If the start of 2012 has put you in an apocalyptic mindset, Contagion might be just the movie for you. Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 superflu tale arrives on DVD and Blu-ray this week, much to the chagrin of mysophobes everywhere.
Contagion is not a movie about surprising plot twists and nail biting suspense. Rather, it is a study in inevitability. From the opening moments when we see strangers conspicuously touching handrails, rubbing their own faces, and coughing, we know badness is about to go down. There’s no hiding that the film is a chronicle of a highly infectious disease that decimates the population. That’s what we expect going in, and that’s exactly what we get. The quality that makes Contagion unique is the level of detail and emotion it examines and expresses as it rolls through its predictable course.
The movie opens on Day 2 of the superflu infection, when only a few unfortunate folks are exhibiting symptoms. Beth Emhoff (Gwenyth Paltrow) is one of these initial victims, having somehow contracted the disease while on a business trip overseas. Not knowing she is carrying the death of millions inside her mucousy lungs, she touches and breathes on everything and everyone in her path, effectively carving a swathe of death between Hong Kong and the U.S. Though Beth is infected, her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) seems strangely immune. It’s not long before a YouTube video showing a contagion-related death on a subway makes the authorities put together the pieces and realize that something most definitely is amiss.
The CDC’s Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishurne) spearheads the efforts to identify and cure the illness that has begun is rampage around the globe, and Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) does her share of globetrotting to investigate the infections on his behalf. The World Health Organization also gets in on the action and sends Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) to trace the origin of the disease. Meanwhile, rogue blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) claims to have a cure for the contagion that is being suppressed by the government. The movie follows the investigations, politicking, and panicking of all these different factions and organizations as they all try to stem an ever growing tide of sickness.
The contagion is a pandemic, but we witness it on a personal level, through the eyes of its victims, the frightened uninfected, and those striving to beat it. There’s a lot of interagency red tape, but the movie always stays personal, and that’s a large part of what makes it so unsettling. Everything that happens in Contagion comes across as possible, perhaps plausible, and maybe even inevitable. By the end of the movie, it seems amazing that we as a species have managed to dodge plague-level bullets for so long, and it feels like it’s only a matter of time until the wrong person forgets to wash his hands. Even if you’ve never been phobic of germs in the past, this is a movie that is sure to give you pause the next time you touch anything or even consider venturing out of your house.
Contagion very easily is my favorite film Steven Soderbergh has directed. His previous ventures like the Ocean’s trilogy and The Informant! carry too much smarm for me to be fully on board, but this one drops all pretention and really hits me where it matters. Other fiction has tackled potential pandemics (The Andromeda Strain and The Stand come to mind), but Contagion feels the most real and therefore the most disturbing of the genre. Make no mistake: there’s nothing feel-good about this movie. It’s a bleak chronicle of the progress of an unseen killer and the world’s feeble and believable attempts to react to it. Although bleak and neuroses inducing, it is an excellent and convincing movie, and it absolutely is worth checking out, as long as you’re prepared to feel like you should be wearing gloves and a medical mask for a few days afterwards.
The Blu-ray and DVD release of Contagion hits stores tomorrow, January 3, 2012, with a code for a downloadable streaming version of the movie as well. The Blu-ray also comes with several special features, including featurettes examining the likelihood of the events in the movie, how the filmmakers researched and prepared for the film, and what the real world is doing to prepare for the eventuality of a superinfection like the one in the movie.