Like a virus, the movie “Contagion” has deeply seeded roots: from casinos to medical wards and from the humble individual to worldwide organisations, the movie explores it all. It sets out in a non-bashful way to depict the panic and the virus which both imprint on the human body and mind. People working as one is still something that is difficult and tricky to achieve: people need to listen when necessary as well as speak when helpful. The human immune system is not prepared for prolonged greed, anger, fear and stress.
“Contagion” was released in 2011, around the 9/11 ten year commemoration. It follows the citizens, the authorities, the laboratory personnel, those who want to cheat the system, the parents, the children but most of all the movie follows the virus as its’ roots seek out the best and worst in people, leading some to be cautious, nervous and others to be deceitful, anxious, all these cumulating in counterproductive courses of action.
Directed by Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh, the movie was prone to an exquisitely layered plotline which at the end neatly circled back to the very beginning. This rounded medical marvel couldn’t have been possible without screenwriter Scott Z. Burns with his adequate accuracy and ease of pursuit. They are both trying to let the contagion loose and to keep it in check (or at least a feeble attempt at keeping it in check) simultaneously. Much like the outbreak, it all happens so fast! What gives the feeling of cold precision is the unblemishedly chosen cast who play well-constructed characters: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Jennifer Ehle.
Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns from her trip to Hong-Kong with a little more than mixed feelings about her marriage. Clarity seems to elude Mitch Emhoff ( Matt Damon), when he receives information of an alarming nature. Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has to deal with the emerging problem accordingly: he assigns Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to investigate. Here, Steven Soderbergh might have taken a shot at cellphones and how much we depend on them because if we were to believe she listened to her own advice, she forgot about putting the cellphone on speakerphone when talking. Mostly, she represents the huge toll taken on health care workers. She is a serious, set to work woman portrayed skillfully by Kate Winslet. Her upcoming fate is rather disappointing from a plotline point of view.
Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) together with her lab partner discover the viruses’ genetic structure. The worlds’ descension into madness slowly but steadily begins. Much like the virus, in the respiratory system, the mass panic sets in the world like “a key slipping into a lock”. The movie makes you doubt everyone so it is unclear if she only wants a shot at the Nobel prize or is a genuine selfless person. The ending scene was an ill constructed one biologically speaking.
Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) goes to Hong-Kong to track down and retrace patient zeros’ steps. On Truth Serum Now, Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), a San Francisco know-at-all blogger sustains that there is a cure for the virus. The wannabe muckraker wisecracker has a self made suit to protect himself as he prances, in the middle of the street, through the field of garbage, like an astronaut amongst the moon craters to promote his blog by putting flyers on car windshields with disdain towards the CDC smeared all over. Jude Laws’ interpretation made it possible for me to hate him as well as find him interesting.
Mitch takes his daughter Jory home for her protection. Jory is the perfect example of the hardships that follow social distancing, especially at an unruly age. He represents the diamond in the rough, who is continuously tested by society, by his daughter, by authorities and by the situation itself. Matt Damons’ representation of the ordinary husband is shown through his “What happened to her?”.
Livestock handling was never humanities’ strong suit. Gwyneth Paltrows’ performance was nearly brain tissue damaging but not as memorable as Matt Damons’.
In opposition to lukewarm light, Soderbergh opts for a wintry perspective in which the focus can be contained on the characters and the situation. For the mis-en-scene it is partially observable that at the beginning the casino scene with Gwyneth Paltrow has a slightly different atmosphere than the rest of the movie: the characters are happy, blissfully unaware of the threat that is sneaking up on them. The lighting and the colors in this scene are brighter, showing the happy, yet oblivious beginning of the story. Smartly, the scenes where they track patient zeros’ every move and interactions, keep popping out at different times throughout the movie so it doesn’t always feel like you are walking through a soon to be burial ground.
The use of special effects for the guy being hit by the van, to show the impact, the seriousness of the disease and how it literally makes mush out of your brains was quite invigorating. Speaking of brains, the directors’ aim at making the audience feel uneasy was successful mostly by the scene where Beth Emhoffs’ brain comes over her face as she lies dead and as the two doctors drill into her brain. I find this scene to be unnecessarily introduced as it only makes me not want to watch anymore. Although this movie tends more in similarity towards Steven Soderberghs’ “Oceans’ Eleven” rather than his “Magic Mike“, “Contagion” buldozes both movies in the comedy category compared to the cold hard math portrayed in Contagion, because of its grim perspective and almost 0 humor. Although a shot taken on the possibility of moving in the online sphere as social distancing is a must, would have been a bonus, the movie stretches itself far enough as it is.
Especially now, in these hard and trying times I would recommend watching this movie but with a clear mission in mind: learn from it not to panic. You can learn one specific helpful trait from all the characters presented. Besides the medical issue in question, the movie shows the deeply affecting social matters like an unfaithful wife, withholding information by government officials, teenagers’ need for socialising, how we think only of us, to what extremes we go for a quick buck, divorce disputes and proceedings, transforming the virus into a biological weapon and so on.
The movie explores every implication of the virus like the economic effects, police work, third world countries, social life. Although it does not investigate the possibility of transposing life in the online medium, it does however show the boredom experienced. “Contagion” underlines that it’s better to leave petty squabbles aside. It is a uniquely realised scenario which obliterates rational thinking from a worldwide perspective.