Once upon a time, someone must have looked at people suffering and thought, “This must be captured on film!” That’s how documentaries were born. Then someone else said, “Reality is stupid. I can make this better!” That’s how pictures about epidemics must have been born, cause I don’t see any other reason why you’d make one of these. Unless you’re really into watching people die lonely, depressing deaths in hospital beds, then you’re just artsy.
This week on Manic Movie Magic, let’s look at this year’s pandemic-picture, Contagion.
Contagion stars a multitude of famous people, like Gwenyth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Jude Law. Why so many celebrities jam-packed into a film? Probably to try and distract the fact that this movie has little to no interesting plot points.
But let’s start from the beginning: we see Gwenyth Paltrow sitting in an airport, talking about cheating on her husband after returning from some business trip in Asia. Surprise! She’s sick with the deadly disease the audience already knew was coming, and brings it to America, essentially making herself patient 0 and murdering millions of off-screen fictional characters.
Her husband, played by Matt Damon, is immune to the virus, which is great for him as he now also gets to watch his son die too. We meet the rest of our characters – Fishbourne, and Cottillard work for the CDC and WHO respectively, Winslet is out in the field trying to help states get ready for the incoming wave of sick people, and Jude Law is a blogger/journalist who breaks the story first, and proceeds to milk his fame for all its worth. None of them are particularly interesting, and their characters aren’t really fleshed out because we have so many side plots to contend with.
Afterwards, the pandemic breaks globally and people are dying everywhere. We see how the characters get through the days and months until finally, the vaccine is made. While people are still confined to their homes, and the economy has probably dropped like a rock, there are clear signs that everything will be back to normal someday. And no, I won’t spoil who else dies – that’s what the Wikipedia article is for.
The biggest problem I have with this movie’s plot is how inaccurate it is for the medical factors. For one, the vaccine they are given at the end of the film is sprayed into the nose. Why couldn’t you make one that could be done with a syringe? A vaccine given through the nasal cavities is much less effective than one directly inserted into the body. You wouldn’t give someone an epi-pen nasal spray would you? And you can’t even say that this particular application of the vaccine is the only one that would work. The first scientist who takes it does so by injecting it directly into her leg, and she survives!
Also, the precautions taken by individuals to keep from getting sick varies a lot. Jude Law often goes out in a self-made bubble suit, all the scientists take the same measures. After all, this is an extremely contagious disease, and even the smallest amount of exposure seals your fate.
But suddenly, Matt Damon decides it’s okay to for his daughter to go out with only a scarf around her face. Even though she isn’t allowed to go outside without him, or talk to the boy she likes, because those activities are too risky, wearing a scarf as a mask is fine. A scarf that probably has little holes in it where the virus could get it. Does this make sense to anyone else? I mean, he’s immune, but there’s no way to know if she is or isn’t without medical testing. Not to mention the scarf is easy to pull down or cut, so she’s basically vulnerable at any second.
If there’s anything to be said about this movie as a whole, it’s very, very bland. There’s no action, no suspense, and while you do feel bad for the characters in the film, it’s a very detached pity. While it is terrible that many people die, it doesn’t seem like a very horrifying pandemic. I tried really hard to feel for some of the characters who got more screen time, like Kate Winslet and Jude Law, but I was very aware the whole time I was watching a movie…and checking my phone every once in a while to see how much longer was left.
The only thing that’s kind of interesting is at the end; they show you how the disease was started and how it got to Paltrow. In essence it’s this: a sick bat drops a piece of food into a pig farm, the pig eats it and carries the mutating virus, the pig is bought by the casino Paltrow is at. The chef is stuffing and prepping the pig when he’s called away by a waiter. The chef doesn’t wash his hands, and ends up touch Paltrow.
It’s cool they chose to add that in there, but then it breeds even more questions. Why didn’t the whole casino get sick then? The chef could have been immune, but he was touching several other dishes, doors, cookware, clothing, etc. The only people we are shown who get sick are the people who have direct contact with Paltrow. It’s highly unlikely everyone else in the casino was immune to it, so why doesn’t it break out faster?
All other aspects of the film, like cinematography, music, and design are all fine for a movie of this caliber. If it seems like I’ve got nothing to say about it, it’s because none of these facets are outstanding and they are so quickly forgotten. Even writing about this movie is making me feel tired – never a good sign.
Contagion is not a terrible movie, but it certainly isn’t one I’m ever going to revisit. It’s dull, average, and I feel like I’ve already seen a movie like this more times than I would care to. If you’re into these kinds of movies, then go watch it, you’ll probably think it’s a nice change from the highly dramatize versions on TV, but if you’ve got nothing else to do a Friday night, I’d suggest going to surf the internet instead, you’ll get more out of it.
Be sure to come back next Friday when I review the Roman Polanski classic Rosemary’s Baby.