For one thing, the villain isn’t President
The closest Contagion comes to a villain is Alan Krumwiede, played by Jude Law. This toothy conspiracy blogger exists on the fringes of society, stirring up conspiracy theories, attacking institutions and hawking fake cures. Never in their wildest imagine would the writers have made him President, it just wouldn’t be believable. Yet here we are.
US President Donald Trump is promoting conspiracy theories that this is manmade, defunding the WHO and hawking chloroquine (which definitely isn’t a cure and can stop hearts). Trump even has a slight financial interest in the drug company Sanofi. It’s madness and it’s real. With terrifying consequences for us all.
Contagion is supposed to be a scary disaster film, a warning, but it is in many ways better than what has actually happened. The writers got a lot right, but they completely missed that the United States of America would collapse from above, withering into a failed state led by a walking WhatsApp forward.
Indeed, the film didn’t show US political leadership at all. The idea, now laughable, was that scientists and experts would be leading the charge, not being held hostage at political press conferences. Contagion doesn’t show or even mention the US President at all — the American protagonist is the CDC.
Yet in our reality, the CDC doesn’t seem to exist. If there’s a hero it’s the KCDC, in Korea. America today is a failed state, an implosion spewing death and misinformation across the world. They are led by Alan Krumwiede. America has lived long enough to become the villain.
It’s like Contagion got everything right, just in the wrong place. Their general numbers, for example, are realistic, just slightly enhanced for cinematic effect.
At one point, the film predicts 8 million cases and 2.5 million deaths in America alone. As the now-famous viral computationalist Trevor Bedford gets into, these numbers are actually pretty probable besides the 20% kill rate. They’ve compressed the timeline and made the death-rate scarier, but what we have is a less scary disease doing pretty similar damage. When the numbers are finally counted historically, it’s likely that America will have as many cases, just at a lower death rate.
The film also underestimated was the power of complete, controlled shut-downs. In the movie things just shut down catastrophically, descending into looting and violence in Chicago. What they missed was the herd-mentality of people — both in withdrawing from social contact given direction, or just meekly being killed by poor leadership as in the US and UK.
What the film doesn’t show is the horrible reality for people in these fallen western countries. The more you’re seeing politicians and not scientists on TV, the more trouble you’re in, and these countries are in deep trouble. US press conferences are not led by the CDC, they’re campaign rallies slash hostage situations for the surviving scientists. They must praise and flatter the President and blink furiously to try and save lives.
Meanwhile, the President attacks institutions like the WHO, silences the CDC, and attacks state governors desperately trying to save their people. Whereas Contagion had a blogger who lived and died by pageviews, reality has a President who kills for TV ratings. Krumwiede killed people on the fringes. Trump kills in the main.
It’s absolute madness and people are dying, entirely unnecessarily. Models show that 90% of US COVID deaths were preventable, but you don’t need computer-generated white people, just look at Korea which had their first cases on the same day. Or Vietnam, or even Sri Lanka (knock on an entire forest). The American death toll was all preventable, it’s just that corrupt and evil leadership actively unprevented it. And stupid Americans still support him. Far from the riots and unrest in the film, reality just has Trump running riot over a helpless population, cheered on by gun-toting MAGA loons.
And the scary thing is that it’s not over. Every day brings some fresh outrage. Contagion has an end, unlike our sordid drama, and in that ending Krumweide continues sowing doubt about the working vaccine. One can only imagine how Trump will react to any vaccine, likely the same, or worse. The consequences for the world if this villain continues to be in charge past November are dire, and yet Americans still remain fools. This is still possible, that such idiocy and incompetence would be ratified by voters, in a collective suicide of everything America claims to be in film.
Our reality makes Contagion look utopian. Yes, they face a deadly epidemic, but American institutions still exist, a United States still exists. The very real dystopia we find ourselves in is a completely failed state, led by a corrupt conspiracy theorist, spreading misinformation and death across the world. It’s higher drama than anyone would dare write, and I think the entire audience (outside of the Republican death cult) wants to watch something else.
Basically, WTF America. How could you put this asshole in charge? He’s the villain.