“Contagion” follows the rapid progress of a lethal airborne virus that kills within days. As the fast-moving epidemic grows, the worldwide medical community races to find a cure and control the panic that spreads faster than the virus itself. At the same time, ordinary people struggle to survive in a society coming apart.
Gwyneth Paltrow plays Beth Emhoff “who is a working mom who audiences meet as she’s wrapping up a business trip to Hong Kong and on her way home. She’s already sick, but it doesn’t seem serious enough yet to worry her.”
Though Beth succumbs early, she remains a vital thread running through the movie as research teams at home and abroad work to pinpoint her part in the epidemic. Says director Steven Soderbergh, “Beth’s story is revealed gradually. She’s the center of the detective aspect of the movie, the mystery of how it all started, and audiences learn more about her character as the action progresses.”
Paltrow acknowledges her character could be considered lucky, in a way, to be among the burgeoning plague’s first casualties, because it’s the survivors who face the thorniest challenges: “You start to wonder what you would do in that scenario, and where you’d go for clean water and food. You ask yourself how prepared you would be for a crisis of this scale. We rely so heavily on the infrastructure of society, I think the answer is that we’d all be in quite a lot of trouble.”
When Beth’s autopsy stuns the local pathologist, he alerts the Center for Disease Control (CDC). There, the hunt begins for answers, as researchers compare her symptoms with other recent deaths, analyze samples, and try to determine the extent of the threat even as it continues to evolve. Kate Winslet plays Dr. Erin Mears who eagerly accepts Beth’s case as her first prestigious assignment as a CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officer. But the parameters of the job—and its risks—prove far beyond what she expected.
Researching the role, Winslet spent time at the CDC and met with past and present EIS officers who offered her a real sense of not only the job but also the kind of person who fills it. “I was told by some that they feel most alive when they’re on a mission,” she relates. “You have to be incredibly determined to do this work. It means sacrificing a lot of sleep, a social life, and your own safety, but it’s an honor to be chosen. It’s what they all train for and want to do. These are people who can be sent into war zones where there’s been an outbreak of a new virus. Fear is not an option. If they feel it, they learn to push it aside.”
Simultaneously, at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, clusters of new cases light up sectors on a world map as epidemiologist Leonora Orantes, played by Marion Cotillard, works urgently to reconstruct the final days of Beth’s itinerary and connect the seemingly random dots that lead back to ground zero. And patient zero. “Fortunately for Orantes, “ explains Cotillard, “we now have video cameras everywhere so the first thing she does is study the footage from the cameras in Beth’s hotel, the elevator and the casino. But even that can only take her so far. You can discover a point of contact between two people, and you know both of them became ill, but it could have gone either way—the question is, which one of them infected the other?
“Meanwhile,” she adds, “Time is the enemy. As quickly as Orantes and the others work, the virus is moving even faster. People are dying and desperation is growing.”
Opening across the Philippines in September 9 in IMAX and regular theaters, “Contagion” is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment company.