Contagion is a scary and compelling film. Coming out of it I began to wonder if we should be putting our energies toward rooting out and stopping terrorists or towards contagious disease research. I think we should rethink where we put our time, energy and resources into. Biological or disease warfare would be so easy on this planet that we have made increasingly mobile. People can get from one side of it to another in less than a day. Those same people could be weapons of mass destruction carrying horrendous contagious diseases that no x-ray machine would be able to identify. No need for bombs, a pilot’s license or any sort of traditional weapon. A disease can be transported by one person to a city where they come in contact with other people who will travel to other cities and so on. Soon millions are dead like in this film. Scary!
Germs are everywhere and no matter how much hand sanitizer we use they will eventually get us. Humans are the perfect transportation vehicles for these microscopic entities. We touch our faces several thousand times per day and touch surfaces that thousands of others have touched. Everywhere and everyone is a potential germ cesspool. Yuck! Contagion in a frightening way opens your eyes to this reality.
Gwenyth Paltrow’s character is doing business in Hong Kong for a large company and contracts a deadly and highly contagious disease. On a layover she stops by and has a rendez vous with a former lover before returning home to her husband Matt Damon, young son and daughter. Sending him off somewhere else in the United States with her disease. Almost immediately upon arriving home she shows signs of what we think is simply a cold. Very soon we realize that it is something a whole lot deadlier. Quickly she begins to suffer from seizures. Doctors are stumped not knowing what it is. Before they can figure it out or even order some tests she is dead. Her young son follows shortly after.
Around the world in Chicago, Tokyo and Hong Kong people are beginning to die in similar ways. The Center for Disease Control headed by Morpheus…umm…I mean Laurence Fishburne begins to realize that they have a deadly disease that they know nothing about on their hands. And it is killing quickly. Fishburne reacts to it by sending Dr. Kate Winslet, an expert in epidemics, out to figure out what it is and where it is. Also he has a research scientist played by Jennifer Ehle (who looks like a younger Meryl Streep) trying to come up with a antidote. A lot of balls are being kept up in the air by a small number of people while the majority of people feel like they are being kept in the dark – that panic is not helped by blogger Jude Law who is feeding the flames while trying to make some money at the same time – and begin to act like humans do in these types of situations: looting, rioting and general mayhem.
This is a huge ensemble cast with none of the big profile actors having too much screen time. As a result not much acting is done. Gwenyth Paltrow says maybe 10 lines and then croaks. This is not a criticism as they don’t really have to as the story does everything needed to tell the ghastly tale. The characters are not central the story is.
It is certainly intellectual rather than emotional. I mean, you will feel tense and frightened throughout but that is a constant so you don’t really notice it anymore. The film makes you think primarily rather than feel. You are encouraged to look at the whole thing and the disease literally and symbolically. Things are close and far away at the same time. It questions globalization. The poor of the world are shown to be living too close together and without any medicine. No one seems to care about them so they die the quickest. And we have to stop eating pigs.
Contagion is definitely not a summer epidemic film as this is a disaster film without any action. It shows the good, bad and ugly about humans and our behavior. Some of us are self-absorbed while others are heroes. Steven Soderbergh’s film is smart and has not been dumbed down in the least. Let’s watch it and learn something from Contagion. And remember, stay away from bowls of peanuts on bars!