by Brodie Ziegler
Graphic by Al McLeroy
Unlike our new isolated reality, Contagion fails to deliver on its promise of fear despite its ever-growing relevance today. Released in early September of 2011, Contagion was met with a positive critical response and doubled its budget with a box office intake of $135 million. Yet Contagion’s not so subtle insinuations of genius have been muted by a sensational decade of film. What had the potential to be a deeply emotional and terrifying film, Contagion seemed rushed, and messy as if it was never allowed the time to fully mature.
Contagion follows the sudden emergence of a deadly virus examining its effects on society through five connected storylines across the world. As the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tackle the task of finding a cure, the world unravels as people grow desperate for survival. Contagion opens on Beth Emhoff, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, a wife, returning to her family after a trip to Hong Kong. Unknowingly, she brings back a deadly virus to her family, home, and country. The virus spreads rapidly throughout the world as each citizen is confronted with the possibility of death.
Steven Soderbergh tries to follow in the footsteps of filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino by attempting to create a film of interweaving storylines tied together by a common theme. Contagion, unlike Anderson’s Magnolia and Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, doesn’t execute this trope well. The final product is messy, as many of the storylines seem unresolved, and don’t have any emotional effect.
There seems to be a lot of intent and purpose behind Contagion. Many of the technical aspects of the film appear as if they were designed to affect the viewer. The decision to incorporate a muted color palette might have been to express a feeling of hopelessness; as if it was coming from a world without color. The framing of the camera and the blocking make even a conversation between two characters seem claustrophobic. The score is oftentimes overbearing, and annoying which might have been used to create discomfort in the viewer like in Punch-Drunk Love. However, the lasting effect of these choices doesn’t result in a viewing experience of hopelessness, claustrophobia, and discomfort. Instead, they result in a movie not worth remembering or bringing up in conversation.
However, Contagion is saved from crumbling into complete mediocrity with the help of performances by Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburn, and Kate Winslet. But even with the talents of Laurence Fishburn and Kate Winslet, their CDC storyline doesn’t deliver in its final moments, as their character development is almost nonexistent. Matt Damon’s role as Mitch Emhoff is the only character that seems fully-fledged out. Therefore, unsurprisingly, he is responsible for the only storylines that execute the initial goal of Contagion, showing emotion, grief, and despair at the hands of the new fatal disease.
Even now, being able to directly relate to the events shown in Contagion, it lacks any emotional resonance after the credits roll. An aggravating score, mixed with awkward framing and undeveloped characters lead Contagion to a quick defeat that could have been prevented by a little more ambition and patience.