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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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Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions: Andrew Dung-Lac was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951. All were canonized by St. John Paul II. 
<p>Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan. </p><p>The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful. </p><p>Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries. </p><p>Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons. </p><p>The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution. </p><p>By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees. </p><p>During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.</p> American Catholic Blog To replace our sins with virtues may seem like a daunting task, but fortunately we can follow the example of the saints who have 
successfully defeated these sins in their lifetimes. They provide us with a way forward so that we, too, can live holy, virtuous lives.

 
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