Contagion

Some pretty person suggested I go through Steven Soderbergh’s filmography due to his influence on modern cinema. He’s gained a lot of fame and recognition for his innovative filmmaking early on, and wider appeal for his slick, witty, Ocean’s heist films. Since Contagion has a lot of relevance to the COVID-19 pandemic that’s perhaps nearing its final stages, I thought it would be a good idea to watch to see how 2011 assumed a worldwide pandemic would be handled by individuals and world governments. In some ways, he got it right. In other ways, I wish he was right.

I tried my best to pay a lot of attention to how the film was shot, and how it was structured. My silly caveman brain, however, got very invested in the story and characters, however, and I sort of dipped in and out of watching it like study and watching it like entertainment.

The film has a unique challenge in trying to capture complex subjects and multiple, lightly intertwined stories, but still creating a larger narrative. In terms of having a traditional main character, we couldn’t really point to one. 

You could argue Matt Damon is the protagonist, as the man with immunity who loses half his family very early on, but he doesn’t do too much at all, and he serves mainly as the grounded, emotional tether to the audience for the most part, and his relevance to the larger pandemic narrative is contained to the early part of the timeline. Lawrence Fishburn has probably the most screen time in the movie, and it can be argued that he too is the protagonist. His actions, however, are relegated to mainly representing the governments, a personification of the structures that we’re told to trust in events like these.

I didn’t find any true instances of character growth or change in the usual sense. That doesn’t mean that the characters aren’t relatable, likeable or interesting, because they are. With one exception, all the characters are dynamic, intelligent and likeable. It’s a fantastic example of good writing and execution. It doesn’t hurt that they’ve got an all-star ensemble cast, full of powerhouses like Marion Cotillard, Jude Law and Bryan Cranston. It’s not surprising that while watching one thread, I was excited to see the others. 

That being said, the movie is eerily similar to what happened with the current pandemic. The speed with which the pandemic hit, the way people freaked, the frustrations levied by the people against the government. There are a lot of similarities, and it’s weird hearing the words, ‘social distancing’ knowing they’re 9 years early. That being said, the film also has what feels like far more dramaticized occurrences which makes me feel thankful that society didn’t crumble the way Soderbergh predicted.

An interesting and fairly depressing similarity was the character played by Jude Law, represented the ‘flat earther’, science denying maniacs that have been plaguing our society since 2020. It’s interesting that Law’s character is presented in a sympathetic light and there’s enough complexity in his story that he’s not the uninteresting character. There’s a bit of ambiguity in exactly how much sympathy he deserves, but it’s insane to think that this guy was actually the president in the real world. 

I’m continuing my way through much of Soderbergh’s filmography in the hopes that the pretty person who suggested it will notice me. 8/10. If you’re curious, it’s Marion Cotillard. I’ve had a grudge against her and all her roles since that god awful death scene in The Dark Knight Rises

You can find Contagion at your local nightclub, Hulu, SlingTV, and Vudu.

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