Just when you thought the bedbug epidemic was the worst thing that could befall humanity right now, along comes Contagion. A touching tale in an entirely negative sense, this virus doomsday thriller seems less interested in the spreading of deadly germs, than the spread of mass panic, a mob mentality epidemic and disaster giving rise mostly to the worst instincts in people. Along with a peculiar irony – namely Hollywood summoning these same masses to the movie theaters, while promoting a film likely to want them to lock their doors and stay home.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh – who recently detoured down a different sort of dark path with The Girlfriend Experience, delving into the world of high priced hookers servicing the stock exchange but not spreading sexually transmitted diseases – Contagion may in fact have STDs more on its mind instead. Gwyneth Paltrow, pretty much stuck in the first few minutes with the thankless task of precipitating the plague by importing the virus from abroad and then passing it on to her lover in Chicago as a cheating spouse, has her contagious cameo cut even shorter when losing her head literally on the autopsy table.
Enter Matt Damon as the betrayed husband, who puts aside any hard feelings to save the world. But running interference are competing scientists (Laurence Fishburne, Elliot Gould, Kate Winslet), paranoid nations (China, France), politicians bickering over budget wars, and an MIA American president ducking underground. While the predatory mean multitudes battle each other for diminishing food stocks and questionable cures in short supply. And the government, suspected of secret deals with the pharmaceutical industry, hoards the possible miracle cure for themselves while promoting ‘social distancing’ as mass remedy.
At the same time, Soderbergh seems to heap his greatest displeasure on alternative medicine, in the personage of Contagion’s hardly subtle cyberspace arch-villain, Alan Krumwied, played by Jude Law. Krumwied – the name itself reeks of treachery – is attracting to the government’s dismay, millions of desperate followers to his website, where he peddles the dubious natural cure snake oil dubbed Forsythia. Though why Krumwied is never discredited as his customers drop dead anyway, is one of this movie’s many curiously half baked dangling plot points, in a far too overcrowded narrative playing field.
Also in question, is Contagion’s release date, a disaster thriller feeding cynically on mass terror fears that has been timed to open simultaneously with the tenth anniversary 9/11 weekend. While Elliot Gould, even with his truncated role, gets perhaps the best last laugh in the movie: ‘Blogging is not writing, it’s graffiti with punctuation.’