Around the age of 11, I was sitting at a cluster of desks in my fifth grade class when two of my classmates (Mary and Kelly) were talking about something. They both were holding a colored bottle of liquid. I asked what it was. It was some form of scented hand sanitizer. Since I was such a victim of peer pressure, I went home and told my mom about this new “fad”. We eventually had a lemon scented bottle in our down stairs bathroom that seemed to last until some point when I was in High School.
That flashback down memory lane is not to say that I am a germaphobe or anything, but that recollection has been coming up the past week or so. With all the talk about the Corona virus, my mind also turned back to the 2011 film Contagion. To say that re watching it was unsettling is a gross understatement. Still, that does not make the film any less effective. The film starts off in the most unsettling of ways: a pitch black screen with someone coughing. We then see Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow), as well as a caption that reads “Day 2”. It is soon discovered that a mysterious virus has developed, and is killing rather quickly. On top of that, it is spreading even faster. The movie quickly shows that there is no point of view: We are watching the situation escalate as outsiders.
Oscar winning director Steven Soderbergh is known for movies with A list casts ( Traffic, the Ocean‘s films, and the under seen gem Logan Lucky). Contagion is no different. Along with Paltrow, the film also has Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Bryan Cranston, Jude Law, Elliot Gould, Jennifer Ehle, and John Hawkes, among others.
Each person seems to play their role with ease. Fishburne is calm and sincere as Dr. Cheever, the head of the CDC. The same demeanor can be said of Jennifer Ehle’s portrayal as one of Cheever’s head researchers. Jude Law shines as blogger Alan Krumwiede (who is told “blogging is not journalism”) trying to find the real conspiracy.
Then there is Matt Damon as Mitch, the every man just trying to protect his daughter Jory (Anna Jacoby-Heron). Damon’s character is the only one we see who is immune to the disease (which I hypothesize would make Jimmy Kimmel not like this film). Even when he notices his daughter just wants to be with her boyfriend Andrew. You could tell that, if the world were not where it was, he would be supportive of the two dating.
One of the best things of the film is that it takes no stance (though certain characters do). There is a great scene when Cheever is being interviewed, and Krumwiede is brought in to debate him. We have both seen what has happened to this characters so far, and feel for both of them, making it all the more difficult to pick sides. We never get the point of view of the president. We are only informed that the president was moved underground. When I first saw the film, I pictured Obama. Now, I pictured Trump. That says a lot to how authentic a film feels.
Speaking of authenticity, the little touches of the film are pitch perfect: The zooming in of surfaces being touched by hands, certain characters processing horrible information, etc.
Normally, I would chastise a movie rating for being too conservative, but not for Contagion. This is a hard PG-13 rating. There is cussing (which seems to be the main factor for the MPAA), including one F bomb, but only mild talk about sex. The thematic material, however, is through the roof. We get one scene when a victim of the disease is getting their scalp removed. While we don’t see the brain (which makes it more creepy), we see the scalp flap over the dead person’s open eyes. So yeah, not a movie for kids.
As for the ending, the last thing we see is the caption “Day one”, which shows how the disease began. Even before the current state of our world, this ending was one of the most unsettling and scary in recent memory.
As someone who knows very little about the area of medicine (science was my worst subject), there are little comparisons I can make with this film and the Corona Virus (though washing your hands is definitely something I would strongly recommend). What does seem evident is that the virus of the film is (thankfully) more severe than that of the current one we face.
The other evidence is clearly in the film’s tagline:
“Nothing Spreads like Fear”
To fear something is normal. It’s how we react that is different . Whether it is remain calm and collected or to overreact (I understand wanting to buy hand sanitizer, but toilet paper?), we all cope with fear in different ways. Panic will happen in some degree, but I can’t think of when that is the answer. The same is depicted in this film.