CONTAGION directed by Steven Soderbergh (USA, 2011)
We all know that coughs and sneezes spread diseases but this movie is founded on the plausible premise that what we touch is an even deadlier way to pass on infections.
The threat of a pandemic makes a topical doomsday scenario tied neatly with the recognition that the more technology evolves, the more tactile we have to be in our daily lives .
Short of handling pods, pads and other devices with disposable plastic gloves it’s hard to see how contagious illnesses can be contained if and when a major virus takes hold.
Epidemic Intelligence Service officer Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) throws in another curveball when she says that, “the average person touches their face two or three thousand times a day; three to five times every waking minute”. As one local bureaucrat dryly observes, this means that anyone with hands, a mouth and a nose is susceptible.
The first victim we see is Beth Emhoff which comes as a shock given that she is played by Gwyneth Paltrow (a few flashback scenes ensure she has something else to do other than die).
A post-mortem reveals cause for major concern, “Should I call someone?” asks one of medics, “Call everyone” replies his boss.
This sets the scene for a mildly suspenseful globe hopping thriller. Soderbergh pulls out all the stops to up the ‘be very afraid’ factor. He posts captions as we eavesdrop on each country along with the relative population figures that may turn into body counts if a cure isn’t found.
He caters for audiences with a low attention span by narrowing the time it takes for effect to follow cause assuming, probably correctly, that punters want to cut to the chase and see a rapidly mutating infection and mass panic rather than a slow escalation of fear.
The intrusive pulse of Cliff Martinez’s funky electro score helps maintain the fast and furious pace of the action as Government officials and health authorities switch to headless chicken damage limitation mode.
Investigative reporter Alan Krunwiede (Jude Law) aims to expose the spin but is driven more by a desire to increase the number of hits on his blog than to save the planet. Matt Damon is the grief-stricken husband of the late Beth who is immune from the killer bug but slopes about looking as sick as the victims.
The glossy production values and all-star cast means that gritty realism is off the agenda and a maverick doctor finds the miracle cure as we always knew he would .
The film ends where the virus began to hammer home the message that what happened once will almost certainly happen again and leaves the door open for Contagion – The Sequel.
I won’t be watching.