CONTAGION (2011)

TMG Scale 7.0    P Factor 1.0    MPAA Rating:  PG-13
Starring Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Elliot Gould, John Hawkes.

TMG: An all star cast delivers a pretty good movie, but it won’t knock your socks off. It may well help slow the spread of flu this season because anyone who sees this film will surely start washing their hands more often. And that’s a good thing.

Having lived through the 1976 swine flu scare, the avian flu scare and swine flu II (renamed H1N1 because pigs objected I guess), not to mention the annual government sponsored flu shots,  I am just very skeptical. Is the threat real? Is the “cure” or vaccine  worse than the disease?  Isn’t someone pushing these scares that tends to benefit economically or at least politically? While society, at least in the United States, may have rightfully become immune to false warnings about mass epidemics, we may not be immune if a real bad bug ever does take hold. How do you trace it down? Where does it come from? How did it get started?  What chain of events gets unleashed if we all panic? Does it matter if the panic is justified or not as long as a real perception of threat is there?  Lots of great questions. Very few good answers. I think that was the purpose of this film. Wake up. Best to think about it now.

Mitch Emhoff ‘s (Damon) wife (Paltrow) returns home from China, infects her son, has a seizure and dies. The CDC gets reports of similar episodes around the world. Pods of infection grow exponentially. Fear sets in.  Doctors and epidemiologists all over the world converge to find the cause and the cure.  A hard ball and well respected reporter (played by Jude law) thinks he has found a homeopathic cure and a conspiracy by drug manufacturers. If people believe him, this could be a huge threat. But to whom?

The cool part of this film is that it circles back around at the end and teases us on how one simple, innocuous and fortuitous little event can set so many things in motion and out of control around the world. This is more a lesson for politicians and world leaders than the rest of us. In the event of crisis, you have to be very careful how you react. You may set a chain of events in motion you never intended. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke about this often in the aftermath of 9/11. War planners study this concept. Put one ship on high alert in the wrong place at the wrong time, one bullet gets fired and before you know it, you have WWIII in full swing. Doctors, drug companies and so called government “smart guys” need to be wary of the same thing. Not to mention the affect on world economic markets when Warren Buffet sneezes or the Chairman of the Fed shakes his head or looks somber in an interview.

Contagion was less a movie about a virus or a disease. It was more like a doctorate thesis on panic. It raised lots of provocative questions, but provided few answers. For that aspect, TMG really liked it.  As a dramatic film, it fell short of greatness. Like any good virus, it had great potential though.

VIEWER WARNINGS: Three things may upset you in this film. One guy gets smacked head on by a bus (this also happened just last week to Ciaran Hinds in The Debt); seeing Gwyneth Paltrow getting autopsied by a round cut to her skull; and one very graphic needle injection that left even TMG a bit woozey. Hold on to to your Diet Pepsi.

Joy Lynn: There are too many characters to keep track of in this film.  I enjoyed Kate Winslet and I think they should have developed her character more.  Matt Damon’s role was decent, but again, the writer  missed the boat by not developing his character. I wanted more insight to his family life and relationships rather than the virus. The virus spread so quickly it was almost unbelievable.

I did, however, relate to the message about greedy pharmaceutical companies.  Are vaccines developed too quickly in a crisis?  How well are they tested?   What are some of the alternative options available?  Who do we believe? It’s a frightening thought to be surrounded by people dying from an unknown cause or virus.  That message came across loud and clear. The theater I was in was not crowded, but I soon noticed that at least half of them were coughing!  And the real flu season is not even here yet.
A major flaw in this film was that the entire story was just too random. There was so much going on and little connection to the characters. Maybe that was the point. A virus attacks totally randomly. At one point, a local epidemiologist played by Gould blurted out “Blogging isn’t writing. It’s just graffiti with punctuation.”  It was a pointed line, but what did it have to do with anything? The film ended with too many loose ends. I would have liked to have seen at least some resolution offered.  All in all, a decent film.

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