2011-09-09

Contagion – A Clinical View Of A Devastating Event

by Yo Snyder

It was kind of weird, really. We had just finished watching a movie
wherein a new virus strain has just wreaked havoc on the world, killing
tens of millions of people and caused untold amounts of turmoil and
disruption in the day-to-day operation of just about every major
country… and yet when the credits rolled, the people at our screening
applauded. Why? Did they have a good time watching the devastation,
death, and destruction that was on display? Where they applauding
because the story had a mostly happy ending? Was it because they thought
the display of talent on screen was particularly good? I can’t say for
sure. I do know that I didn’t feel like applauding; but then, I didn’t
feel much of anything by the time Contagion was over… and that was the really weird part.

Contagion is a movie that was constantly defying my
expectations. Not matter what it was that I expected to happen, it
rarely did in the way I thought it would.
Matt Damon plays a character who’s immune to the disease that’s killing
so many; I expected that to be important. It wasn’t. We just watch him
survive along with everyone else. I expected Marion Collitard’s
character’s connection with a village of people near Hong Kong to be
significant; and at the end it would seem that’s the case, but my
expectation for any resolution to that went unfulfilled. Overall, I
expected to appalled and feel some strong emotions at an
all-too-plausible event on display in this movie, but that too was an
expectation that wasn’t met. As I said, I didn’t feel much of anything.
It was as though I had just watched a very interesting medical
documentary that kept me a clinically-removed observer of the subject
matter. Perhaps that was the intent of the film; I was just expecting
something different.

Nevertheless, Steven Soderbergh has put together a great-looking film
with a fantastic cast that delivers some solid performances. Whatever
other expectations you may have, you can expect a film that looks great
and tells a very interesting story… or perhaps documents an
interesting story, which may be a better description. Although it
relates these events with a rather detached air, there is a slight
underlying sense of foreboding because these events are so plausible. If
you’re someone who’s a little paranoid about disease and germs, this is
not a movie you want to see. It’s hard to react to simple things as
coughs quite the same way, or what surfaces you’re touching and what you
touch after that, without a little more concern than usual after seeing
this movie. So although it doesn’t necessarily have any big emotional
moments, it does have a way to get under your skin like an annoying
sliver.

Although Contangion is ostensibly about a horrific disease,
the true destructive force in this movie isn’t the virus, rather it’s
people. This movie does a good job of capturing just how base human
nature can be in a time of crisis. Although the spread of the virus
certainly does its damage, they way people react as society slowly
unravels does far more harm. Looting, robbery, violence, and more is
done all in the name of survival.

Many ask, when something happens like what’s displayed in this movie,
how a loving God could allow such suffering and devastation.  First, I
find it interesting that God is called to account when something
horrible happens; but whenever things are going our way, we do our best
to eliminate Him from the equation or just flat out ignore His
existence. That issue aside, what Contagion does, intentionally
or not, is give us a little insight into the answer to that question.
How? By putting on display just how much evil and suffering is
perpetrated by us. It’s interesting, is it not, that God should be held
accountable for disease and natural disasters and yet humanity should be
excused for their own contributions to the suffering in the world? When
it comes to the problem of evil and suffering, we cannot ask the
question as though we are detached observers with no participation in
the subject. No, we have to remember that the question inevitably comes
back to us and our role in what we are asking. We should also remember
that God has responded to the problem of evil and suffering in our world: through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Contagion, on the other hand, feels very clinical and detached
from the subject matter. It’s an intriguing move that often made me say
“hmmm,” but there isn’t an emotional core for me to connect with, no
point of entry through which I can invest with one of the characters on a
journey through these events. Still,
it’s a well-made film that is intriguing with solid performances from
some great actors and is about something that’s so close to reality as
to make it a bit uncomfortable. While it’s not the emotional and
impactful film I thought it was going to be, and although it’s often a
bit ambiguous by not tying up some loose ends, and rarely met my
expectations as to what would happen and how, it was interesting and
therefore… enjoyable, I suppose. Maybe that’s why everyone applauded
at the end. Contagion is worth seeing, but I’d suggest catching a matinee or seeing it in the dollar theater.