Viral video: Movies reflect fascination with deadly contagion

As a species, we tend to be fascinated by dystopian novels and films.
Viral video: Movies reflect fascination with deadly contagion

Will Smith stars as Robert Neville in ‘I Am Legend’, in which a plague kills most of humanity and transforms the rest into monsters.
Will Smith stars as Robert Neville in ‘I Am Legend’, in which a plague kills most of humanity and transforms the rest into monsters.

As a species, we tend to be fascinated by dystopian novels and films.

More often than not the premise is the same — a virus causes a global pandemic which leaves empty cityscapes where a handful of human survivors cling on to existence by a thread.

No wonder then that, given the global spread of the coronavirus, some old favourites are back in vogue. Let’s face it, as talk of self-isolation becomes more and more prevalent around the country, people are going to need some good film, TV and reading options. And what better place to start than in the virus disaster genre?

Luckily, according to most of the boffins who know about viruses, most of these flicks and books have almost zero grounding in reality.

Matt Damon in Contagion.
Matt Damon in Contagion.

However, there is one exception — the 2011 film Contagion.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the film bears some similarities to the current coronavirus outbreak.

It is about a worldwide virus outbreak that starts in Hong Kong and is spread around the world after it is caught by Gwyneth Paltrow’s character (spoiler alert: she dies in the first 15 minutes of the film).

Like the coronavirus, the virus in the film is spread from animals to people. However, the Contagion disease kills more than 20% of those infected as opposed to 2% or so death rate of the coronavirus.

However, the film has been praised for its scientific accuracy in terms of an outbreak starts and spreads. As a result, its popularity has skyrocketed in streaming services in recent works.

As the screenwriter of Contagion Scott Burns said in an email to NPR in the US, he wanted to tell the story of a “plausible” outbreak and the fear it would cause.

“We were trying to tell a story that was credible within the boundaries of scientific understanding, but also illuminates how our world might respond — that is why the poster of the movie says ‘nothing spreads like fear’,” he said.

It’s not just scary virus films that are seeing a resurgence since the coronavirus panic gripped the world - one novel, in particular, is also experiencing a resurgence.

The 1981 Dean Koontz novel The Eyes of Darkness is the new hot book on Amazon. The almost 40-year-old novel caught fire on social media where a slightly misguided belief arose that it was somehow eerily prescient to the current situation with the coronavirus.

This is mainly due to the fact that the virus in the novel is called ‘Wuhan-400’ — named after the very same Chinese city where the current Covid-19 virus emerged. However, a deeper reading of the novel will reveal that similarities pretty much end there.

For example, in the first edition of the novel, the virus was called ‘Gorki-400’ after the Russian locality. However, this was changed to ‘Wuhan-400’ on the

re-release of the book in 1989 — towards the end of the Cold War.

Koontz also described his virus as “China’s most important and dangerous: new biological weapon in a decade” which was developed in labs outside of Wuhan. Clearly, coronavirus was not created in a lab.

Nor does it have a “kill-rate” of 100%, as the novel’s virus has. The book notes that once infected, “no one lives more than twenty-four hours. Most die in twelve”. The mortality rate for the coronavirus is estimated at around 2% and possibly even lower.

In short, enjoy the book but don’t think it predicted anything.

If Contagion is a little too close to reality for comfort, there are plenty of other scary virus TV and film options out there — some good and some very bad. But, all of them will keep you reasonably entertained for a few hours.

For movies, try The Andromeda Strain, 28 Days Later; 28 Weeks Later; World War Z, I am Legend, to name but a few.

The television offers you have a heap of go-to series like Z-Nation, The Walking Dead, the brilliant Utopia.

However, if you are looking for something truly terrifying, try the Netflix documentary Pandemic. Yes, it’s a documentary.

    Useful information
  • The HSE have developed an information pack on how to protect yourself and others from coronavirus. Read it here
  • Anyone with symptoms of coronavirus who has been in close contact with a confirmed case in the last 14 days should isolate themselves from other people - this means going into a different, well-ventilated room alone, with a phone; phone their GP, or emergency department - if this is not possible, phone 112 or 999 and in a medical emergency (if you have severe symptoms) phone 112 or 999

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