Monday, September 12, 2011

Movie Review: Contagion

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At one point in time, if you wanted to travel the world, it took a lot of time and a lot of effort. Heck, It used to be that if you wanted to fly the China Clipper from San Francisco to Honolulu, there were about 25 people on the plane and about 17-20 hours in the air. Today, the same flight is about 5-6 hours and a flight from Honolulu can reach all the way to Newark, New Jersey in just 11 hours and in both cases the planes can hold around 250 people. The point the movie Contagion is making is that with the mobility of people today, if a highly infectious and deadly disease with a short gestation period ever occurred, it would truly be horrifying as the disease left deadly pockets of destruction across the globe.

Contagion Movie Poster
The movie begins with Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) coughing and Day 2 appearing on the bottom of the screen. She's on her way home from Hong Kong. Shortly after having arrived at a place of safety back with her family, she has seizures, is rushed to the hospital by her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) where she dies. Don't get mad at The Movie Monkey for revealing this, it's all over the previews so it's no big secret. What was surprising is just how quickly this major Hollywood star was killed off. That doesn't happen too often.

The clock is ticking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Heath Organization are made aware of people who have died at several locatiosn across the globe. CDC head Dr Cheevers (Laurence Fishburne) sends investigator Dr Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to investigate Beth's death while the WHO dispatches Dr Leonora Orantes (Marion Cortiland) to Hong Kong to try to locate the initial infection point. Back in San Francisco a conspiracy theorist Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) discovers a video of a man in Japan who dies on a bus and attempts to sound an alarm. Up front, no one believes him. As the days pass from the initial contamination, the body count starts rising. The conspiracies run wilder, the doctors and scientists keep working to find a solution. Some people get sick and survive, some are immune but the death toll goes higher and higher.

There are parallels to what the world experienced back in 2009 with the outbreak of the H1N1 virus. Contagion takes it a step further with a deeper "What if". What if the components of the outbreak because more time restrictive, the potency of the virus was ratcheted up, and the method of transmission was even easier? You sit in your seat for 105 minutes squirming as you watch human nature take over. People want to hug and kiss but doing so may transmit the disease. Government works to find solutions but fears of creating panic before the full information is available hinder dissemination to the public. First responders either knowingly or unknowingly putting their own lives on the line. They just know they are attempting to help someone in need. News organizations are not sure which information to distribute, those from the government or from other organizations who may have details that are contradictory in nature. Individuals across the board are trying to keep their reputations and integrity intact when faced with overwhelming circumstances.

What makes this movie work is the slow build of the fear. How do you protect yourself from something that you can't see without a microscope? Do you protect yourself? How do you guard those you care about? How far do you go to safeguard your own and what lengths to shield others? How do you distinguish truth from propaganda? Short of aliens coming down and blowing up planet Earth, the body count is high, even higher than the 1918 pandemic of the Spanish Flu. With the disturbing images and strong language, the picture was rated PG-13. When the movie is over, you'll be breathing a big sigh of relief, but remember, if the MEV-1 virus actually existed, that single exhale could be deadly to someone else.

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