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A cathartic reading of Soderbergh’s <i>Contagion</i> and Petersen’s <i>Outbreak</i> as pandemic films

Adedayo Michael Haastrup
Martina O. Omprodion


The outbreak of the novel corona virus pandemic in 2019 in Wuhan, China signified a change in social relations that led to a new normal in the world.  Man as a social animal was forced to adopt new strategies to cope in the face of the new enemy; the unseen microbes that had the potential to wipe out  human existence if left unchecked. Social distancing, masking up, quarantine, lockdowns became the realities of people and nations of the world. The  heightened fear, terror, information overload, rumors and speculations put pressure on the mental health of many around the world. Life became like a  scene out of a horror film, with medics dressed in personal protective gear amidst soaring death rates. One of the other ways in which man in his  enforced isolation coped and kept in touch with the social world was through film and social media. The early days of the pandemic saw an increased  consumption of films, especially films that dwell on disease outbreak as central theme. This paper adopts a qualitative research methodology and is an  investigation into human beings’ recourse to film in times of uncertainties. Applying the Cathartic theory and the concept of Cinema-therapy to the  reading of Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion (2011) and Wolfgang Petersen’s Outbreak (1995), it is seen that these films offer man an opportunity to  confront and reconcile the fear and uncertainty of the pandemic, offering hope in a situation of despair. 

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eISSN: 2971-6748
print ISSN: 0189-9562