Contagion – A review and some survival thoughts.

Posted: September 29, 2011 in Current Events, Movies, Reviews
Tags: , ,

Yes, I’ll get around to reviewing the movie eventually.  First a few related thoughts.

As many of you know, I teach wilderness survival skills to a youth group.  No, we’re not the stereotype, gun toting survivalists.  It’s a lot about nature awareness and appreciation.  But survival definitely plays a part.  Recently we talked about play acting the preparation for a potential disaster and we talked about what form that might take.  Here in Southern Ontario we’re not really prone to severe earthquakes or hurricanes.  Tornadoes visit us occasionally, but are very localized, meaning that help would be easily available from surrounding areas.  Tsunamis are unlikely unless a very large piece of NASA space junk lands in the middle of Lake Ontario, and even then, if you live north of St. Clair you are probably safe.

Really, the only disaster that we could think of would be a crippling ice storm of the sort that hit northern Quebec about a dozen or so years ago.  What you really need to prepare for in any wide scale disaster is lack of emergency services, an interruption to the flow of food supplies, possible disruption to the water supply, and no electricity. Or at least that’s all we talked about.

After seeing Contagion it is clear that the threat of a pandemic is not only a viable threat, but perhaps one of the most likely.  In the movie an unidentified virus begins to spread from Hong Kong and quickly spreads through the world, killing millions.  The hypothetical statistics from the movie are 10% of the population being infected and there being a 33% survival rate if infected.  That translates into a 6% mortality rate globally.  The movie does an excellent job showing how it spreads.  Contagion treads a fine line between documentary and drama.  It is enough of a documentary to be really scary and enough of a drama to be very engaging.

How real is the movie?  Well, the people in Atlanta who would best know claim that it is entirely plausible, though low probability.  That’s enough for me.  The Spanish Flu in the early 1900’s killed 1% of the world’s population.  The medieval Bubonic Plague claimed, in several outbreaks, over 100 million lives.  Now, of course, modern doctors would claim that this is because people didn’t have the medical knowledge then that we have now.  Very true, but all the medical knowledge in the world has not helped us find a cure or an inoculation against AIDS.  We’re lucky that AIDS is such a difficult disease to catch, having very specific contagion parameters and not living for any length of time outside of the body.  But what if AIDS, or a virus like it, became airborne or more easily transmitted by touch.  Many scientists have warned over the past decade that we are overdue for another pandemic, which is what made SARS, bird flu and swine flu so scary.

As the movie very accurately shows, a pandemic would result in an interruption to most necessities of life.  Food would cease to be transported, and your local grocery store has enough food for about 10 days …if no-one hoards.  Emergency services would be severely affected.  All medical personnel would be occupied with the sick and police would be overwhelmed by the emergency if they all stayed on duty.  In the movie, nurses and other medical service personnel refuse to work  because of the risk and the police are ineffective in stopping looting and rioting.  This is a very likely scenario.  We know that faced with starvation, about 10% of the population would not hesitate to kill in order to survive, and about 1% would have no trouble eating you.  (Yes, that’s right.  I wish I could find the reference for this, but I do remember reading it at one point.)

This brings us to another survival concern that the movie demonstrates quite clearly.  It is not enough to be prepared for an emergency.  One must also be ready to defend what one has in order to protect it from people who would want to take it away from you.  I don’t think that I really have to argue this point.  I’m sure that we all know that even if one person in a hundred would choose to criminally attack in order to either get food or otherwise profit by looting, that’s a huge number of people.  Twenty or thirty people can effectively terrorize a small community, especially if they don’t think the police will be there to stop them.

I think that Contagion contains within it an important lesson.  I won’t say that it is a fun movie, but it’s one of those particularly scary movies because it is so much within the realm of possibility.  I give this move an A-.


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