Contagion (2011)

Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) has the lurgy, and in returning home she has passed it on to her young child, putting both of their lives in danger while immune husband Mitch (Matt Damon) watches on in hopeless horror. As clusters of cases spring up around the world, experts Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) and Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) set about trying to determine the source of the outbreak, leaving World Health Organisation epidemiologist Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) to travel to Hong Kong, where Beth originally contracted the illness. While the world powers search for an effective vaccine, blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) spreads lies and hysteria through his assertions of government conspiracies.

It is definitely a striking image – having relaunched her career post-baby with a role in Iron Man, a part in Glee and an awards-season duet with Gnarls Barkley – to watch Gwyneth Paltrow’s foaming corpse have its scalp folded over her once beautiful face. Almost like the opening gambit in Wes Craven’s original Scream, this surprisingly explicit sequence sends a very clear message to audience that nobody is safe. Not even Mrs. Coldplay.

This all adds up to director Steven Soderbergh’s crowning achievement with Contagion, the consistently oppressive atmosphere and sense that you might actually be watching the first truly plausible apocalypse; like The Day After Tomorrow, but without the bit where Jake Gyllenhaal outruns frost. Meticulously researched, Contagion paints an all-too-real picture of pandemic, which is haunting not only for its images of celebrity death and disease-induced ugliness, but also for the fact that it leaves you staring at the toilet door handle in absolute terror, awaiting word of the apparently inevitable outbreak.

Beyond scare-mongering, however, there is little regarding Contagion to get excited about. While the disease itself smacks of well-informed realism, the humans it untimately impacts prove much less believable. Juggling a considerable ensemble, each character is aforded the most rudimentary of arcs, allowing them to make one small mistake and spending the rest of their screentime attempting to atone for it; Lawrence Fishbourne has compromised his government, Kate Winslet has wasted her entire life faking a ridiculous American accent and  Matt Damon has seriously hindered his daughters dating prospects.

Worse than the last-minute character development are the strands Soderbergh simply abandons. Diseases are not dramatically fulfilling, and with an absence of zombies to villainise, the characters doomed to death are shaken from their mortal coil with little fuss; the survivors, meanwhile, are simply left to get on with it, as the narrative abruptly cuts out, leaving a pair of teenagers dancing and Marion Cotillard apparently walking the length of China in the middle of a pandemic (quick, hide!). It really is as anti-climactic as it sounds.

The only character worthy of note is Jude Law’s Australian blogger, a novelty in itself. The accent aside (it sounded fine to me, but what do I know – I only grew up in the country), Alan Krumwiede is the only player with any trace of bona-fide ambiguity. His motives are obtuse, his means questionable and his interactions with other characters – while occasionally hateful – at least rouse some semblance of emotional response – much more than can be said for one character who dies trying to give a cold stranger their coat. How sickeningly very nice of them.

Effective for its realism and fetishisation of germ-ridden surfaces, Contagion is otherwise about as contagious as ass-cramp it ultimately inflicts. Overcrowded, and showing an unfortunate reluctance to finish its own story, the film falls somewhat short of the success it clearly thinks it is.


About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

2 Responses to Contagion (2011)

  1. Pingback: November 2011 – There’s Always Time For A Bow « popcornaddict

  2. Pingback: Bug (2006) « popcornaddict

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