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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Contagion

By
Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
Source: AmericanCatholic.org

A woman, Beth, (Gwyneth Paltrow) shakes hands with a casino chef while at a conference in Hong Kong. She touches someone else. She changes her flight home to Minneapolis so she can have a longer layover in Chicago to have a liaison with a former lover. Her husband, Mitch (Matt Damon), waits at home with his stepson, Clark (Griffin Kane). Beth seems to have the flu, but becomes deathly ill and dies. Clark follows.

The Center for Disease Control is alerted; the World Health organization in Geneva is alerted. Someone sends conspiracy-theory blogger, Alan (Jude law),  a smart phone video of a man collapsing in the Tokyo subway.
 
The CDC calculates how long it will take this phantom disease to multiply and spread.  A scientist isolates the virus but the government shuts him down – but he goes ahead to develop a vaccine anyway. 
 
Over the steady drumbeat of days flashing at the bottom of a screen, we discover the source of the virus and how it spreads. We see heroism; we see selfishness and greed. We see generosity, panic, and power plays. We see blame attributed so the government doesn’t look bad. We see a blogger who is onto the truth about the collusion of government and corporations falsify information about a cure and cast doubt on citizen reporting over media giants.
 
The interesting thing about “Contagion” is that it shows us what a pandemic looks like in a panoramic way. We see how the U.S. government and the World Health Organization might handle it, and the nobility and decency of people contrasted, and sometimes replaced with humanity’s basest instincts.
 
From a Christian perspective, you will find all of the Beatitudes and the Deadly Sins represented in the film.
 
Steven Soderbergh often takes on social issues in his films, as does Participant Media (Jeff Skoll, founder of Participant Media, is an executive producer) but I am not sure what the movie was trying to say other than to provoke us into washing our hands – seriously. It was an interesting watch, to see how people might react in such circumstances. But what did the movie really mean?
Certainly it means to keep an eye on the three-way marriage between government-corporations-media and to ask questions.
 
How ready is the world to take on a super-virus? How many people need to die, especially if a corporation patents a vaccine making it cost prohibitive? Are lengthy testing protocols worth it when, as someone said, that the warnings about side effects are as long as the credits for a movie. Animal testing? Human testing? What are the consequences for all the genetic manipulation we are carrying out (or someone permits in our name) on food, and the immune systems for humans and animals?
 
“Contagion” isn’t a story as much as someone saying, “Look, this could happen. You might want to be more involved in society so that we, the people are making decisions.”
 
That’s what I got out of it. And – please, wash your hands. Seriously.
 
By the way, the acting is very good. Listen especially to what Dr. Cheever says (Laurence Fishburne) when he explains (twice so we get it) the custom of shaking hands: in the olden days, you extended your hand as a sign of trust, to show you did not carry a weapon.
 
He thus intimated that these days, dirty hands are a weapon. 
 
But, what about people who don’t have clean water to wash their hands?

Lots to think about.


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Anthony Claret: The "spiritual father of Cuba" was a missionary, religious founder, social reformer, queen’s chaplain, writer and publisher, archbishop and refugee. He was a Spaniard whose work took him to the Canary Islands, Cuba, Madrid, Paris and to the First Vatican Council. 
<p>In his spare time as weaver and designer in the textile mills of Barcelona, he learned Latin and printing: The future priest and publisher was preparing. Ordained at 28, he was prevented by ill health from entering religious life as a Carthusian or as a Jesuit, but went on to become one of Spain’s most popular preachers. </p><p>He spent 10 years giving popular missions and retreats, always placing great emphasis on the Eucharist and devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Her rosary, it was said, was never out of his hand. At 42, beginning with five young priests, he founded a religious institute of missionaries, known today as the Claretians. </p><p>He was appointed to head the much-neglected archdiocese of Santiago in Cuba. He began its reform by almost ceaseless preaching and hearing of confessions, and suffered bitter opposition mainly for opposing concubinage and giving instruction to black slaves. A hired assassin (whose release from prison Anthony had obtained) slashed open his face and wrist. Anthony succeeded in getting the would-be assassin’s death sentence commuted to a prison term. His solution for the misery of Cubans was family-owned farms producing a variety of foods for the family’s own needs and for the market. This invited the enmity of the vested interests who wanted everyone to work on a single cash crop—sugar. Besides all his religious writings are two books he wrote in Cuba: <i>Reflections on Agriculture</i> and <i>Country Delights</i>. </p><p>He was recalled to Spain for a job he did not relish—being chaplain for the queen. He went on three conditions: He would reside away from the palace, he would come only to hear the queen’s confession and instruct the children and he would be exempt from court functions. In the revolution of 1868, he fled with the queen’s party to Paris, where he preached to the Spanish colony. </p><p>All his life Anthony was interested in the Catholic press. He founded the Religious Publishing House, a major Catholic publishing venture in Spain, and wrote or published 200 books and pamphlets. </p><p>At Vatican I, where he was a staunch defender of the doctrine of infallibility, he won the admiration of his fellow bishops. Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore remarked of him, "There goes a true saint." At the age of 63, he died in exile near the border of Spain.</p> American Catholic Blog The greatest tragedy of our world is that men do not know, really know, that God loves them. Some believe it in a shadowy sort of way. If they were to really think about it they would soon realize that their belief in God’s love for them is very remote and abstract. Because of this lack of realization of God’s love for them, men do not know how to love God back. —Catherine de Hueck Doherty

 
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