Contagion is a 2011 medical thriller disaster film. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the film features an ensemble cast that includes Marion Cotillard, Bryan Cranston, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, and Jennifer Ehle. Contagion’s plot documents the spread of a virus transmitted by fomites, attempts by medical researchers and public health officials to identify and contain the disease, the loss of social order in a pandemic, and finally the introduction of a vaccine to halt its spread. The film makes use of a “hyperlink narrative” style popularized in several of Soderbergh’s other films to follow several interacting plot lines.
Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns had collaborated on The Informant! (2009). Following that film’s release, the two considered creating a biopic covering Leni Riefenstahl’s life before Burns brought up the idea of producing a medical thriller film depicting a virus’ rapid spread, which was inspired by various pandemics such as the 2003 SARS epidemic and the 2009 flu pandemic. To devise an accurate perception of a pandemic event, Burns consulted with representatives of the World Health Organization as well as noted medical experts such as W. Ian Lipkin and Lawrence “Larry” Brilliant.
After a business trip to Macao, businesswoman Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) stops in Chicago to have a sexual encounter with an old boyfriend before returning to her family in suburban Minneapolis. At first, she appears to have contracted a cold during her trip. Her son, Clark, also becomes symptomatic and is sent home from school. Beth’s condition worsens and two days later she collapses with severe seizures in her home. Her husband, Mitch (Matt Damon), rushes her to the hospital, but she continues to have seizures and dies of an unknown cause. Because it affects the brain and central nervous system, pathologists attribute it to a meningoencephalitis virus.
Mitch returns home and finds that Clark has also died from a similar infection. Mitch is put in isolation but turns out to be immune to the disease. He and his teenaged daughter attempt to flee the city, but a military quarantine has been imposed, and they’re forced to return to their home to face decaying social order and rampant looting of stores and homes. Not knowing whether his daughter inherited his immunity, Mitch struggles with her frustration with quarantine with his desire to protect her, while trying to come to terms with his own loss.