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September 25, 2023

Contagion: Catch the Movie, Not the Virus!

By Bernie and Sand Pilarski


Sand said:

Even if Bernie hadn't been willing to see this movie, it's likely that I would have gone to see it by myself, for three reasons: the trailers we saw in the theater seemed to be serious about the subject matter; the early reviews by shallow twits criticized the film for not having enough "action" (otherwise known as explosions and wrecks); and because I believe our global momentum teeters on the brink of some cataclysmically disastrous disease.

Third reason first: overpopulation. Nature has a way of dealing with that, and it isn't pretty. I've seen isolated populations of feral cats go from a pregnant female to cute kittens to more kittens, and more kittens, and each generation, inbred and unchecked, turns up more susceptible to disease than the last. Then disease sweeps through and kills most of them. Sad, but true. Will that happen to our human colony on Earth? It's entirely possible, though we could teeter along, avoiding catastrophe for years, decades. Contagion deals with just such an event: a virulent virus with a new and unique way of invading its hosts.

The first reason second: serious treatment of the subject matter. There is nothing funny about people getting sick and dying. There is no need for cute scenes or cleavage or sexually charged moments in Contagion, and you won't see them in there. What you will see is a reasonably represented scenario of what would happen if a deadly, fast-acting virus cut loose into the global society.

The second reason third: missing action scenes. The reviewers longing for plastic explosives, bloody stabbings, and car chases would have been terribly disappointed, but I was delighted to find a film that needed no gratuitous violence to mar the systematic tension of the already horrifying premise.

Mitch welcomes his wife Beth home from a business trip to Hong Kong only to find her sick and then suddenly dead. A swathe of similar deaths alerts the Center for Disease Control, and suddenly Dr. Ellis Cheever finds he must balance his fear for his colleagues and his lover against the need to find a cause, and a treatment for this deadly virus.

It spreads rapidly, with devastating results. Yet against this crazily-rapid, gruesomely infectious enemy, some people still persist in destructively self-serving behavior: using the internet to lure people into purchasing herbal cures in order to make money from their fear, using violent means to try to secure early doses of a barely-tested vaccine, looting stores and houses of the dead.

Contagion says: "This is what could happen."

While this is not a movie that I will buy on DVD and watch again and again, I found it to be very satisfying, both in accuracy and in tension. The high-profile cast was essential for keeping the many characters straight: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotilliard, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, and Kate Winslet -- their performances gave depth to this cold and chilling vision of the many facets of the devastation of mankind.

At the end of the movie, I found myself with a new respect for hand sanitizer, and an incredibly ramped-up revulsion for people -- everyday folks and professional athletes -- who think spitting on the ground is acceptable behavior.

Bernie said:

Contagion is not a film I initially wanted to see. Things being what they are, the Piker Press entertainment budget is not what it used to be, and choices have to be made. However, Sand wanted to see this one, and since I had talked her into going to see Skyline, I owed her.

Of course I also agreed with her in that I was curious about why this story attracted such an all-star cast, and what would such an all-star cast do for a movie.

Contagion is a story that could almost have been an episode of the television show of How Things Are Made or perhaps Dirty Jobs. It tells the story of how the world's health professionals would likely respond if there was an outbreak of a deadly virus for which there was no known vaccine. According to the Director of Center for Disease Control, the plot is fiction but it is plausible, and for the most part, the science presented is accurate.

This movie does not rely on sensationalism like blood and gore, and it doesn't waste time with any relationship drama between the main characters. It just tells a fascinating, disturbing story of what it might be like if a virulent disease is unleashed in major population centers around the world. There is no good guy/bad guy drama here either. The disease is the problem, and it must be defeated. Of course not everyone is helpful. There are some prime examples of the adage "if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

The story is extremely well-told. The tension begins immediately. While the screen is still blank, there is a raspy cough, and you get that same feeling of dread as when the waitress coughs and hacks while serving you dinner. As action begins to unfold, the camera lingers just momentarily on all those touches that are spreading the invisible bugs. Over and over again, on hands, doorknobs, glasses, the slight hesitation forces us to "see" the spread of disease, and you begin to feel uneasy because you've done all these things at one time or another. As people begin dying, others begin to panic, and order begins to break down.

By the time the story ends, twenty four million people have died, and you are left with the feeling that things could have been worse, and worse yet, could well be next time. And there will be a next time.

Why the all-star cast? I don't know for sure. Somebody did a good job at casting though. The strength of the cast, especially Matt Damon and Laurence Fishburne, enabled believable characters to be presented without having to spend a lot of time developing these characters.

This will not be a movie I want to see again. It is unsettling. But it is a great story, well acted, well directed. It is worth the cost of admission for sure, and it will graphically drive home the wisdom of the advice from the CDC: cover your cough, wash your hands, and stay home when you are sick with fever.


Article © Bernie and Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2011-09-12
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