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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 Grassi: Anthony’s father died when his son was only 10 years old, but the young lad inherited his father’s devotion to Our Lady of Loreto. As a schoolboy he frequented the local church of the Oratorian Fathers, joining the religious order when he was 17.
<p>Already a fine student, he soon gained a reputation in his religious community as a "walking dictionary" who quickly grasped Scripture and theology. For some time he was tormented by scruples, but they reportedly left him at the very hour he celebrated his first Mass. From that day, serenity penetrated his very being.
</p><p>In 1621, at age 29, Anthony was struck by lightning while praying in the church of the Holy House at Loreto. He was carried paralyzed from the church, expecting to die. When he recovered in a few days he realized that he had been cured of acute indigestion. His scorched clothes were donated to the Loreto church as an offering of thanks for his new gift of life.
</p><p>More important, Anthony now felt that his life belonged entirely to God. Each year thereafter he made a pilgrimage to Loreto to express his thanks.
</p><p>He also began hearing confessions, and came to be regarded as an outstanding confessor. Simple and direct, he listened carefully to penitents, said a few words and gave a penance and absolution, frequently drawing on his gift of reading consciences.
</p><p>In 1635 he was elected superior of the Fermo Oratory. He was so well regarded that he was reelected every three years until his death. He was a quiet person and a gentle superior who did not know how to be severe. At the same time he kept the Oratorian constitutions literally, encouraging the community to do likewise.
</p><p>He refused social or civic commitments and instead would go out day or night to visit the sick or dying or anyone else needing his services. As he grew older, he had a God-given awareness of the future, a gift which he frequently used to warn or to console.
</p><p>But age brought its challenges as well. He suffered the humility of having to give up his physical faculties one by one. First was his preaching, necessitated after he lost his teeth. Then he could no longer hear confessions. Finally, after a fall, he was confined to his room. The archbishop himself came each day to give him holy Communion. One of Anthony’s final acts was to reconcile two fiercely quarreling brothers.</p> American Catholic Blog God of love, as I come to the end of this Advent season, my heart is ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I join with Mary in saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Nothing is impossible with you, O God.

 
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