Contagion, Steven Soderbergh’s return to “mainstream” cinema, boasts a lot of big-named Hollywood stars, but at what cost? For each plot thread picked up by a Damon or a Fishburne just as many are left to flounder without consequence or reason.

While it may look like she is blowing in his hands, Paltrow is actually spitting. Some diehard fans will take whatever they can.

This outcome is more a symptom of the movie’s structure than an outcry against an actor’s or actress’s ability. Set up as a collage of vignettes, Contagion attempts to depict a rampant virus’s destruction across the globe. By doing so, many stories begin but never conclude or leave the audience creating their own dramatics during long periods of abandonment. The notion of a coherent or complete movie is quickly discarded as more and more cities and victims pile up.

In following characters spread across the globe, occupying widely divergent positions of power, the movie raises poignant questions and critiques on how one reacts in the face of an unwinnable situation. A line genteelly flows along until the last vial of medicine has been dispensed; the crowd turns feral, destroying any obstruction in its path, eventually turning on its own in order to survive. The boundaries between civil and animal disappear, each man and woman for him/herself.

Most terrifying is the unspoken truth at the heart of Contagion: despite our technology and medical advances made over the past half-century, we are still susceptible to the whims of Mother Nature. The final scene drives this message home with a Hitchcock-ian twist.

The problem with Soderbergh’s formula is that nearly all of the stories presented are appealing. How does a single father protect his daughter as society breaks down? What leads a kidnapped scientist to fear for her kidnappers’ lives more than her own? Is it wrong to use your power to protect those closest to you? The question then becomes: which tangents to cut? An interesting debate and one that merits attention. Perhaps on the Special Edition DVD he’ll give us the opportunity to make the decision.


Posted on September 15, 2011, in Film Review and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Contagion becomes a battle between what it is and what it could have been. It satisfies just enough to warrant its existence while frustrating one with its potential. Nice review Dave.

  2. Yes, a true squandering on most fronts. Though Soderbergh usually does good by fans on most DVD extras, so interesting to see if anything that comes out will fill in the gaps.

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