The thought of a disease, getting infected by it is at the back of everyone’s mind. And, that is where we would like to keep it. But, epidemics are only known through governmental status and enhanced media coverage. A epidemic is a news to us, unless we are affected by it.
Movies being a great entertainment can also press the panic button that can take things further and persuade us that any day a new strain of virus is waiting around a corner. Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Contagion’ is a movie, which sends shocks up the spine — not just because it’s scaring, but because it is pure, incisive, riveting cinema. The battle against the deadly virus draws out the best and the worst in people as they face the possibility of a swift and painful death.
A pretty blonde American coughs lightly as she reaches into the communal peanut bowl at an airport bar in Chicago. A feverish young man in Hong Kong stumbles back to his apartment to seek shelter in his girlfriend’s arms. A Japanese businessman collapses on a commuter bus, mouth foaming, as a fellow passenger records his ordeal on camera-phone.
Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a working mother from Minneapolis who has traveled to Hong Kong for a business meeting. On her way back, she makes a stop in Chicago. By the time she arrives home to her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) she has a fever followed by seizures, and then a massive brain hemorrhage that kills her. Shortly afterwards, his young son dies as well. Mitch resolves to do everything within his power to protect his teenage daughter (Anna Jacoby-Heron) from the virus.
Other characters are set in motion as well, almost too many to catalog: a World Health Organization official(Marion Cotillard) dispatched to China to determine where the virus originated; a doctor from the Centers for Disease Control tasked with containing the outbreak(Lawrence Fishburne); a CDC microbiologist hoping to unlock a vaccine(Kate Winslet); a muckraking blogger(Jude Law) with an eye for pharmaceutical conspiracies.
And surrounding them all, occasionally overlapping, a relentlessly expanding universe of victims.
Steven Soderbergh is a rare film-maker who has moved fluidly and consistently between unconventional and even experimental independent production and major Hollywood studio films. Soderbergh never makes the same film twice, and over the decades he has dabbled in virtually every genre and style imaginable, from intimate dramas, to large-scale social problem films, to offbeat crime thrillers. Soderbergh has a star-studded cast, but gives none of them any big moments. The story skips from continent to continent, but Soderbergh always keeps us comfortably oriented.
The editing (by Stephen Mirrione) moves at a healthy jog, not a frantic sprint. Contagion goes fast but takes its time when the audience needs to understand something. The film’s most chilling images are not of the frothing, twitching infected, but of a civilization slowly disintegrating.
This is no special-effects extravaganza: Soderbergh and Writer Burns have crafted an even-tempered drama that flares only occasionally into brief violence. Employing the high-definition RED digital camera that has become the favourite tool of Soderbergh, spares few sensibilities in outlining how quickly a contagion would cross international boundaries.
Soderbergh’s Contagion dexterously manages the multiple plotlines and keeps it just engaging enough on a human level that it doesn’t feel too emotionally distant without getting hung up in melodrama and pathos.
Consider this film as a wake-up call to the ethical responsibilities of ordinary citizens, scientists, medical personnel, pharmaceutical companies, and researchers in the face of a epidemic.
Like the virus it hunts, Contagion creeps under your skin.