By Don Simpson | September 9, 2011
Writer: Scott Z. Burns
Starring: Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tien You Chui, Demetri Martin, Elliott Gould, Enrico Colantoni, Bryan Cranston, John Hawkes
It is not without a bitter taste of irony that I type this review while coughing, sneezing and suffering from an oh-so-painful headache. Whether or not whatever the hell I have — my assumption is that this is “just” allergies — is contagious or not is unknown, yet I admit that I still rode public transportation and went to work on a large university campus today. After the H1N1 scare, I should know better; but unfortunately I live in a world where sometimes staying at home in bed is not always an option.
This fast-paced, overpopulated, global society is precisely what Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion comments on. We humans have manufactured a world where germs thrive and the threat of a highly communicable deadly virus looms with dire certainty. If anything, H1N1 was just a warning, the big one is definitely coming.
Contagion represents an extremely likely incarnation of that big one: a deadly virus with an R0 of 4 that kills its victims within 72 hours and spreads like wildfire across the world within days. Governments, health care organizations and medical conglomerates are paralyzed with unpreparedness; bloggers (“graffiti with punctuation”) and media outlets compete for quantity of unique visitors; and anarchistic tendencies overtake the general public.
Contagion does not tell us much of anything. It functions merely as a warning cry, preparing us for the strong possibility of a virus with the strength and tenacity to exterminate a significant slice of the human population. Soderbergh does not even pretend to know how our world can avoid such a fate — he is a filmmaker not a scientist, goddammit — though he makes some fleeting allusions to what humankind may have done wrong to get to this breaking point in our societal evolution.
Soderbergh has always relied more on visual storytelling than dialog (one notable exception being the Oceans franchise). With Contagion, Soderbergh often removes the dialog from scenes — as if words would merely pander to the audience — thus creating an almost silent film motif. For that reason, not to mention the film’s academic-yet-realistic portrayal of a pandemic, Contagion will surely scare the masses away from the box office despite the film’s inherent star power.
Contagion may be more frightening than most horror films, but it will definitely prompt its audience to think about germs and hygiene. The question remains: Are we too set in our modern ways to be willing and able make the personal and societal changes necessary to protect humankind from near extinction?