Soon after her return from a business trip to Hong Kong, Beth Emhoff dies from what is a flu or some other type of infection. Her young son dies later the same day. Her husband Mitch however seems immune. Thus begins the spread of a deadly infection. For doctors and administrators at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, several days pass before anyone realizes the extent or gravity of this new infection. They must first identify the type of virus in question and then find a means of combating it, a process that will likely take several months. As the contagion spreads to millions of people worldwide, societal order begins to break down as people panic.
Jet-setting American businesswoman Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns from Hong Kong with what seems like a cold, but when she goes into convulsions and dies within two days of arriving back in Minneapolis, doctors are forced to consider something much more serious, while her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) is forced to pick up the pieces. Mitch's teenage daughter Jory (Anna Jacoby-Heron) comes to live with him following her stepmother's death, and the two soon find themselves at the heart of a global event.
Stories of similar deadly infections start to pour in from around the US and the world from China to England to Japan and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta and the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva jump into action. CDC Deputy Director Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) sends Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to Minneapolis to investigate Beth's activities leading up to her death, while WHO rep Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) travels to Hong Kong do the same.
As CDC doctor Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) works to study the new virus and come up with a vaccine, San Francisco-based conspiracy theorist blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) begins to attract a following for his accusation that the CDC is keeping the public in the dark about a cure, which he dubs Forsythia. Panic, suspicion and paranoia grow exponentially as the number of infected jump from hundreds to thousands to millions, and officials race to stem the tide while citizens struggle to survive both the disease and the social breakdown.
Marion Cotillard as Dr. Leonora Orantes
* A World Health Organization epidemiologist who traveled to Hong Kong to find out where the sickness originated. While she is there, she identifies Emhoff as patient zero. Orantes is kidnapped by epidemiologist, Sun Feng (Chin Han) to use as leverage to obtain the first vaccines for his village. After the vaccines reach there, she is exchanged for some vaccines which turn out to be placebos. Orantes rushes to notify the villagers
Matt Damon as Mitch Emhoff
* The embodiment of the "everyman" - an individual that is seen as "one of the human faces of the supervirus" following his wife and stepson's deaths. Mitch's "common individual" lack of medical and scientific knowledge, though keeping the situation dynamic and compelling was challenging for the director, as he was concerned that Emhoff would be a one-dimensional character.
Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Ellis Cheever
* Cheever was a "smart", "competent" physician who often epitomized a "voice of reason". Dr. Cheever must balance the need for full disclosure while also avoiding a panic and the reality that it takes time to characterize and respond to a novel virus. He informs his wife to leave Chicago before a quarantine is imposed, He indirectly caused a delayed in the vaccination be put out, he felt bad so he gave his fast tracked vaccination to the son of a janitor (John Hawkes) he works with at the disease center.
Jude Law as Alan Krumwiede
* Krumwiede is an ardent conspiracy theorist who, according to Law, is the so-called index patient for “what becomes a parallel epidemic of fear and panic.” .
Gwyneth Paltrow as Elizabeth "Beth" Emhoff
* Elizabeth is the...