Saturday, November 05, 2011


End of the World with a cough and a handshake

Contagion (2011, USA/UAE, Steven Soderbergh)

Day 2: A woman coughs on one side of the world and the planet starts moving towards a quick end.

In reality, the end of the world started on the night of Day 1 after the woman passed on her contracted virus to others in an invisible indirect manner when others touched any objects the woman held in her hands. Her cough on Day 2 is the first visible sign that something is wrong. However, there is not much time for anyone to be saved once they get the disease because the virus moves rapidly through the body causing instant death. Naturally, global panic results as more people start dying around the world.

As with most mass epidemic diseases, a few work hard to find a cure, some try to help as many people as possible, others spend their time spinning conspiracy theories or causing more panic while a few look to make money for themselves. In this regard, the movie gives an adequate time slice to an entire array of characters so as to paint a complete picture of what unfolds when a mass epidemic results. So there are characters who are shown to collect samples and analyze the virus, others try to grow the virus so a cure/anti-body can be found, government/health officials debate how to handle public safety, pharmaceutical companies try to sell vaccines, journalists cover the story while common folk are concerned for their loved ones and do whatever they can to save their families/friends.

Contagion shows that most humans are driven by fear or greed, regardless of their job title, so in a sense the film is short on selfless heroes. A single rebel doctor who grows the virus is probably the only hero in the film but the planet could have been truly saved if every human citizen had a hand sanitizer. Of course, if a hand sanitizer was readily available, then there would have been no spread of the virus on Day 1. The absence of a hand sanitizer to save the day means door knobs and hand railings in Contagion are made to look as dangerous as dark hallways do in horror/slasher films.

The film moves at a healthy pace, crisscrossing across various international cities, and keeps the viewer engaged by following a different character in each segment. Contagion shows that a good film can still be made within a predictable template that depicts expected behavior from most characters. However, the true power of Contagion is reserved for the film’s final segment which depicts how the disease came to be spread on Day 1. There are some clues given for the disease’s origin before the final segment that would allow people to piece things together. Still, the final segment is chillingly effective and manages to tie the whole film together nicely.

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