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A Psychologist Explains Why It’s Probably Healthier to Watch ‘Contagion’ Than the News

An expert says the "closure" provided by movies can offer a better sense of community than staring at the news all day.

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Warner Bros/Kobal/Shutterstock (5885842ab)Jude LawContagion - 2011Director: Steven SoderberghWarner BrosUSAScene Still

“Contagion”

Warner Bros/Kobal/Shutterstock

Moviegoers sheltering in place have, not so surprisingly, turned to Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film “Contagion” for comfort. The Warner Bros. thriller details with eerie precision the complete breakdown of civilization amid a rapidly evolving virus, and recently, one psychologist said that revisiting Soderbergh’s film on streaming is probably healthier than watching the news.

According to a report via Insider, Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, explained the phenomenon behind watching movies like “Contagion” (which is available for rent via VOD platforms) or “Outbreak” (which hit Netflix earlier this spring and has seen a huge spike in popularity). One word: closure.

“It makes us feel we’re not alone, and there’s a resolution to these stories so we can express our anxiety that way,” Rutledge said. “Whether it’s zombie movies or ‘Contagion,’ any thriller ramps up a lot of anxiety and fear that then gets resolved by the end.”

Rutledge also said that watching movies — including “Contagion” — is one possible coping mechanism during an unprecedented situation, where the threat, i.e. the coronavirus, is invisible.

“Movies are now that steady presence for us. There’s closure,” she said. A lot of collective fear around the unknowability of the virus also compels us to turn to the screen for answers, or solace, Rutledge added.

“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. 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.”

Rutledge also said that, given the inescapable barrage of terrible news coming at us day and night, “I would much rather have people watching ‘Contagion’ and Netflix all day long than watching the news,” she said.

“Watch things that make you feel like you are part of a community,” Rutledge said. “Where you can identify with the characters.” If that’s “Contagion,” then by all means. The movie has been surging on the iTunes charts since COVID-19 began in China. Director Steven Soderbergh even said that, while doing research for the movie 10 years ago, it showed him that a real outbreak was indeed inevitable.

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