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Contagion is a 2011 American medical thriller film directed by Steven Soderbergh. The film has an ensemble cast that includes Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, and Bryan Cranston. Contagion follows the rapid progress of a lethal indirect contact transmission virus (fomite transmission) that kills within days. As the fast-moving pandemic grows, the worldwide medical community races to find a cure and control the panic that spreads faster than the virus itself. As the virus spreads around the world, ordinary people struggle to survive in a society coming apart.
The film had a production budget of $60 million, and filming took place in countries around the world. It premiered on September 3, 2011 at the 68th Venice Film Festival and was publicly released on September 9, 2011 in the United States, Canada, Italy, Hong Kong, and four other territories.
The film follows several interacting plotlines, with no single protagonist, over the course of several weeks from the initial outbreak and attempts to contain it, to panic and decay of social order, and finally the introduction of a vaccine.
Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns from a business trip to Hong Kong, after briefly stopping in Chicago to cheat on her husband with an old flame. Two days later, she collapses with severe seizures in her suburban Minneapolis home. Her husband, Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon), rushes her to the hospital but she dies from an unknown disease. Mitch returns home and finds his stepson, Clark, has also died from similar symptoms. Mitch is put in isolation but turns out to be immune to the disease. He and his daughter attempt to flee the city, but a quarantine has been imposed and they are forced to return to their home to face a decaying social order and rampant looting of stores and homes. Mitch struggles to give his daughter, who has a lengthy wait for a vaccination and is thus quarantined to their house, a sense of normality while trying to come to terms with his own loss. For prom night, he decorates the living room and invites his daughter's boyfriend, who got vaccinated in the meantime.
In Atlanta, representatives from the Department of Homeland Security meet with Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and express fears that the disease is a bioweapon intended to cause terror over the Thanksgiving weekend. Cheever sends Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer, to Minneapolis to begin the investigation and traceback. Dr. Mears has to negotiate with local bureaucrats reluctant to commit resources and becomes infected with the disease while staying at her hotel. The Minnesota National Guard arrives to quarantine the city, and a badly deteriorating Dr. Mears is moved to the field medical station she helped set up, where she later dies.
A conspiratorially-minded freelance journalist named Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) posts video blogs claiming that he has recovered from his sickness using a homeopathic cure based on forsythia. Panicked people attempting to obtain forsythia overwhelm pharmacies and also accelerate the contagion as infected and healthy people congregate. Krumwiede leaps to national attention and, during a television interview, accuses Dr. Cheever of informing friends and family to leave Chicago before a quarantine is imposed. It is later revealed Krumwiede was never sick but was attempting to boost demand on behalf of investors in the companies producing and distributing the treatment.
Dr. Hextall identifies a potential vaccine using an attenuated (live) virus. Because of the difficulties of human subjects testing, she follows the precedent of other vaccine researchers and inoculates herself first. Hextall visits her gravely-ill father in the hospital to expose herself to the virus and test the vaccine. Production of the vaccine is rapidly ramped up and the CDC awards vaccinations via a random lottery based on birth dates for one full year until every survivor is vaccinated. Dr. Cheever, remorseful about the deaths that his delayed action indirectly caused, gave his fast-tracked vaccination to the son of a janitor (John Hawkes) he works with at the disease center.
Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) is a World Health Organization epidemiologist who traveled to Hong Kong to find out where the sickness originated. While there, she identifies Emhoff as patient zero. Orantes is kidnapped by epidemiologist Sun Feng (Chin Han) to use as leverage to obtain the first vaccines for his village. After the vaccines arrive, Feng exchanges Orantes for the vaccines, which turn out to be placebos. Orantes rushes to notify the villagers.
The film concludes by showing how the virus originated. Emhoff's firm, a mining corporation based in Minneapolis, is actively clearing jungle and a bulldozer knocks over a palm tree in which bats were nesting. They fly out and one bat, the vector, lands on a banana plant, eating a chunk of banana. Not having its tree to return to, the bat flies to a nearby hog building, where it drops the banana into a pig sty, where a pig eats it. The pig is then sold and slaughtered and is shown being prepared by a chef in the Macau casino Beth Emhoff was in. The chef smears the pig's blood on his apron but does not wash his hands before shaking Beth's hand, thereby infecting her with the disease.
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