September 26, 2011

Movie Review: Contagion

Over the years there have been all sorts of stories told about disease running rampant across humanity. These include the apocalyptic horror of Stephen King's The Stand, the realistic slant of Outbreak, the science fiction/time travel angle of 12 Monkeys, and even a bloody, zombie-like take with 28 Days Later. However, through all those types of stories, I do not think I have ever seen it told like it is with Contagion, the latest film from director Steven Soderbergh.

For a movie that really is not all that graphic or gory, this film really did et me a little creeped out. I had read about people leaving screenings talking about how they did not want to touch anything. I did not really believe them. Now, having seen the movie, I get the feeling they had. You see, the early moments of the movie focus, almost in fetishistic fashion, on people touching things. It is something hat you never really think about, although it always comes up with the dawning of cold and flu season about touching things. You never realize just how many things you are touching, including your face. Just how many germs and things have been growing on door knobs and keyboards and bathrooms and money. It is kind of gross if you stop and think about it.

Contagion takes a realistic look at a fictional, yet realistic, disease and how it runs rampant across the globe, decimating populations and affecting every single person in the world, either directly or indirectly. It is not the movie I was expecting and that is probably a good thing. If I got what I was expecting we likely would have ended up with something more along the lines of Outbreak. Instead, the film we get is a compilation of different stories and sequences, shuffled together like a deck of cards. At times it has the appearance of documentary while never actually being told like one.

The stories center on Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon), who loses his wife and son and is left to protect his daughter, Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) and Ellis Cheever (Lawrence Fishburne), doctors working on finding what is going on, Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard), another doctor searching for a cure, and Alan Krumwiebe (Jude Law), a blogger seeking to uncover a conspiracy. These tales are mixed together and interspersed with other clips and scenes showing the affect that this is having on society.

Contagion does a very good job of keeping things humming along and keeping the audience involved (and just a little on edge). Something else that is done quite well is Soderbergh's ability to juggle the cast and tell a story that works as commentary on the way contingency plans are set up and how everyone deals with it from those working to find a cure down to the everyday man and woman trying to survive. We get a demonstration of how society could potentially break down, and I is mot a pretty sight.

If there is one failure in the film, it is on the human side. While the cast is absolutely littered with big names, I cannot say I ever felt connected to most. I would have to say that the Matt Damon portion of the story was the most affecting on an emotional level. I am not sure there is anyone who cannot relate to his journey as a father trying to save what is left of his family.

It is kind of funny, as the release of the movie approached, I could not help but see I as a potential prequel to the Chris Pine starrer Carriers. That lower budgeted thriller featured an easily transmittal disease and the characters are always told to avoid all contact with anyone they meet. I am not sure what effect that would have on your viewing, but I thought it was an interesting anecdote.

The bottom line is that Contagion is a solid biological thriller. It is no perfect, but it does offe a realistic look into the possibility of a disease that strikes worldwide, the ease with which it can spread, and the affect I has on society as a whole. Definitely worth seeing, although I am not sure if I will ever need to see it again.

Oh yeah, and please don't touch me. I don't know where you've been.


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