Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Contagion (2011)

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer:    Scott Z. Burns
Cast:       Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Ehle, Bryan Cranston, Chin Han

Healthcare professionals, government officials and everyday people find themselves in the midst of a worldwide epidemic as the CDC (Center for Disease Control) works to find a cure.

I recently read an article about the 'Gwyneth Paltrow bashing' that is prevalent on the net and she is also not immune to that within the film community itself. It listed several films that do the same and it seems that Soderbergh tried to capture the 'Zeitgeist' by casting her as the promiscuous patient zero for the epidemic depicted in the film. Hell, I searched for an article on the Ebola outbreak and came across one which compares it to one shown in Contagion and in it also Paltrow gets bashed for some comments she made in the presence of Obama.  The film informs us about an epidemiology term R0 which refers to basic reproduction rate and gives an idea about number of cases one virus generate over the course of its infectious period. The virus in Contagion has an R0 of greater than two and a mortality rate of 25%. For the current Ebola outbreak the respective figures are in the range 1-2 and 50-70%. For SARS and HIV-AIDS it was in the range 2-5. The Ebola virus spreads through bodily fluids which makes it less infectious than SARS or the one depicted in this film but it is far more deadly. 

The film got praise for its authenticity from the scientific community and plenty of research was done by the creators prior to filming to make it so. For many people in the scientific community, the scenario is not a matter of if but when and the current Ebola outbreak gives us a real life glimpse. In the film they refer to the Spanish flu epidemic which wiped out 1% of world population and some of the epidemics like Polio, Smallpox and measles had R0s greater than five. In the globalized world that we live in with frequent air travel you don't need that high R0 figure for it to spread all over the World creating more and more clusters affecting millions of people in no time. I don't think I have seen any other medical epidemic films but am familiar with Robin Cook's works like Outbreak, Coma and Brain. What is good about the contagion is that it does not try to vilify the establishment which is dealing with the virus. When you have a super villain in the form of a virus you don't really need more human villains to make it thrilling. It is as much about virus as it is about the societal response to it. In no time the whole thing turns anarchic and you have the all too familiar sight of bloggers shouting about government conspiracy. It also makes you wonder about the trouble we might have with the whole manufacturing set up of drugs in the private sector's hands. I think if it happens it will be nationalized in no time like in a war situation. 

The only problem I have with the film is the last scene showing the day zero events. It shows a deforestation done using the equipments manufactured by Paltrow's company- causing the bat to move to a pig-farm and starting the chain of events leading to Paltrow getting infected. That is just a convoluted way for the director to send a non-subtle message regarding where he stands on private sector which we are already familiar from his films like 'Erin Brockovich' and 'The Informant!'. The soundtrack is excellent and most of the film was shot in real locations without relying much on studio settings. Soderbergh again collaborated with Scott Z. Burns to make another medical thriller of sorts, Side Effects.

Rating: 4.5/5