By Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
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.
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
But, what about people who don’t have clean water to wash
Lots to think about.
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