The masterful filmmaking that has become synonymous with Steven Soderbergh, makes his recent retirement announcement all the more troubling. However, that has not stopped me from enjoying the work that he is still producing. His paranoia inducing and Hollywood heavy film Contagion is a pseudo sci-fi masterpiece. It is apparent at this point that Soderbergh has developed a style that is both accessibly mainstream and avant-garde in its visionary cinematic advances. With a stark opening, techno fueled montages and rather conventional character development Contagion is a work of composed brilliance that manages to create a shockingly accurate landscape for a global pandemic. It manages to honestly confront both the large scale and intimate issues of a rampantly spreading disease without losing sight of sound movie making. It is a shame that this film was not popularly received because it is considerably better than many of the films released this year, excluding The Tree of Life of course. A few directors and whole genres of filmmaking could take a few notes from Soderbergh's playbook before endeavoring to make their own dystopic thrillers.
Contagion, as the title suggests, follows the spreading of a disease through contact. However, the disease in question proves not to be a simple flu bug, but a seizure-inducing virus with fatal effects. In classic Soderbergh fasion the film involves several narratives that loosely intersect, but never seem to fully connect. The characters in the film are all attempting to avoid contracting the virus while also assuring their own personal goals whether they be like the character of Mitch (Matt Damon) whose major concern is the safety of his daughter or Alan (Jude Law) who sees the virus as an opportunity to unmask government conspiracy while also cashing in on paranoid internet users. Others like Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) and Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) employ their scientific understanding of disease prevention full force in an attempt to subdue the virus. However, as these, and other, characters realize their personal goals are made nearly impossible in the face of a growing global pandemic, which leads to illogical and often barbaric behavior ranging from small scale robbery to fully enacted kidnapping. Problems are only heightened by the realization that a vaccine for the virus cannot exist in a large enough amount to assure immediate availability. This leads to an even larger amount of rioting, global political confrontations and a considerable amount of class consciousness. Ultimately, and rather unusually for Soderbergh, the film reminds viewers that with time things will eventually become normal and diseases can only spread so far when people are consciously preventing their occurrence. A nice moral message blanketed by a well-made thriller, yet it is in no way obnoxious, a difficult feat to perform, take my upcoming review of Birdemic as an example.
I tossed around what type of critical reflection to provide for this film, given that so many critics have drawn upon the films realistic portrayal of the rise and fall of a global pandemic. I considered mentioning something else about this film, but all I can do is offer a resounding agreement to these claims. The film does a damn good job of focusing on the cogs turning as a simple case of virus related deaths turn from something personal to a large-scale issue that involves large scale government actions both privately and publicly that posses dire consequences. Contagion absolutely catches the bureaucracy of dealing with an invisible disease both in regards to politics and science, while reminding viewers that sometimes the best action for an individual or even a group of individuals does not necessarily mean that it is good for the whole. This is clear in the approach to dealing with quarantined victims in the film. It is made clear that quarantine is necessary to the safety of cities in the film, yet the problems of financing said quarantine have bureaucratic strings that must be tied in order to provide services. Furthermore, the act of providing vaccines would prove terribly problematic, as it does in the film, given that limited supply would inevitably lead to arguments over who "deserves" the first right to vaccination. It is a film about the problems of dealing with a problem, a very pertinent commentary given our current economic state. Contagion reminds us that when it comes to dealing with world issues neither bureaucrats or Occupy Wall Street members have the idea entirely correct.
Go watch this film now...It is terribly underrated right now and I am begging you to help that change.