Every time someone new turned around, it was a familiar face. My thoughts while watching Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion that features a lot of big names but unlike most other apocalyptic films, the focus isn’t on anyone in particular but more on the circumstance at hand. Forcing a love story into a movie such as this almost always feels contrived so it’s refreshing that Contagion chooses not to follow that familiar route and instead places full attention on the outbreak.
The outbreak in question is a mysterious illness called the MEV-1 virus that effects most people and can cause death in an otherwise healthy person in just a matter of days. Anything else known about the virus occurs during the film.
Initially we are introduced to Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) who is returning from a business trip in Hong Kong to Minneapolis but quickly comes down with the mysterious illness and is rushed to the hospital by husband Mitch (Matt Damon) after having a seizure. When he returns home after her death, he finds his step-son Clark (Griffin Kane) showing signs of having the same mysterious illness. Pretty soon, we see representatives from Homeland Security meeting with Dr. Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to discuss the possibility of the existence of bio-terrorism in the form of this virus. They now must decide how to deal with releasing the news to the public while trying to come up with a vaccine.
While this work is underway, the American population begins to riot while trying to ensure proper food and gasoline as well as speculative drugs that may or may not be used to prevent or cure the deadly virus. Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) is a freelance online journalist/blogger with a respectable following who is in constant opposition of the major pharmaceutical companies as his questioning of their motives initiates panic among many of his readers who storm pharmacies and drugstores searching for a drug that he claims creates immunity to MEV-1.
There’s an ongoing sense of cultural and societal downfall during Contagion once news of the virus spreads. Not unlike what we have seen with recent cases of H1N1 but on a much larger scale where it would be a hypothetical case of everyone knowing someone firsthand who had died from MEV-1. The film presents the situation from numerous landscapes including Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) who travels to Hong Kong to try and determine the place of origin for the virus but desperate epidemiologist, Sun Feng (Chin Han), hopes to provide his village with priority once an immunization is created. Contagion captures the ongoing feeling of urgency as the film progresses and we realize that no one is spared. A special mention should be made for Dr. Erin Mears played Kate Winslet who played one the star roles in the film.
In each situation created as a result of the virus we see different reactions and problems caused based on the status of the person. From a viewers perspective, it is interesting to see how easy people can crumble under the weight of such a situation that is presented fairly in Contagion.