Sunday, 4 December 2011

Film Review: "Contagion" (2011)




The film’s taglines such as "The world goes viral September 9" and "Nothing spreads like fear" sums perfectly what Contagion brings to a theatre near you. This Medical Disaster Thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh. Contagion follows the rapid progress of a lethal indirect contact transmission virus (Fomite Transmission) that kills within days. As the fast-moving pandemic grows, the worldwide medical community races to find a cure and control the panic that spreads faster than does the virus itself. As the virus spreads around the world, ordinary people struggle to survive in a society coming apart.

T. S. Elliot once wrote, "This is the way the world ends: not with a bang but a whimper," Soderbergh was motivated to make an "ultra-realistic" film about the public health and scientific response to a pandemic. The movie touches on a variety of themes, including the factors which drive mass panic and loss of social order, the scientific process for characterizing and containing a novel pathogen, balancing personal motives against professional responsibilities and rules in the face of an existential threat, the limitations and consequences of public health responses, and the pervasiveness of interpersonal connections which can serve as vectors to spread disease. Soderbergh acknowledged the salience of these post-apocalyptic themes is heightened by reactions to the September 11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina. As filmmakers J. J. Abrams and Matt Reeves acknowledged the September 11 attacks in their disaster film Cloverfield (2008), where the film's central monstrous antagonist personified the September 11 attacks itself. The movie was intended to realistically convey the "intense" and "unnerving" social and scientific reactions to a pandemic.

Like an Irwin Allen disaster flick (The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974)), the film featured an A-list ensemble cast that included Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, and Bryan Cranston. Despite the cast giving strong performances, it was an engaging or even relatable. My good friend and colleague, Kelly Ryu, once told me that the film would have been more realistic if Soderbergh cast unknowns rather than well recognizable actors for the roles. Then the whole film would been more realistic, more terrifying, more well received and the film would have catapulted the unknowns to stardom. A film that did this so well was, once again, the monster-disaster epic Cloverfield, which all starred unknowns.

Contagion is splendid entertainment that will get you worried about whether they'll be able to contain that strange virus. The movie's craft makes the dread of a killer virus contagious: viewers may feel they have come down with a case of secondhand SARS or sympathetic monkeypox. Heedlessly derivative though it may be, the film what it sets out to do and then some -- scare us out of our wits, then get us to apply those wits to an uncommonly intelligent and provocative disaster flick. What also makes it effective, and sets it apart from other thrillers, is that it makes you care about the characters.

Simon says Contagion receives:


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