38 – Contagion (2011)

It’s a bad day to be a rhesus monkey.

I really should start this post on the second paragraph, as that’s how Steven Soderburgh starts this inspired movie. Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a little flush in the face, a slight cough, but otherwise fine. She is at Chicago airport. In Hong Kong a man wanders out onto a busy road in a haze of fever. In London a Ukrainian model is found dead with foam around her mouth. In Tokyo a man has a seizure in a bus, the footage captured on a nearby phone camera. Before you know it director Steven Soderbergh has thrown us into the thick of it, witnessing the first cases of this new, unknown virus.

From the decision to open the film with a title card saying Day 2, I love this movie, the pace doesn’t let up at all in this film, mirroring the pace of the spread of the disease, your dragged along shocked by how quickly society breaks down. All of our apocalyptic motifs are quickly ticked off, we are shown the viewpoint of the general public through news stories, we see the decision makers, the ensuing panic and civil meltdown, when this happens people turn to crime and desperate measures, yes all of our usual apocalyptic motifs are here, and what Soderburgh does here is detail just how quickly dominoes of societal structure begin toppling over in the face of a virus outbreak.

Why I think this film is so good and so scary, is the movies attention to detail and fact. While most films come across as imagined works of fiction, Contagion at times feels one narrator short of a documentary You get the sense that the film was researched heavily. Systems and standard procedures that would be followed in a real life crisis are depicted in accurate detail. Instead of a military post being set up, we see the lead up to such a decision at the highest levels; instead of countries simply being wiped out in one line of dialogue (“We’ve lost the entire Eastern Seaboard, sir”) we are given technical descriptions of spreading and mortality rates, none of which feature any typical Hollywood exaggeration. It provides a realistic, and in turn, slow burn essence to the disease successfully developing an incremental tension.

To offset the technical aspect of the film there are the characters of the film who drive the emotion. Dr Ellis Cheever (Lawrence Fishbourne) as the veteran head of the CDC becomes the face of calm in the storm; Dr Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) tackles the logistics of the disease prevention on the frontline of the US; and Dr Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) who traces the virus’s origins in Macau. They are passionate about their duty but they are also people on the cusp of the deadliest virus known to man, and show the compassion of people. Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon) is the family man who humanises the situation. And Krumweide’s presence in the blogosphere and the large personality that comes attached with it offer a caricature of sorts of modern channels of communication as well as some comic relief. All these actors we are used to seeing in their Hollywood make up, however they are all shown as real people here and the fact that this interstellar cast have to share airtime in this movie also adds to this feeling of real people.

Soderburgh delivers a film which details the ease that a disease could spread through our new globalised society, also documenting humans ever encroaching further on the animal kingdom, the mix of people and animals provides a chance for a disease like this to develop and spread, something that might well have been contained in a different era would now spread with ease.

I find Contagion a very scary movie, but fantastic. This was my second viewing of it after seeing it in the cinema last year, and enjoyed it even more this time round. I would highly recommend this film but might well scare you with its realism,  Watch this right now!!!!!

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4 Responses to “38 – Contagion (2011)”

  1. This is really a great movie. Well written review 🙂

    • Thank you, I really appreciate the feedback, I love everything about this film, may well be the best movie I do for this blog. Which is a bold statement I know. Just to let you know I have purchased your books from Amazon kindle

  2. Taylor McInroy Says:

    So this is the movie to watch instead of 2012 if I want to prepare for the apocalypse? Another one I’ve never seen but I do remember it coming out, good review, I like the style ‘Contagion at times feels one narrator short of a documentary’

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