- Dr. Pamela Rutledge explained to Insider that the reason “Contagion” is so popular during the coronavirus pandemic is because we can identify with the characters.
- Dr. Rutledge said that we need movies, TV, and even meeting up with friends on Zoom because it helps battle depression if you are in self-isolation.
- She added that to also ward off depression and anxiety that you should not constantly watch the news.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
One of the most puzzling phenomenons to happen during the coronavirus is the sudden popularity of Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion.” The 2011 thriller mirrors with uncanny realistic scenarios what’s going on right now as it depicts a world that is struck by a global pandemic.
Since COVID-19 originated in China months ago (the virus in “Contagion” also started there), the movie has been a top title to watch on digital services. Warner Bros., the studio that made the movie, announced in March that it was only behind the “Harry Potter” franchise as the most in-demand title in its catalogue to view online (“Contagion” was the studio’s 270th most popular in December 2019).
But it’s not just “Contagion” that people are watching as most of the country is stuck at home. “Outbreak” – the 1995 movie starring Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, and Morgan Freeman as Army doctors fighting a deadly virus spreading through California – has found popularity since hitting Netflix in March. And social media is filled with people commenting on suddenly watching movies like “12 Monkeys” (which is set in a world where almost half of humanity is wiped out by a virus) to the zombie comedy “Shaun of the Dead.”
So why in this difficult time are we finding comfort watching movies that are similar to the situation we are all in right now?
“It makes us feel we’re not alone, and there’s a resolution to these stories so we can express our anxiety that way,” Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Centre, told Insider. “Whether it’s zombie movies or ‘Contagion,’ any thriller ramps up a lot of anxiety and fear that then gets resolved by the end.”
Movies help us fight an enemy that has no face
Rutledge, who also teaches media psychology at Fielding Graduate University, said mentally coping with the coronavirus is a major challenge because it’s not a visible threat, like a tsunami or the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Not seeing the danger leads to us having no sense of control of the situation. And on top of that, socially isolating from the threat feels unnatural to us.
“Movies are now that steady presence for us,” she said. “There’s closure.”
Rutledge said movies are just one aspect of coping with this unprecedented situation we are living through, which can lead to depression.
“There’s research on the impact of quarantine, there’s research on the impact of a society-wide crisis, but there’s no research on a pandemic outside of the Spanish flu,” she said. “We don’t understand what all these factors mean together but the intersection makes it pretty clear what we are facing is a level of trauma.”
Keep watching movies and TV shows, but cut down on the news intake
Rutledge feels watching movies, TV shows, and especially meeting with friends over Zoom are great ways to deal with what’s going on because “for the human brain, seeing eyes and expressions allow us to experience interaction as if they were face to face.”
But the one thing Rutledge feels you shouldn’t spend a lot of time doing is watching the news.
“I would much rather have people watching ‘Contagion’ and Netflix all day long than watching the news,” she said.
The doctor believes with so much distressing reports constantly going on if you watch for too long it can lead to anxiety and depression.
“Watch things that make you feel like you are part of a community,” Rutledge said. “Where you can identify with the characters.”