Back in 2009 the world was gripped by the H1N1 epidemic, the media in all probability blew it way out of proportion. My perspective of it was that at the time I was working at my local accident and emergency department (or ER for all you non-Brits!) to save money for university and the advice was to stay at home if you showed signs of flu. Did anyone listen? Well, on the whole yes, but people were panicking and came in anyway. I’m amazed I didn’t get infected with the amount of people who came in against advice. But understandably they were scared, a couple of people had died and the media honed in on this and gave it a spectacular amount of coverage in a fetishized way. When the news broke of the infection I was with my friends at university, we began to question whether or not we should pull money together and go and get some tinned food as supplies, it seems stupid now looking back on it, but the news made it seem like the world was going into lock down.
Fast-forward to 2011 and Contagion was released. Marketed as the scariest film of the year, despite not being a gore-filled horror, I’d have a hard time disagreeing with that title. With a cast most directors only dream of, Contagion is a slow paced, almost documentary style film which tracks development, infection, spread, treatment and death which has been praised by industry specialists for reflecting accurately the snow ball of events during pandemics.
I do have say that the film itself is fairly clinical, which given the topic I think it fits quite well, although some people may disagree. There is little emotional involvement with the characters, so when they eventually succumb to the infection, their deaths seem void of emotional impact. This could normally be seen negatively within cinema, but in Contagion this adds to the whole tone of the film. We’re so used to seeing one particular point of view, but Contagion shows us families, governments, scientists, field workers, pharmaceutical companies and conspiracy theorists. I have to say having worked in the healthcare industry and now pharmaceutical industry myself, it’s startling to see some of the themes that come up in the film. The idea that pharmaceutical companies make diseases to profit out of them is one particular idea I’ve heard bandied about for a while. And that is where the terror lies in Contagion. Everything we are shown is totally plausible.
One anecdotal reference I can make is that when the H1N1 virus broke out, my mother, who also worked in the NHS at the time had to staff the vaccination points. The hysteria surrounding the outbreak of the infection meant that she and the vaccines had to be escorted by the police from clinic to van. There’s also a famous idea that we already have the cure for cancer, but there isn’t much profit to be made from cures, only treatment and palliative care. I’d definitely say that if you have an interest in anything like this, government involvement in healthcare, then Contagion will tick all the right boxes for you.
Contagion itself is a well made film, a little bit frantic at times; the switching between the various stories means there is little room for character development, and in that respect it’s a little flat. Each character is there to fulfil a ‘role’ in the epidemic, the immune one, the government one who choses to put his family first with classified intelligence, the field worker sent out to monitor the illness and eventually dies. I think this issue of the lack of ‘character’ could have easily been solved with a longer running time. It’s one of the first films I’ve seen for a while that could have easily been much longer. There are glimpses of character involvement, Matt Damon and his daughter is one story which never quite gets off the ground and the side story of Marion Cottilard seems a little forced, but again I think this is down to the running time. But all the cast do a spectacular job, particularly Jude Law as a bit of a crazed conspiracy theorist. I’d definitely recommend Contagion, although if you’re on the OCD spectrum like me, you’ll spend the next few days washing your hands and noticing just how much you touch your own face…