Contagion: A Nice Nod to the Lab Community
I just saw the blockbuster movie Contagion
and must say I was pretty impressed. When I watch a medical-themed movie, I always look at it with a critical eye. How factual is it? Is it authentic in terms of scenarios, equipment, procedures and vocabulary?
I look for how realistically roles are portrayed. For example I tend to roll my eyes and become more vocal than usual when instruments spit out data indicating everything except what one had for breakfast. Doctors do not routinely perform laboratory testing or calibrate instruments in any lab I know.
This movie, directed by Steven Sodenburgh, has a star-studded cast and a riveting, attention-keeping credible story line. I was happy to see Atlanta prominently featured: the CDC, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and CNN’s own Dr. Sanjay Gupta in a cameo appearance playing himself!
Without being a spoiler, I can disclose that the “culprit” is a virus that spurs an epidemic and rapidly balloons to a pandemic gripping civilians and healthcare professionals alike. The virus has an animal reservoir and is in fact modeled after the Nipah virus spread from animal to humans. CDC colleagues indicate (personal communication) that not only is this scenario realistic, it is just mere luck that such a pandemic has not yet occurred.
The biohazard room, research facilities, equipment and departments like Epidemic Intelligence Service are all authentic. The audience is educated with terms like fomite and R0 (R nought) without being entirely condescending.
Movies are usually sensationalized dramas with crises resolved in two hours or so. But real laboratory action is not always as dramatic and takes place, largely unnoticed every day.
The CDC was quick to add a statement to their website mentioning the movie and pointing out the real-life role of the CDC in epidemiology.
As laboratorians we can be proud that we play medical detectives every day. The public health is protected and preserved as we assiduously analyze, interpret and report vital information that saves countless lives. Now that sort of competence and commitment beat any blockbuster movie hands down.