Movie Review: Contagion (2011)
“Nothing spreads like fear”
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law
Synopsis: Scientists and governments race against time to find the cure for a deadly infection that is decimating the world’s population.
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Contagion isn’t so much the apocalyptic thriller you might expect from the trailers as an objective and fairly dispassionate contemplation of the likely effects a deadly virus would wreak on a global society which we all now take for granted. Gwyneth Paltrow (Great Expectations, Duets) is the first to go, picking up the plague on a business trip to Macao. She’s cheating on her husband, one of the film’s few finger-wagging moments which perhaps suggests this era of moral decay, exemplified by a culture of instant self-gratification with little regard for the consequences, is going to result in, well, consequences. It might not have mattered had the world not shrunk so much in the last couple of decades, meaning a virus which might once have been contained in one country or region can now travel around the globe before we even realise it exists.
Matt Damon (The Departed, Elysium) plays the cuckolded everyman husband of Paltrow who just happens to be immune to the virus, enabling the film to provide one of its constant touchstones. He doesn’t really get to do a lot, serving mostly as our eyes as he watches the fabric of society slowly beginning to pull apart as the body count rises. Local people start fighting each other for supplies, and start looting; 911 calls are routed to a recorded message which gives options about which aspect of the disease you wish to report rather than receiving emergency calls relating to crime or disaster; mass graves appear as the stock of body bags dwindles; people find their freedom to travel restricted, and are urged to keep a distance of 10 feet from one another.
Most of Contagion, however, focuses on the search for an effective vaccine. Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix Revolutions, Assault on Precinct 13) heads the team, but is more or less dethroned by an opportunistic blogger played by Jude Law (Alfie, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows); Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Divergent) is his down-to-earth colleague, tasked with co-ordinating the treatment of those affected. There are others, less important: a woman who is kidnapped by Chinese villagers as she searches for patient zero, and who then disappears for most of the film; Elliott Gould (MASH, Ocean’s Twelve) as the university professor who finds the source of a cure.
Contagion provides a chillingly realistic insight into what would happen if a virus threatened to wipe out a substantial proportion of the population, but its decision to take a step back in order to get a global view means that it lacks emotion. Naturally, this means we don’t become as immersed in the events taking place as we should, meaning the experience of watching the film is as dispassionate and objective as the manner in which it tells its tale.
(Reviewed 4th November 2011)