There’s a fantastic scene in Contagion which involves a surgery face mask coming at you in slow motion. This is one of the few intimate shots in an otherwise bird’s-eye-view of a film. I think I would like this film done as a mini-series (like Traffic). Soderbergh only gives us the overview (albeit from different strata of society) of what happens to individuals, towns, nations, and private interests during a virus outbreak. This framing worked for me, nonetheless, to underscore the urgency of an event of global proportions.
This film also felt particularly relevant/contemporary. It is an unflinching view of the downside of globalization; we are so mobile and global now that a virus transmitted first in Macau makes its way to Minnesota and to the Ukraine, all within weeks. There are no more real borders. The gap between the establishment (here, the CDC, the WHO, and the Department of Homeland Security), and the anti-establishment (Jude Law in San Francisco and Chin Han in Hongkong) is also a key narrative – one cannot help but think of cyberhackers taking down private and government entities. The structures of power are magnified by globalization, and the un-privileged millions benefit last – this is beautifully detailed in the sub-plots in Asia and in the CDC’s backyard.
Notables from the ensemble cast include the wonderful Jennifer Ehle as the vaccine genius, Kate Winslet as a very believable CDC footsoldier with a heart of gold, and Matt Damon as an exhausted suburban father who keeps postponing his grief.
Contagion. Dir. by Steven Soderbergh. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2011. In English.