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The Biggest Questions We Have About Contagion

As the old saying goes, art imitates life — but in the case of the 2011 global pandemic movie Contagionit feels more like life imitating art. In the wake of the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak, people have been revisiting the eerily accurate disaster flick — so much so that at the time of writing, it was in the top 10 movie rentals and purchases on iTunes, and is currently the only movie released before 2019 to hold the honor.

As Contagion is an ensemble film, there are lots of plot threads to juggle, and some get clearer resolutions than others. That, combined with the science-term heavy dialogue, left us with a few questions about exactly what went down with certain characters at the end of the film. So let's dig in and find answers to some of the biggest questions we were left with after our social-distancing-inspired viewing of Contagion.

Why did Marion Cotillard's character run off at the end of Contagion?

One of the most opaque plot lines Contagion is that of WHO epidemiologist Dr. Leonora Orantes, played by Marion Cotillard. At first, her story seems quite clear as she travels to Hong Kong and Macau in an attempt to pinpoint exactly where the MEV-1 virus originated from and how it spread. Things take a big turn for Dr. Orantes about halfway through the film, when she's kidnapped by her Chinese liaison and brought to his village where most of the adults have already died of the virus, leaving only the children left. Dr. Orantes is told that she's going to be held hostage until a vaccine is produced, so that she can then be ransomed off for enough doses to inoculate the surviving children.

After she's successfully ransomed for doses of the MEV-1 vaccine, Dr. Orantes is at the airport with her rescuer preparing to fly home. However, when he reveals to her that the doses they traded her for were placebos, she gets up silently and runs through the airport.

That's the last we see of Dr. Orantes, and it left us wondering where exactly she was hurrying off to. Although Contagion doesn't spend much time on it, we do see her bonding with the children in the village after living there for several months. So, for lack of any other stated motivation, it seems that she was running to try and warn them that they aren't actually protected from the virus.

Did Jude Law's Contagion character really think he'd found a cure for the virus?

Another tricky storyline is that of blogger Alan Krumwiede, portrayed by Jude Law, who becomes enormously popular during the pandemic by spreading conspiracy theories. At one point during the outbreak, he records a video for his audience, in which he tells them that he has contracted the virus and will be taking a botanical extract called Forsythia as a homeopathic treatment.

When Krumwiede survives, the public begins buying Forsythia en masse. The treatment ends up selling out of stores, resulting in rioting in pharmacies and a big payday for Krumwiede. Once the vaccine is developed, he even discourages his audience from receiving it, telling them instead to rely on his homeopathic remedies to treat themselves. Eventually, he's arrested on accusations of securities fraud and manslaughter, specifically relating to pushing Forsythia, which he's profiting from, as a cure despite a lack of scientific evidence.

Similar to Dr. Orantes, Krumwiede's motivations are kept close to his chest. Was he really pushing a homeopathic treatment knowing it wasn't actually effective just to make money, or did he really believe Forsythia was a cure?

One big clue toward the end of the film points to the first possibility being the correct one. After his arrest, Krumwiede's blood is tested, and it turns out there are no viral antibodies in his system, which indicates that he was never infected with MEV-1 at any point. This means Krumwiede not only lied about being cured by Forsythia, but also about having the virus in the first place. That heavily implies he was aware the treatment he was profiting off throughout the pandemic was totally fake.

Where exactly did the virus from Contagion come originate, and how did it spread?

So, now onto the big question of Contagion: where did the MEV-1 virus come from? Earlier on in the film, one of the CDC doctors studying MEV-1 declared that the virus' DNA code contained traces of both bat and pig DNA, implying that it mutated within one of those two animals before jumping to humans. At the very end of Contagion, there's a flashback to the days before the outbreak, where we see a bat drop a bit of banana it has been eating into a pig pen. One of the pigs then begins to eat the banana.

Given the clues we've received about its origins, it's clear that this is when the MEV-1 virus mutated into its final form. After becoming infected with the novel virus, the pig is slaughtered and prepared to be served at a swanky casino in Macau, where American executive Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) is visiting while on business. The virus is transmitted to her after shaking the unwashed hand of the chef who was preparing the pig. Then, as determined earlier in the film by Dr. Orantes, Beth unknowingly transmits it to multiple other people at the casino, kicking off the outbreak.