Saturday, October 8, 2011

Contagion (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


As I am recuperating from a small cold, the events depicted in "Contagion" are rather eerie. The entire cast is filmed in a green sepia tone, incessantly coughing and hacking. There are repeated montages of hands and fingers touching things. People eat, sneeze, shake hands and touch their face. This could be Stephen Soderbergh's public service announcement for food safety. But it isn't.
With its trance disco beat and its constant parade of Hollywood stars (Look, there's is Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Winslet! Oh my God, that's Matt Damon! Get out, it's Jude Law and Marion Cottilard!) the film is like going to a Beverly Hills rave. Never has it seemed so hip to be sick. At first glance "Contagion" appears to be a "Vanity Fair" edition of the H1N1 or Swine Flu. 
But fortunately, it isn't that either.

"Contagion" is actually a quiet, haunting film despite its ordinary procedural sequences about what might happen when a unknown virus spirals out of control. 
It is true that Laurence Fishburne gives a rather standard performance, but upon further reflection, it hits you: Fishburne's declarative and monotone delivery actually sounds  like a medical professional. He does care and he is clueless, which means we are all in trouble.
The nonchalant mystery and horror of the film is embodied in the character of Beth Emhoff (Paltrow) who is so carefree and enigmatic that she has all the iconic power of a Marilyn Monroe or Laura Palmer from "Twin Peaks". Beth's death is so sudden that her absence comes like a unexpected concussion. In just a few preliminary scenes, Paltrow brands a blonde shadow upon the eye. We only see her actions in partial sunspots. The film's ending, and Beth's viral incubation can be seen as a grim, existential twist on the comedy "The Hangover". 
Some might be tempted to see "Contagion" as an art-house zombie film or doomsday pic, but to say that is to cheapen it. With its shots of shuttered houses, ghostly shopping malls and angry, disenfranchised people who can't get the vaccine, the film emerges into more of a metaphor for the current economic crisis.  We have Jude Law as a tech savvy blogger,  in a kind of Julian Assange character, who argues against government vaccinations. As a proponent for homeopathic Forsythia, Law's homespun character could just as well be arguing against the bank bailouts and the greed of Wall Street, preaching a Libertarian approach. And it does not seem accidental that Matt Damon stars in the film as Mitch, a bereft father who shakes his head in shock through much of the film.  We know Damon's political feelings. He is after all the "voice" of "Inside Job" (2010), the hallmark documentary that detailed the 2008 crisis and ultimately, blasted the Obama administration.
Needless to say, you can be certain that I'll be wiping down my iPhone after writing this review. 

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