24 Oct

Steven Soderbergh is one of the most variable filmmakers working today but his body of work is consistently intelligent. Contagion is the most intelligent yet, achieving a high level of scientific accuracy and featuring an array of medical terms that you’ve probably never heard of. Fomites anyone? Contagion follows the effects of a deadly pandemic on the human population but cleverly Soderbergh explores not only the spread of the virus itself but also the fear and social unrest in society.

The film is an example of so-called ‘hyperlink cinema’ with several intertwining storylines, each focusing on a character played by a member of the illustrious ensemble cast: Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting, The Bourne Identity) plays a father who quarantines his daughter after his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) becomes one of the virus’ first victims. Jude Law (Gattaca, The Talented Mr. Ripley) plays a slimy, opportunistic blogger and conspiracy theorist who pushes a homeopathic remedy. Lawrence Fishburne is the authority figure – the head of  the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention – who sends Kate Winslet out into the field to investigate the outbreak. Marion Cotillard is the WHO epidemiologist sent to Hong Kong to find the virus’ origins.

The multi-storyline narrative is great in concept in order to get a look at the bigger picture and how the virus affects different people in different ways but the film doesn’t manage to pull it off successfully. Characters are off-screen for a prolonged period of time and there’s a lack of breathing space for any character development, preventing the film from having any emotional impact on the audience. Instead, the film, I assume unintentionally, becomes the cinematic equivalent of a hygiene leaflet at your GP.

This film will surely be a powerful propaganda tool for the NHS – if Jaws made you stay out of the water then Contagion will have you washing your hands obsessively, consciously making an effort to avoid touching your face and avoiding human contact whenever possible. During the screening, I was unfortunate enough to sneeze and suddenly, I was enemy number one to the rest of the audience who looked upon me with frightening vitriol!

Perhaps the reason the film is such an effective propaganda piece is the scientific accuracy. This isn’t a traditional horror film that provides you with jumps and creepy imagery which, at the most, will only prevent you from having a good night’s sleep. Rather, this is a detailed examination of the effects of a deadly pandemic that, worryingly, may actually happen sometime in the future. Remember the swine flu panic? Imagine if it was actually serious.

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