I’m going to do a “read more” for this review, because I guess I give away a major plot point in the first sentence. Also, the only reason why I’m writing it is because Matt Dreyer™ asked me what I thought about it, and I’d prefer to blog about it than talk to him in person because he smells. Like rainbows.
Basically what happens is that Paltrow is an adultress who eats a pig while on a business trip in Hong Kong. The pig is carrying an entirely new virus that the human body is unable to fight, which it got from a nasty bat. The virus is transmitted both in the air, and via touching, which means that it’s a bigtime fucking menace. There is no way to stop it.
On Gwenie’s way home to her husband in Minnesota, played by Matt Damon, she stops in Chicago to make sweet love to her paramour Jeff, and gives him the virus, which he then spreads. Then she gets home, kisses her young son hello, starts foaming at the mouth, and dies as soon as she arrives at the hospital. Matt Damon returns home, and discovers that his son, whom he just picked up from school with flu-like symptoms, has died in his bed. Hence begins the epidemic.
After that happened, I stood up and started applauding. “Bravo!” I shouted, and picked up my jacket to leave. But the movie plodded along in the darkness, unaware of its triumph, and I sat back down.
What proceeded was a pretty thoughtful depiction of what would happen if 25% of the human population was killed off by a virus before a vaccine was found.
The thing that sets the movie apart from other post-apocalyptic horror stories is that the premise is not entirely implausible, given that viruses have washed out large swaths of the humanity before. In 1918, for example, a flu pandemic killed an estimated 50 to 100 million people, and that was before international air travel.
And here comes a lazy non-sequitor: A lot of famous people are in Contagion.
Matt Damon plays a sad husband and a good father who is immune to the disease, but not immune to heartbreak.
Lawrence Fishburne plays a mostly good government official dating a hot little piece, who makes some questionable moral decisions to protect her, but turns out to be a pretty good guy in the end.
Kate Winslet plays a butch disease specialist who does a very good job with FEMA preparing for the outbreak.
She contracts the disease and dies. Sorry.
Jude Law plays a balding blogger who makes money spreading conspiracy theories about the virus on the Internet.
You want him to die, especially now that he’s not that hot, but he doesn’t. Sorry.
Marion Cotillard, who I like more and more every time I see her in a movie, plays a pretty little French thing from the WHO who ends up toughing out the plague in a Chinese village, teaching children how to draw butterflies. Or some shit.
She does it all the while looking fantastic in her “professional” outfits.
All of these celebrities come together to play out a narrative that is difficult to criticize. It is tightly executed, and logical, a trait unfortunately rare in a world full of big budget movies about disasters that literally make no sense.
Eventually a doctor comes up with a vaccine, and things start looking up for sweet Matt Damon, his daughter, and the rest of humanity. It is implied that once the fear of the virus is gone, everything will return to its proper place. Nothing much will be different except the 3G network will be a little faster with so many people dead. The end.
The message I took from it was that if there is a devastating outbreak in the United States, there will be some anarchy, but in the end, our infrastructure won’t collapse. (God bless America!) I would have preferred a little more darkness—more violent raiding for food, more eating legs in dark basements a lá “The Road,” more human evil. And if possible, a more prolonged death for Gwyneth Paltrow.
Instead, the movie was almost hopeful. A tragedy can befall, but human beings will persevere, and once it’s over, life as we know it will return. I mean, if I lost 25% of the people in my life, at least that would leave more time for me to sit alone in my apartment, eating cookies and playing with paper dolls. The promise of that alone would get me through the quarantines and starvation.
Now, back to polishing my guns.