After a business trip to Macao, businesswoman Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) stops in Chicago to have a sexual encounter with an old boyfriend before returning to her family in suburban Minneapolis. At first, she appears to have contracted a cold during her trip. Her son, Clark, also becomes symptomatic and is sent home from school.
Beth’s condition worsens and two days later she collapses with severe seizures in her home. Her husband, Mitch (Matt Damon), rushes her to the hospital, but she continues to have seizures and dies of an unknown cause. Because it affects the brain and central nervous system, pathologists attribute it to a meningoencephalitis virus.
Mitch returns home and finds that Clark has also died from a similar infection. Mitch is put in isolation but turns out to be immune to the disease. He and his teenage daughter attempt to flee the city, but a military quarantine has been imposed, and they are forced to return to their home. Not knowing whether his daughter inherited his immunity, Mitch struggles with her frustration with quarantine with his desire to protect her, while trying to come to terms with his own loss.
In Atlanta, representatives of the Department of Homeland Security meet with Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and express fears that the disease is a bioweapon intended to cause terror over the Thanksgiving weekend. Cheever sends Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer, to Minneapolis to begin the investigation.
In addition to tracing the outbreak back to Beth, Dr. Mears has to negotiate with local bureaucrats reluctant to commit resources. She later becomes infected with the disease. The Minnesota National Guard arrives to quarantine the city, and Dr. Mears is moved to the field medical station she helped set up, where she later dies.
Character to watch: Gwyneth Paltrow as Beth Emhoff. Rushed to the emergency room by her husband, Beth is in convulsions and begins to flatline as the doctors and nurses around her struggle to determine what is wrong with her.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Year of Release: 2011
Journal your answers to the following questions after you watch the movie.
- How does this particular character’s journey compare with yours?
- Did the character develop certain characteristics during the movie that you have or that you would like to have? If so, what are those characteristics?
- What obstacles did this character face? What was his or her biggest challenge?
- What would you have done differently if you had been in the same position as the character?
- Is this character the type of person you would be friends with? Why or why not?