By Kathleen M. O’Donnell, City College of New York
At the end of a summer full of superheroes, wizards, and buddy flicks, wanting to see an academic film about a global epidemic comes slow. Perhaps that’s why director Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven, Traffic) packed the cast of Contagion with all of our silver screen favorites. But star power is quickly put on the back burner when Beth Emhoff (Gwenyth Paltrow) dies of a deadly and unknown virus upon returning home from a business trip in Hong Kong. Her death triggers a race against time as researchers and officials attempt to stop the virus from becoming a global health crisis.
Starting at Day 2 of the outbreak, Contagion follows a strict timeline format and documents the infected cities and regions with increasingly large populations. The plot bounces between multiple characters, each an integral link to the epidemic. A host of doctors and field workers from the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization are pitted against the first-infected U.S. suburbanites and Chinese villagers.
In the thick of it is Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), a conspiracy blogger, who capitalizes on the online hype surrounding the disease. In a press interview with the CDC’s Dr. Ellis Cheever, (played by a somewhat overdramatic Laurence Fishburne), Krumwiede exposes the impact of social media during a time of mass hysteria.
Contagion sheds light on many controversial political and social issues facing our world today, but does so with a mind towards the common goal of saving as many people as possible. In one scene, we see Americans raiding others’ homes for food, the next a starving classroom of Chinese children, and still the next scientists discovering new mutations helpful for a vaccine.
Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (The Bourne Ultimatum) is to be commended for transforming a scary possibility into a well-researched piece of genuine entertainment. The edgy cinematography is coupled with an eerie but well done techno-classical score. The combination of these elements results in a beautifully realistic film that requires many “what ifs.”
Contagion’s ensemble cast is effective in that one member never outshines the other. Despite the big names — Winslet, Damon, Law, Cotillard, and Fishburne — the real star is MEV-1, the virus that shakes the world and makes us truly believe that things could always be worse.
Kathleen M. O’Donnell is a columnist for The New Student Union.