The Reel Deal with Missy & Molly ‘Contagion’: Will it go viral?

Missy Katner

Lumen Assistant Editor


Molly Grosskreutz

A&E Assistant Editor

According to the World English Dictionary, a contagion is defined as “the transmission of disease from one person to another by direct or indirect contact.” In the movie realm, “Contagion” is defined as number one in the U.S. box office right now, having earned $22.4 mil­lion its opening weekend.

Channeling the panic from recent SARS and H1N1 scares, Contagion tells the story of a fictional disease that starts with one case and spreads over the entire planet in just under one year. The American Center for Disease Control (CDC) and other global health administrations rush to contain it, as it leaves millions dead in its wake,

MG: I thought the premise of this film was a fresh concept. This is the first time that I’ve seen a disease as the primary antagonist, without any need for the victims to turn into zombies or genetic mutants. I ap­preciated the reality of this film, and I bought into the idea that this fic­tional virus affected real people.

MK: My first thought going into this movie was “another epidemic mov­ie.” But you’re right, Molly. Very few movies about killer viruses stay within realistic limits. After seeing the movie, I noticed several news stories asking if “Contagion” could really happen. Experts testified yes. Yes, it could.

MG: That’s so scary! Speaking of it being a real possibility, I appreci­ated how this film drew from real-life events, including past SARS and H1N1 scares, that threw the entire world into a state of panic. That sense of panic, spread and enhanced by the media, was evident through­out the film.

MK: The inevitable descent of soci­ety into chaos seemed so genuine. “Contagion” felt so much like an alternate ending to other epidemic scares, daring to address the “what if?” question. It is difficult not to be unsettled by the virus—it is a face­less enemy that kills without bias. The scientists in the film struggled to keep up with the mutating virus. The only reason a vaccination was discovered was one part brilliance and two parts luck. Maybe that is why there is an uneasy lump in your chest when you leave the theatre. Deep down you know that science may not be able to bail us out every time. If I had written this review immediately after leaving the the­ater, I would have given it a thumbs down based solely on the lingering feeling of dread.

MG: No kidding. I was a little dis­turbed by the various news anchors reporting on the virus. They all seemed to be a little too happy de­livering such terrible news. I think those acting choices were uninten­tional, but it was weird.

MK: Ah, the happy-go-lucky news anchors. “300,000 more people have died from MEV-1. No vaccination in sight. In other news…” Even af­ter cities burned, police defeated, and mass graves dug, the news an­chors suited up and soldiered on! They were ridiculous, but I suppose a minor weak point of the movie. Regarding the use of media in this film, I would have said that the me­dia uses fear tactics every day and the movie is just an extension of that. But in the past few days, I’ve been mulling it over. This movie is a rarity for Hollywood. It strives to be something more than entertain­ment—it strives to be unabashedly truthful. And I think that is impor­tant these days.

MG: Absolutely. Let’s talk about the cast. This film is the definition of star-studded. The CDC officials played by Laurence Fishburne and Kate Winslet make round-the-clock, nationwide efforts to help victims such as the characters played by Gwyneth Paltrow and Matt Damon. The aspiring journalist, played by Jude Law (Do I hear a sigh, la­dies?…Don’t. He has an extremely noticeable prosthetic snaggletooth in this.), meanwhile, putzes around San Francisco, blogging about the epidemic. Across the pond, in Hong Kong, Marion Contillard’s doctor character investigates its origin.

MK: Ha! I wondered about the tooth. It was a character of its own.

MG: It was bad. While I adore many of these actors, I think this film tends to use its all-star cast as a crutch. There are almost too many subplots going on, and sometimes it’s difficult to remember what each person is doing and how they are connected to one another. Each star has limited airtime, so it is difficult to foster an emotional connection to them, and deaths are not as sad as they could be. The relentless pacing is appropriate to the subject matter, however.

MK: I agree completely. You rarely get inside the characters’ heads. It is more like you are watching a sort of documentary filmed about this world-wide epidemic (actually, I thought from the beginning that this film would have been successful as a sort of District 9 mockumentary-style film). There were a few mo­ments in which the film rested and allowed Matt Damon to just be. I felt like these were the most emotionally powerful points—when the charac­ters took a breather and actually let the horror sink in.

MG: Yeah, those were the moments that drew me in. Another thought: don’t see this movie if you are a germaphobe. This film will make it worse.

MK: I second that! It is a hypochon­driac’s hell. The movie begins with a black screen and a hacking cough. Watching people dig their virus-in­fected fingers into bar peanuts and bus commuters cough on each other is enough to make one dig out Ger­mX and the old H1N1 mask.

MG: Haha, that’s true. Also, I would not recommend seeing this movie if you are looking to feel better about the state of the world. This film does the opposite of that. But for that reason, I think this film is ulti­mately successful. You’ll walk out of this movie feeling uncomfortable, grossed out, and slightly worried, which means that it was an effective thriller.

Final Verdict

MG: Thumbs up.

MK: Thumbs up.

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