Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Movie #331: Contagion

Contagion is a medical drama/thriller directed by Stephen Soderbergh and starring Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Lawrence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Chin Han, Marion Cotillard, and Jennifer Ehle. I bought it in a two-pack with Outbreak (we'll get to the O's eventually), and it strikes me that they're much the same movie, only this one is the grown-up version.

The movie tracks the outbreak, spread, and eventual cure of a flu strain called MEV-1. It originates with a businesswoman named Beth (Paltrow) who spreads it to the people in the casino around her in China, who then go to their respective homes and spread it, until it goes worldwide and, over the course of the movie, kills millions.

We meet a bunch of different characters all doing their thing to cure or fight the disease: CDC doctors, the head of the CDC (Fishburne), a WHO rep (Cotillard) who gets kidnapped by a Chinese national (Han) until his small village is supplied with a vaccine, patient zero's husband (Damon) who is naturally immune to the disease, and then there's Jude Law.

Law plays a blogger and conspiracy nut who, in his mind, is working to expose the machinations of the pharmaceutical industry. What he does, however, is work to convince people that "natural" remedies will prevent or cure the disease, and then when there is a vaccine, tells people not to take it. He does get arrested at the end, but is promptly released on bail from donations from his many followers, and smugly struts out, secure in the knowledge that he's going to make bank.

It's Law's character that really makes the movie, though. The other characters are all real and flawed in their way - Fishburne's character breaks protocol to protect his family. Ehle's doctor injects herself with an experimental vaccine, Paltrow's character spread the disease while having an affair, and of course there's the whole kidnapping thing. But Law's character actively harms the effort cure the disease out of arrogance and greed, and frankly he should been drowned. (Best burn in the movie: An actual scientist, played by Elliot Gould, tells him "Blogging isn't writing, it's graffiti with punctuation.")

The movie is probably a pretty accurate representation of how it would all go down if we had a flu strain with a mortality rate in the high 30s; yes, we'd probably find a vaccine, and yes, there'd be some asshole spouting off about "homeopathic remedies" who cost more lives by convincing people not to take it. I appreciate, too, that movie is patient and takes its time; the disease doesn't kill in 24 hours, it's not a hemorrhagic fever, it's just a flu strain. So people get sick and they don't worry, until they die, and then panic sets in. And then a few weeks later, the streets are full of trash because no one's picking it up, food is scarce, and social order has broken down a bit. People get desperate and crazy to protect their own. It's dramatic, and my friend +Matthew Karafa tells me the science as far as epidemiology is pretty sound.

Sleep tight.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: Halloween