Thursday, September 15, 2011

Contagion in one word: "Ewww"

Literally just got back from seeing Contagion and, wow, if there are two things on my mind right now they are "Lysol" and "gun". But, to be fair, obviously this was designed to be a "what-if?" kind of movie and it certainly served its purpose well. Yikes!

The film is a theoretical look at what would happen today if there were and outbreak of a new virus, much like the Spanish Influenza Epidemic of the early 20th century. The result that they confront their audience with is frighteningly realistic.

The beginning character, Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow), is shown talking on her cell phone to an unidentified man in the beginning shot and doesn't look very well. Over the next two days she goes from looking like she has a bad cold to dying, leaving her husband (Matt Damon) in confusion and with a terrified phone call from the babysitter, learning that his son has now suffered from the illness as well.

It then goes on to form a spiderweb sort of plot in which one subplot revolves around Matt Damon and his surviving daughter trying to live in a condemned neighborhood; another in which scientists are looking for a cure; another in which the government has to decide what to do with the people; another in which Jude Law blogs about possible cures; another in which a French woman is held hostage for a village vaccination; and a few others. It really looks at this issue from every angle, from the defenseless public to the frantic government who can't seem to get the situation under control.

The epidemic occurring in the movie appears to be like a modern-day Black Death. The virus has an incubation period of about two or three days, showing symptoms such as coughing and lung congestion, and after that the body goes into seizures after which death is imminent. Bodies are not allowed to be buried, being a liability for the gravediggers, and funerals are out of the question. Bodies are put into bags, sealing off the disease, and put into mass graves which are dug and covered by people in full bodied protective suits. Cities are quarantined, buildings are broken into, people are killed, taken hostage and robbed.

Even further than the obvious human nature questions, though, Contagion goes on to question many other facets of the social impact of an epidemic with attention to what the internet is capable of, what people are capable of doing in order to preserve themselves, and the complicated question of vaccines. In short: don't see this movie if you're depressed. While every question is intelligently answered and examined, the background for the film is one of terror. Where did the virus come from? Who is immune? What about transportation? Quarantines? Vaccinations? Food? Protection? Healthcare? The panic that befalls the general public is portrayed with what seems like a sickening accuracy.

Despite the desperate nature of the movie, though, I would still recommend it. Steven Soderburgh does wonders with his attention to human emotion, durability, and fear. Albeit a bit of a downer, there are glimpses into the good that men can do as well as the bad. Where there are lootings and rushes for any possible food, there is also human love and perseverance. Soderburgh creates a horrifying yet comforting portrayal of a horrible situation.

In terms of acting quality and the aesthetic of the film, going a bit outside the realm of analysis (as usual), I was shocked at how many stars I saw in this film. Kate Winslet, Lawrence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Jude Law (with REALLY bad teeth, woah!), Marion Cotillard, Demetri Martin, Jennifer Ehle, and a LOT of others. In addition, the cinematography seems to be very somber but realistic. The camera never stays still for very long, giving an element of unease to the film as a whole. Overall very beautiful, very scary movie.

Guess I'll stop Lysoling this keyboard now.

4 outa 5 stars.

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