"Blogging is not writing. It's just graffiti with punctuation."
During the early onslaught of the epidemic we are told by Dr. Erin Mears that the average human touches their face three-to-five times per minute. The exact amount is futile. What's important is that it only takes one to pass on a virus. What's also important is that I was touching my face when I was notified.
Dr. Mears is fictional (played by Kate Winslet), but the threat is real. Over the centuries, we weak humans have been decimated by unseen beings; microscopic terrors that eat us from the inside. The Black Death wiped out half of Europe in the 14th century; the Spanish Flu thirty million at the turn of the 20th. Smallpox is the real winner here though. Reports indicate it's responsible for the deaths of 500 million people. CONTAGION's nemesis is MEV-1: a proposed bat/pig viral super-villain.
The film begins with a cough, and a hand digging into some bar peanuts. (We're all guilty.) The hand belongs to Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), a woman on business in Hong Kong. She returns home to her son and husband (Matt Damon), feeling worse by the day. Fever turns to headaches, which turn to numbness, later seizures. Beth collapses on the kitchen floor and is rushed to the hospital. She dies*; her son soon after. Countless others follow suit around the world. As we have learned, the disease is airborne, contact** with people or everyday objects could be fatal.
*Not the biggest Paltrow fan. And when I say not the biggest, I mean not at all. And, let's not even begin to get into her being an Oscar winner for SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. Then she gets married, names her daughter Apple, then starts a blog about what food to eat and what $12,000 boots to wear. That being said, great death scene here. Very convincing.
**My one gripe was how out of their way they went to highlight what everyone touched at various times. It became almost farcical at some points, as the camera would zoom in and quickly pause for effect. We get it, the pole on the bus is now contaminated.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) gets involved, led by Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne). It's comforting to think that we have the most intelligent people working on these predicaments, but even these brightest minds are clueless to MEV-1's formula, and most importantly, it's eradication.
CONTAGION's strong point is the realness of it all. Nothing feels forced or out of place. The danger is here and it's not going away. The film takes its time to set up the players--enough so that it's incredibly jarring when the rug is pulled from under us. The narrative does well to jump off to various tangents. Doctors Cheever and Mears are present stateside, while World Health Organization epidemiologist Dr. Leonara Orantes (Marion Cotillard) investigates the goings on in Hong Kong. Damon bunkers down in his house with his daughter. Their relationship is the most tranquil amongst the scattered chaos.
Elliot Gould, Bryan Cranston, and John Hawkes (really, a janitor? That's all you could give him?) are all involved, in mostly minor ways. However, the most fascinating voice is had by Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), a radical blogger who points an incriminating finger towards to government, accusing them of holding back the cure among other indiscretions. He's sleazy and manipulative. The true horror is that he could be right.
No one is safe, which director Steven Soderbergh succeeds in depicting. What would you do if this suddenly happened? What could you do? The most crippling scenes occur when we're shown entire airports empty; streets occupied only by abandoned cars and forgotten belongings. CONTAGION is an uneasy, well thought out drama--one of the best of the year by far. It might not permanently change your hygienic habits, but you'll certainly think twice about where you put your fingers.