Surviving a pandemic
The thriller reveals exactly how a pandemic could happen. Freedom, responsibility and control are explored.
Soderbergh’s latest is moving yet thoughtful even when mass hysteria erupts. A handful of citizens and government officials fight lethal MEV-1, which spreads through the air and on surfaces. It kills one out of every four people exposed.
Soderbergh creates Traffic-like feel
With great ensemble acting and a docudrama feel, the film is similar to the director’s drug war drama Traffic (2000). Suspense is heightened with a frenetic soundscape by former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Cliff Martinez (who also composed the score for Traffic).
Civilization and public services are strained as looting and panic spread. U.S. forces are deployed. Mass graves are dug.
Matt Damon saves daughter
In the name of public safety, we’ve given much power to Big Pharma and government. Contagion exposes the limits of national preparedness as values, profit and politics clash.
As a soulful everyman, Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon) is a husband and father who loses his wife and son to the virus. Emhoff locks down his own teenage daughter in order to save her life, burying the pain of his wife’s infidelity.
Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) first contracts the virus on a Hong Kong business trip. She stops over in Chicago to cheat on Mitch with an old flame.
American catches virus
Back home, Beth thinks she has jet lag. She develops seizures and foams at the mouth. Within hours, she is gone. Mitch is quarantined at the hospital, where doctors confirm that he has developed immunity.
Best Actress Marion Cotillard is fascinating as Dr. Leonora Orantes, a World Health Organization epidemiologist who is kidnapped while she explores the virus’ origin in Hong Kong.
Orantes develops a Stockholm Syndrome-like devotion to her captors, who are sure that the U.S. is hoarding a cure.
Cotillard, Fishburne join stellar cast
Laurence Fishburne is excellent as Dr. Ellis Cheever, director of the Centers for Disease Control. Cheever follows protocol, but struggles when he has the chance to save his own fiancée by breaking confidentiality.
Jennifer Ehle (fantastic as Dr. Ally Hextall) and Elliott Gould (Dr. Ian Sussman) are gutsy researchers who break rules to expedite a cure.
Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) is sent by Cheever to coordinate emergency preparedness. As soon as she develops symptoms, Mears believes she is doomed. Lying in a stadium of sickbeds, she offers her raggedy quilt to a nearby patient.
Rogue blogger goes herbal
The most fascinating and misunderstood character in Contagion is Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), a blogger who criticizes Big Pharma’s profit motives and government bureaucracy. Krumwiede plays an important adversarial role as he reveals the limits of institutional effectiveness.
What Law brings to light is health freedom and the use of nature to stay healthy. When Krumwiede drinks a glass of water with a few drops of Forsythia essence in it, he tells his on-line audience of millions, “If I’m still here tomorrow, it worked.”
The blogger survives. He wants to inform and help others while making his own profit. A run on a San Francisco pharmacy ensues for the healing essence.
In reality, there are many reputable sources for complementary and traditional Chinese medicines. Krumwiede could not corner the market on it.
Vaccine shortage looms
A vaccine becomes available 90 days later. Survivors must vie in a national lottery for treatment.
As cinematographer, Soderbergh uses middle-distance shots, close ups and color to achieve master effects. Contagion is his first IMAX film. Microscopic images of a mutating virus are shown. An Asian bat takes flight.
Soderbergh has made a cautionary classic for our time. (5 out of 5 stars)
If you like Contagion, you might enjoy: The Debt.
Contagion 2011 / PG-13 / 1 hour, 42 mins
Cast Overview: Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Bryan Cranston, Elliott Gould
Director: Steven Soderbergh