At dinner, after spending a couple hours watching Contagion this past weekend, I could not help but look suspiciously at fellow diners every time someone coughed! Watching people at a restaurant, it is easy to see how a contagious disease could quickly pass from person to person faster than our ability to contain it. Coughing, handshaking, kissing, sharing drinks, touching the bathroom door handles and using glasses and utensils that are not necessarily disinfected from a previous user are just a small number of ways that transmission of a deadly virus can be spread.
Contagion is about the rapid progression of a virus that suddenly crosses species from a bat, to a pig, finally to a human, and how its rapid spreading from person to person quickly turns into a world-wide pandemic that kills millions of people. Besides showing the reality of how quickly such a pandemic can come from out of nowhere to pose a serious threat to humanity, the film also highlights the panic, breakdown of civility and chaos that would likely result as people come to understand their helplessness against such an enemy. With authorities scrambling to understand the virus so to create a vaccine, then needing to deal with how to ramp up production and effectively distribute once a vaccine is found, the film adequately shows the incredible challenges we would face should (some would say when) such a dangerous virus outbreak occur.
The film is directed by Steven Soderbergh, whom I usually find over-rated. The film stars Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard and Kate Winslet. Usually this sort of ensemble cast detracts from the story of a movie, though in this case the types of roles played, and the destiny of the characters, prevents this distraction from overwhelming the viewer. Paltrow, in particular, plays a small, but critical role, that sees her highlighted in a way I have not seen before. Still, I think the film could have benefited stylistically from the use of lessor known actors.
Besides having scientific advisers for the film, Soderbergh had cooperation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, resulting in a storyline that certainly seems plausible. The film is fast paced, frightening and depressing. Those who seek an escape in movies probably will not like how they feel coming out of the theater. Those looking for something to think about, on the other hand, likely will give the film high marks, though I am not sure the word ‘enjoy’ would be high on the list of descriptors.