Contagion

12 09 2011

Contagion features a scenario that is all too real: a sudden outbreak of a mysterious disease causes people around the world to jump into action. At the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, officials work around the clock to develop a cure; the World Health Organization sends agents to discover the source; and a family man in Minneapolis (Matt Damon) seeks only to protect his family.

Contagion manages to interweave all of these stories without ever feeling too complicated. The audience ends up caring a little about each character, but it’s enough to make us understand the human implications of such an outbreak.

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The movie starts with Day 1 of the outbreak of a deadly new virus. After being carried by bats and pigs, the virus moves into the human population at a rapid pace. With a high rate of infection and a one-in-four chance of survival, the outlook for the human race is grim. To convey this catastrophic attitude, the movie jumps between five major characters from various parts of the world.

At the same time, Contagion tackles several hard-hitting topics, like the political and corporate implications of such a massive outbreak. Who is going to make money from the outbreak? Who is paying for all the health care costs? And, most importantly, who gets to jump to the front of the line if a cure is discovered?

It also examines the personal implications of such an outbreak. Would you be the person selflessly volunteering your time at the local outbreak triage center? Would you break into a supermarket to feed your family? Or would you run to the hills and isolate yourself from human contact? These are questions that you may have pondered in the past, but in Contagion, average people are asking themselves these questions every single day.

Contagion is led by an all-star cast, including Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kate Winslet. In other movies, this star power could end up distracting the audience from the main idea behind the film. However, the acting is so convincing that this was never an issue.

If you take it to heart, then Contagion could be the scariest movie you see all year. No, it won’t make you jump, but it could cause you to stay up at night, wondering how safe the human race actually is. Put simply, the situation it presents isn’t very far-fetched, and there are plenty of moments during the movie when I wondered, “What on earth would I do in that situation?”

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It’s easy to ask that question in any movie, but there are few movies in which that same situation could actually happen next week. Who knows? Today may be the first day of a new outbreak, and within a week, or a month, or a year, we could all be faced with similar choices. In our globally interconnected world, it’s amazing how disease – and fear – can spread.

At the very least, Contagion teaches the audience the logistics behind a massive operation like disease control. It’s an educational tool, but it manages to be very entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time. Although it’s not a situation I would ever like to find myself in, it sure makes for a good movie.

4.5 stars out of 5