ContagionPosted: November 30, 2011
I just got back from watching Contagion (there’s a dollar theater in Plano—I didn’t know those were still a thing): it’s been on my list of movies to watch since I heard about it, and I went tonight instead of waiting for the DVD release because I’m going to be teaching the film in the spring. A colleague and I are putting together a writing course on disasters, and Contagion is one of the texts.
One of the things that means is that there will be more posts about this movie, from a more critical/pedagogical perspective, as I actually teach it—and so for now, I’m just going to talk about how awesome it was. Also: there will be spoilers.
The film opens with Gwyneth Paltrow, coughing, and we know very quickly that she’s going to die (if, in fact, we didn’t know that going in). When she gets home to Minnesota from Hong Kong and hugs her son, who is about seven, we know he’s going to die, too—and we might expect her husband, Matt Damon, to die as well, but he doesn’t. There’s a fair amount going on during the opening minutes—we’re introduced to some other major characters, we see the early spread of the virus—but the mini-arc involving Beth (Paltrow), Mitch (Damon), and Clark (the kid) is one of the best parts of the film. Beth is sick, sure, but then she collapses at home, is rushed to the hospital, and dies—very quickly. Damon’s performance as he’s being told of his wife’s death is … well, excellent: it is not excessively (obviously) emotionally manipulative, and it gives a personal, individual weight of grief to the sufferings of countless millions that the film gives us. And when Clark dies while Mitch is at the hospital, well, you know that the film isn’t fucking around.
The cast was uniformly good. I was particularly impressed by Kate Winslet—which reminds me that I should watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind again soon—and by Jennifer Ehle (though I must say that Regency-era dress is more flattering than an orange biohazard suit). I am always impressed by Matt Damon.
Jude Law did well with a shitty character—my initial impression is that the blogger he plays is an antagonistically-written caricature, but I may change my mind. The character is used to make some interesting and salient points about the way misinformation spreads virally (get it?), but he also feels one-dimensional in a way that even more minor characters don’t. That’s one of the film’s strengths: despite the large cast of characters, and the ensemble cast, everyone feels like a real person—except Law’s Alan Krumwiede, despite his admirable efforts. I mean, what the hell kind of name is Krumwiede? The next stupidest name in the film is “Cheever,” and that’s not stupid at all.
I’ll end by saying that this is one of the most terrifying films I’ve seen—even though it ends better than one might expect—and now I feel compelled to stockpile canned goods and bottled water and vegetable seeds and ammunition and batteries, and et cetera, so that I can quarantine myself and my family when this shit actually happens, because we’re overdue for an epidemic.
Also: apparently chefs in Asian casinos don’t wash their hands after handling raw pork. So, watch out for that.