Soon after her return from a business trip to Hong Kong, Beth Emhoff dies from what is a flu or some other type of infection. Her young son dies later the same day. Her husband Mitch however seems immune. Thus begins the spread of a deadly infection. For doctors and administrators at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, several days pass before anyone realizes the extent or gravity of this new infection. They must first identify the type of virus in question and then find a means of combating it, a process that will likely take several months. As the contagion spreads to millions of people worldwide, societal order begins to break down as people panic.Written by
Now go and wash your hands! That's what you'll be doing after you see this film. Contagion is a frightening realistic procedural thriller about the spread of an airborne pandemic virus, its impact on an ensemble cast of characters played by a veritable 'Who's Who' of Hollywood and the subsequent race to find a cure.
Like his earlier work 'Traffic', Soderbergh skilfully interweaves the various story lines into a bigger picture that breathlessly tracks and encircles the globe. The cast do not let him down. It's impossible to see a bad performance from Matt Damon and once again his role as a grieving father is sensitively and painfully played. We really feel his sense of sudden and unexpected loss as he struggles to internalise the news of his wife's death, disbelieving, dazed and confused. Marion Cotillard adds an international hue to her role as a World Health Organisation investigator whilst Jude Law plays the role of an insidious Australian blogger, who dangerously undermines the medical establishment's attempts to find a cure for his own conspiratorial and financial gains, to perfection. I could go on; Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Ehle and John Hawkes all provide solid support in a starry cast.
What makes this film so compelling is the way Soderbergh is able to show how unhygienic human beings are and how easy it is to create a pandemic. In hundreds of different absent minded ways we touch our faces on a daily basis and in doing so, transfer and spread dangerous viruses amongst ourselves. Next time you're in the supermarket look out for the number of people who pick their noses, wipe their mouths and cough, sneeze and splutter their way past you without any attempts to cover their mouths. They're picking up (and putting back) the fruit and vegetables, handling groceries and even touching your hand when supermarket staff are giving back your card or change! Worse still, a recent survey showed that although 95% of people say they wash their hands, only 12% actually do so and consequently 1 in 6 mobile phones have faecal bacterial on them and 30% of all handbags. I could go on.
Despite a slightly preposterous storyline when Cotillard is kidnapped in Hong Kong, Soderbergh does portray the breakdown of society in an uncomfortably truthful way when people are suddenly and unexpectedly faced with their own extinction and the instincts of self preservation take over. This could have been explored a little further around the world although at all times the story is grounded in reality. Even the death toll of 27 million worldwide in four months has the ring of truth about it and this is due in no small part to the film's chief scientific adviser, Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, the John Snow Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University. The televised national lottery in the film is something that I could see happening in the interests of fairness and impartiality when the supply of vaccines is unable to keep up with demand when life and death is only one injection away.
At the film's closing credits one thing stands out and that is the unheralded and heroic work of the thousands of doctors, microbiologists, virologists and vaccine researchers around the world who labour night and day to minimise the effects of such a pandemic occurring which might wipe out the human race. If you're a pessimist like me in this age of global warming, massive deforestation, the depletion of the earth's natural resources, the extinction of wildlife habitats, overpopulation and overcrowding, go figure...a pandemic like the one portrayed in Contagion is inevitable (and long overdue according to the scientific world). The only question that remains is how many people will it kill? Anyway, go and see the film – it's a thought provoking and scary chiller that taps into the current zeitgeist.
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