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Why we're finding coronavirus comfort in catastrophe films

As Covid-19 anxiety increases, viewers take solace by turning to movies about disease outbreaks, writes Ed Power

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Virus fight: Kate Winslet and Larry Clarke in 2011’s Contagion, which has
uncanny parallels to the current pandemic

Virus fight: Kate Winslet and Larry Clarke in 2011’s Contagion, which has uncanny parallels to the current pandemic

Virus fight: Kate Winslet and Larry Clarke in 2011’s Contagion, which has uncanny parallels to the current pandemic

We are all coping with the coronavirus lockdown in our own way. Some people play video games until their thumbs turn numb. Others get stuck into that nagging pile of unread paperbacks beside the bed. And then there are those who like to escape the pressures of life during enforced isolation by watching incredible graphic and often upsetting films about global pandemics.

As Covid-19 has progressed from vaguely ominous news story from the other side of the world to a clear and present threat to our way of life, something strange has happened. The popularity of movies and documentaries about outbreaks of killer diseases has undergone exponential growth. In our moment of crisis, we're turning for comfort to the very subject that has set the world head-over-heels.

In the United States, where the pandemic is becoming a whirlwind of near-Biblical destructiveness, Steven Soderbergh's 2011 film Contagion shot into the iTunes charts of most rented movies. Netflix's series Pandemic: How to Prevent An Outbreak has meanwhile taken up residence in the top 10 of popular shows in Ireland.