In an increasingly mobile world where people and news travel fast, Contagion is a timely reflection on this brave new world. The conspiracy theorists will look to the movie for vindication while the script has a shot across the bow of everyone from the pharmaceutical conglomerate to the independent blogger. It plays on our fears and ask questions of recent events including the swine flu epidemic and a world where super bugs crawl and adapt.
Looking at the movie poster you could be forgiven for thinking we’ve ended up back in the era of the 70s movie making. Remember ‘disaster greats’ like 1974’s Towering Inferno? You look down the cast list and see Newman, Wagner, McQueen, Astaire, Dunaway and even O J Simpson! That was the feel I had for Contagion with a cast list that reads like a red carpet who’s who to includes Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Lawrence Fishburne and Kate Winslet.
Now I’ve got that little retro flashback off my chest let’s look beyond the poster and ask how the ensemble cast measured up under Steven Soderbergh’s direction. The direction of this movie is superb. While taking a ‘real world’ plot and fleshing it out to a world changing event, Soderbergh has woven the credible with the personal. The opening scenes involving Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow and their child played by Griffin Kane will challenge anyone not to be connected to the plot and a possible personal outcome when in touch with a virus that infects, spreads, adapts and kills.
The pivot point of the movie is based around Paltrow’s character, a global executive who acts as courier of disaster. Her relationship with Husband Matt Damon is called into question and the links that build a chain to ground zero construct a superb script. The lines of communication between those trying to protect us from imminent annihilation and the man on the street are well drawn. Along the journey we are asked to question our own morality as we look through the eyes of everyone from the academic elite to the solo dad scared his son may die in the wake.
Many of those in the review screening will have not have been lost on the irony of watching a movie concerned with public contact enhancing the danger of the spread of disease while in the a confined movie theatre sharing air-conditioning. The cinema scene from the 1995 hit ‘Outbreak’ sprang to mind as an occasional cough during the screening sent a nervous ripple through the audience.
The conflict in this movie happens at several levels. Health authorities argue about budgets, not lives. A nun volunteers in the face of death while nurses strike waiting for protocols to be delivered. The police chase down looters while the hungry don’t want to touch the food they find for fear of contamination. Add to that a father protecting his daughter from the boyfriend with disease status ‘unknown’ and you have the tension required to be both frustrated and annoyed at our ability to deal with our inability to control this undervalued asset we call ‘life’.
Some may call Contagion a herald of control, others a beacon on the rocks. It’s all about your perspective and you will be asked to question yours. One underlying question movies like this do it ask “What is man capable of?” This movie comes up trumps for walking you out of the cinema with questions to be answered. Ask yourself these questions. “If my child was dying would I fight for their life, their food, a cure?” “If a global outbreak took place would I trust the local government or global authorities?” These are the kind of questions you should be willing to ask and live with after seeing Contagion.
At the end of the evening people left alone, not arm in arm. Hands were in pockets and as I approached the underground carpark an attendee from the movie was holding the door open for others with his hand sheaved in his sleeve. No touching of public door handles for this movie audience.