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Ever since I departed the US Air Force under a cloud, because I didn’t want to drop hydrogen bombs on cities and participate in the extermination of humanity and much else, I have pondered and fussed over humanity’s coping with self-destruction. Having just watched the 2011 Hollywood movie Contagion, I was impressed by how these actors brought vividly to the screen the problems and opportunities people involved in humanity-at-risk problems have. It is a story, and it is a movie, and it is Hollywood, but all the same this movie works for me. It has the morbid-comedy quality of the 1964 film classic Dr. Strangelove, although in this case the anti-hero is only an opportunistic blogger, grasping at fame and a few million bucks. But he does wreak havoc on the responsible authorities trying to contain an existential threat to humanity, as did General Jack D. Ripper in Strangelove.

The movie brings to the fore how vulnerable humanity presently is, because of our vast numbers, the variety of venues we inhabit, and the world-wide hi-speed transportation network which sets the stage for epidemics to occur. Balanced against this is our massive scientific community and its ability to identify and counter disease given a little time. Stirred into this conflict is the challenge of news media and the new news media, the blogosphere. There are also the personal complications of some people on the inside putting their private interests ahead of their occupational responsibilities to the public. All of this natural human turbulence percolates to mass hysteria as the public comes to realize that their lives are at risk and the authorities can’t provide for their short-term security.

Every character does have development as the story evolves, that is reasonable and consistent with the problems confronting them. There is something to be learned by everyone as to how they might be expected to behave in this type of situation. It did seem that the media would have brought about a more rapid involvement of the public than was shown. The directors let large numbers of people die before the media became alarmed, which probably wouldn’t be the case in a real plague event.

The lesson we should all learn from this film is – Be Prepared.

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