Swine Flu! Avian Bird Flu! H1N1! And of course our perennial favorite, Mad Cow Disease. Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion borrows liberally from the recent historical episodes spawned by all of these cryptic viruses in sensationalized media reports and in real life . . . though to what end is really up to the viewer to decide. You can certainly view the film as a dramatized documentary whose sole aim is to show viewers how frankly uneventful the spread of virus really is – uneventful, until the moment of death, of course, as personified in the storyline involving Matt Damon and the untimely death of his son and wife (played by Gwyneth Paltrow in a role that finally – after an eternity – actually calls upon her to act). There are the conspiracies detected by a vagrant blogger (played by Jude Law) who views the virus as pure fuel for his paranoid fantasies linking the government and drug companies. And then there are the world officials (played by Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Laurence Fishbourne) who do their darndest to keep the public safe and the virus at bay. In the end, however, the virus is just seeking a host to survive, much as the human hosts of the virus aim to survive by escaping its lethal grasp. Science isn’t sexy, and the film spends a great deal of time expounding the virtues of scientific methods, research and understanding which both lifts the movie above standard scientific thriller status and yet still ends up feeling like a zombie movie without the zombies. Go fig.
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