantes and taking her to his village for over a hundred days. By the looks of it Orantes was treated quite warmly by the villagers.
  • Water Source Tampering: Inverted when the government wants to know if dumping the cure in the water supply will suffice as a quick means of curing everyone. Dr. Hextall simply ignores the question when Cheever relays it.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: After being kidnapped by a Chinese epidemiologist, Dr. Orantes is rescued, then runs through an airport to warn the people who kidnapped her they received a fake cure for her release and is never seen again.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Everyone's response to Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) abusing his power and position at the CDC to warn his wife to leave Chicago before the quarantine went into effect. It's effectively used by Krumwiede to instill distrust in the government.
  • Wham Shot:
    • Dr. Mears coughing in her hotel room as she's become infected with the virus.
    • How Beth really came in contact with the virus. The chef meeting her didn't bother to wash his hands after handling an infected butchered pig for dinner.
  • Withholding the Cure: While this doesn't happen, some believe that it does — it is one of the destructive rumors that fly around on the internet, and it feeds the paranoia of certain characters. This is used by Krumwiede, who then directs bloggers to get a drug made from Forsythia, which is not a cure.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: Alan claims that if each person is infecting 2 others, on the first day 2 people will be infected, then 4, then 16, then 256, then 65,536 and so on. Of course, in reality, if you have 256 infected people, and they each infect 2 people, the next day you'll have 512 new cases, not 65,000. The correct number sequence is 2, 4, 8, 16, 32... note  In other words, he wants a geometric progression, not a quadratic. He explicitly quotes results based on the proper series later in the scene (he says it would take a month to infect a billion people, and sure enough, 2^30 is just over a billion. Using the incorrect series, it would take a week — indeed, just one day after 65,536 were infected you'd have 4,294,967,296 cases). This may be intentional, as Alan is an untrustworthy gossiper who's falsifying a cure on behalf of alternative medicine companies to rake in profit.

Alternative Title(s): Contagion