Aaron Mertens
by Aaron Mertens

I’m a sucker for disaster movies. I love the shallow plot, predictable characters, epic trailers, and the song that rolls with the credits that will likely become a summer hit (see Aerosmith or Linkin Park, they’ve done it before). These movies have ways of presenting drama in a “worst case scenario” fashion where I find myself trying to figure out a solution and inevitably save the world. The new movie out last weekend, Contagion, is a fun disaster movie especially for those with a science or microbiology background. The reviews are already out, so I won’t tell you whether the movie is good or bad. I will tell you to see it though.

As expected out of a movie about a viral pandemic, there is plenty of time spent at the CDC, particularly in BLS-4 labs. I know enough about a BSL-4 lab to know I don’t want to go in there unprotected, and that there are not many of them. But for the most part, BSL-4 labs are a rather mystical place. There’s so much excitement surrounding the risk of working in a BSL-4 lab, I want nothing more then to strap into one of those inflated blaze orange (and quite poofy) safety suits. And now that I think about it, I may have found this year’s Halloween costume.

A large portion of the movie was filmed and takes place in Minneapolis and surrounding area. There are familiar sights at the University of Minnesota Fairview Hospital, the Minneapolis Armory, and regrettably, snow. I’ve always wondered what a pandemic sweeping through the Twin Cities would be like over the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. There are significant risk/reward options to consider. Would I go shopping on Black Friday and risk getting sick? Meh, probably.

When you see Contagion, keep an eye out for the fun microbiology terms laced throughout the film: Protein binding residues? Yes. Monoclonal antibodies? Yup, scribbled on a whiteboard. Fomites? They’re in it. So are the government officials that don’t know what it means. Vectors? Uh-huh.

Contagion is a must-see for any disaster movie junkie with a science background like myself. It’s also probably a movie you should bring a friend that needs a reminder of hand washing. Pandemics serve as great Public Service Announcements. Yes, we all touch our faces and dirty objects all the time, and Contagion makes you aware of this multiple times. Think about fomites as you sit in that theater seat and eat your popcorn.