Contagion (2011)

Contagion (2011) movie poster

director Steven Soderbergh
viewed: 02/18/2012

I have been pretty keen on seeing Contagion.  I guess you’d have to say “how keen?” as I neither managed to see it in the theater and was also patient enough to wait for Netflix to finally release the film (after their embargo on new content expired).  It had a lot of good buzz and it looked to me to be quite the thing to see.  But I guess that I was able to be patient enough to wait for it to come to me.

A disease thriller, this is only science fiction in that it is fiction.  The plot adheres as closely to a believable reality of a modern epidemic.  Think H1N1, but this time, people die by the thousands.  You get a runny nose, you feel like crap, three days later you’re in seizures and then you die.  It doesn’t matter if you’re Gwyneth Paltrow (actually, being a big star probably increases your chances of failing to make it through the film alive).

The film starts off running, with its pantheon of stars, several sets of mini-narratives, cross-cutting one another, attempt to tell this global story at a pace and immediacy of the now.  Much is made of the “fomites,” the many objects or touches that can swiftly pass a pathogen on from one human to the next or the many.  Director Steven Soderbergh lets the camera linger just long enough on the peanut bowl at the bar, the handles on a bus, the number of times a person touches their face and then touches a public object.  It’s a germophobe’s nightmare deluxe.

And for that matter, it’s an incredibly timely nightmare for the world.  In our increasingly global universe, the right contagion could sweep the human populace like the Black Death, taking down immense numbers of people, a significant percentage of the human race.   Some say it’s just a matter of time.  Perhaps the movie is perfectly prescient.

The movie is really quite good through the first hour or so.  The zeitgeist thriller really taps into something and moves with alacrity and with some deadly power.  The only thing is that the last half hour or so, the film loses some of its potency.  It’s hard to put my finger on it exactly, what happened, but it sort of sputters to the finish line.  I found the Jude Law character the weakest of the bunch and the kidnapping of Marion Cotillard seemed to veer off from whatever track had the film moving so well.  This hardly ruins the film, just diminishes what starts out as a top rate flick.  A popcorn movie that will keep you from sharing your popcorn.