Contagion tells the story of the sudden appearance of a hyper-virulent strain of virus known as MEV-1.
MEV-1 is an airborne virus. If a person passes close enough to someone carrying the virus, and they breathe, they could contract the virus. It can also be contracted through tactile transmission. If a healthy person touches something a carrier touched, they could contract the virus. Between these two methods of transmission, and the fact that ground zero was the highly populated city of Hong Kong and patient zero was an international traveler, you have the recipe for disaster on a global scale.
And “Contagion” serves it all up for us in a stylistic, engrossing, high calibre movie experience.
Unlike other highly contagious disease movies – which set up the potential of global disaster, but climax with the aversion of the event – “Contagion” lets its virus run amok through the world’s population. There is no cure, there is no vaccine, and by the time the governments of the world know what’s going on, the disease has already spread across the globe. People who contract the disease fall ill within 24 hours, coming down with headaches, fever and seizures. One in four people who contract the disease die. Very few are naturally immune.
Just when the virus reaches an epidemic level, the movie shifts into a higher gear as society begins to crumble. Panic rips through the world even faster than the disease, and law and order simply break down. Stores are looted, homes are ransacked, riots break out, and buildings burn unattended. And through it all, the bodies continue to pile up due to MEV-1.
The movie, with its enormous ensemble cast, weaves many plot strands and numerous characters through the film. The focus is mainly on the Governmental efforts to control the spread of the infection and to find a cure, featuring Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet and Marion Cotillard. But the movie also pays due notice to Matt Damon’s character, who represents the effect this new “plague” would have on the lives of ordinary people, and Jude Law’s character, who is a blogger out to expose the truth of the size and scope of the event. While I don’t imagine that anyone will receive any Oscar nods for acting here, they all do an excellent job supporting the story.
To me though, the star of the show was the film’s Academy Award winning director Steven Soderbergh. Soderbergh uses a techno soundtrack, unique visual choices and excellent editing in order to create a film that feels unique and fresh, even though we’ve seen movies of its ilk before. While the story would be compelling enough on its own, he creates an atmosphere of tension that helps support the massive stakes involved in such a story. He also deftly manages several different plot strands which occur across the globe, and finds a way to make each of them feel relevant to the film as a whole. There are rumors floating about that he is considering “retiring” even at his young age, but after seeing this, I sincerely hope not. The man still has his fastball, without a doubt.
“Contagion” is an absorbing, frightening, well crafted movie that simultaneously entertains and provokes thought. It will leave you conscious of just how many times you touch things in public, and have you washing your hands more than normal. But above all, it will remind you that in reality, this agreement we all have going on known as “Civilization” is a far more fragile arrangement than it seems.