Contagion is one lazy piece of fiction that banks on the names of numerous stars, pretentious direction, and the general audience’s fear of anything swine flu related. Ironically, several of the characters do point out, how the exaggerated fear over the swine flu made things worse. Would I be spoiling anything if I said the same thing happens in Contagion? Probably not because Contagion is trying to be a realistic film that speculates how a global epidemic could affect our lives.
The setting is somewhat familiar after the outbreak of swine flu a few years ago, and its annual variations. The film tells the story of a new deadly outbreak through the lives of several characters, and the casual interactions between them. The list of characters includes: the virus’ first American victim (Gwyneth Paltrow), her husband who is apparently immune (Matt Damon), the head of the CDC desperately trying to find a solution (Laurence Fishburne), the first CDC agent on the field (Kate Winslet) a WHO agent from Geneva (Marion Cotillard), and Jude Law as a crazed out blogger desperately trying to annoy someone.
If the cast seems impressive you most remember that the director is Steven Soderbergh, the man who brought us the Ocean’s Trilogy, which had an even more impressive cast and yet proved that having such high profile stars is not the mark of quality story telling. You can apply that same rule to Contagion.
The more characters there are, the harder it becomes to focus. And in contagion there are so many stories, many which only have a scene or two in the whole film, that there is no possible way to relate to any of the characters. But that is when I realized that the only constant character in the whole film was the virus. And like any good written character, the virus evolves as the story moves forward.
The virus in “Contagion” is an odd one; it defies isolation and can spread by simply touching an infected host, always staying a jump ahead of death. What it does to its victims is perplexing, and it seems ripped off several B-movies. Last time I checked no form of influenza, not even the deadly Spanish-flu that wiped out 1% of the world’s population back in 1918, was capable of eating a person’s brains from the inside out. I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that believable symptoms could have helped this film’s attempt at realism.
When put together, this works as cheap drama. It might have been useful if Soderbergh had explained the nature of the virus more clearly. Viruses are survivors; life forms that are not hostile to us, but concerned with attaching themselves to a host for their survival. And that is why a virus that kills off so many people is as realistic as a zombie outbreak. What happens when everyone is turned into a zombie and the zombies don’t have any more brains to feed on?
In short Contagion is for the people who freaked out about the swine flu; they will find this movie to be a frightening thriller. But in the end, as time goes by, we all grow a little bit more paranoid.