A look at the film ‘Contagion’ directed by Steven Soderbergh.
The world has gone mad. I’ve spoken to a few people who have a few decades on me and nobody can ever recall anything like what we are experiencing right now. The closest anyone can come to these extreme circumstances was the war, but even then, people still had each other to lean on and that, ultimately, helped get everyone through.
But this isolation, this distancing, this is all something we’ve never seen before. Even after SARS, Bird Flu and Ebola all had a turn and barely became an ephemeral headline, so Covid-19 has us all scurrying to our homes in fear with the entire world (so long as Trump doesn’t get his way) on pause while we wait for it to die out.
The news is totally dominated by it. If you search hard enough, you can find an article that isn’t about the virus, but how many of us really care if a Kardashian has got her bottom out again or if Harry and Megan are setting up more charities right now?
A news story that I saw about a week ago that made me chortle, was something about “insensitive ITV” showing the film ‘Contagion’ “amid Coronavirus pandemic.” Admittedly, this was in the Daily Mail which can make a shock-horror-we’re-outraged article about anything and everything. Were ITV wrong to air it?
Tonight on Netflix, I saw that it was currently ranked the 6th most watched title in the UK. Stick that in your big-cat and smoke it, Joe Exotic!
Netflix does not push a broadcast to anyone. People must choose to watch its content. So this means that it is the 6th most watched item by choice. I guess ITV weren’t so insensitive after all. In fact, having chipped in a viewing of it myself, I actually feel like it should become recommended viewing for many in the country at the moment… Here’s why.
‘Contagion’ begins with a sick Gwyneth Paltrow propped up at a bar, munching on the communal salted peanuts and coughing and spluttering that she’s “just jetlagged” on her business trip to Hong Kong. Because, as we all know, jetlag makes people break out in a cold sweat, pounding headache, nausea and dry cough. Anyway…
From there, we get a slick montage of the people she infects, the people infected by those infected people and so on and so forth. We get nice close-ups of sweaty palm prints on poles in underground trains and busses, we get great shots of pale, sweaty commuters brushing against strangers in busy places and all of this to show that in a the short amount of time for one business passenger to go from a dirty restaurant to home the next day, just how big the spread of germs travels through the network of people in their vicinity.
While an extreme example, it brilliantly captures, without the glitz and gloss that it could so easily have been given, one possible scenario that mirrors very closely our normal lives and daily interactions. The film seems to maintain quite a low-key approach at all times and never gets silly or tries to tug on your heart-strings. When it kills a character off, instead of wallowing in it or having everyone rally around them reassuringly, it just gets on with killing the character off quickly and quietly and gets on with business without stopping to think about it.
And what a fitting way to deal with it. Whilst at a personal level, we have/will/would mourn any losses appropriately, but on a global scale, everything just carries on without blinking. That person becomes just another statistic and everyone else just keeps doing what they need to do.
In what ought to be quite a dull film about disease control administrators and researchers, we are treated to a cleverly directed film that uses montage effectively to show but not tell. And neither is it cheesy montages like you so often get, these are predominantly montages of people talking. And though you don’t hear what they say, you don’t need to. That’s part of the cleverness of it.
Thoughtfully scripted, convincingly acted and masterfully paced, this film captures both the personal and the professional effects of a severe global catastrophe. It shows the best and the worst in people and how selfish and petty an angry crowd can be.
The only part where it seemed to be a bit over the top was when an unruly mob attacked a pharmacist for medication. They completely ignored things like toilet rolls and hair dye and went straight for the pharmacy, which we know now is not the correct order of priority… At least not in the UK.
I don’t see us getting to the point of looting and attacking shops and homes. Covid-19 is being quite cleverly contained by this imposed lockdown we’re all in. But even if we aren’t facing anything as severe as in ‘Contagion’, there are still valuable lessons to be learned.
Before I continue, I must make a confession in the interest of full disclosure. I have broken the no contact rule.
Let me explain.
When Mrs Roy and I decided to part ways and find our own individual paths last year, I sold her my share of the house and I moved to be closer to my day job. Before moving to my new place, I had six months or so of living alone, but I was still in the office during the day and seeing friends on a regular basis. Things were going well.
I finally moved into my own place on the last day of February. I then had a week and a half of holiday to get myself settled in and then just as I was going back to the office, I was struck down with a severe case of chicken pox. I started working from home in quarantine but then the entire world started working from home around the same time because mid-March was when Coronavirus really took hold here in the UK.
Aside from the three days I had in the office between moving and falling ill with the pox, I’ve pretty much been in total isolation anyway. To be cut off from everyone for so long, well, I’ve started to go a bit mad.
Fearing for my sanity, a close friend and I did meet up to watch the shocking state of modern Star Trek and have a chat. We won’t be doing it again for a while, but both of us had been quite securely isolated and thus we didn’t feel like we were any threat to each other.
To have some real company felt great. To be reminded that people were real three-dimensional beings and not just a bunch of moving pixels in a video-call or a tinny voice at the end of phone line was an amazing experience and brought me back to just inside the margins of normality.
But to read in the news about people going out in groups for beach barbecues or having house parties… This is just foolish. I agree that it sucks-arse in quite a spectacular way that we have this amazing burst of amazing weather when we’re being told we must stay inside and sit on our hands. But it’s not personal. We’re all in the same boat. I have a fast convertible car I’d like to be driving around and a camera that I’d like to go point at things. But this is bigger than my wants and likes.
This whole thing is way bigger than any of our wants and likes.
If ‘Contagion’ can help to get the message into the careless ones who think they’re immune to the world, then it ought to be shown as a training video and not seen as the fantastical-paranoia the Daily Mail wants to have banned.
In truth, the only part that ought to be used to mark against this title is Jude Law’s character; the paranoid blogger who gets chased down by the governement. If an alternate cut existed that removed his character from the film, it would be even better. Instead, we must suffer a little cliche to enjoy the greater good. But it’s only a tiny role and while annoying, isn’t enough to drag the rest of the film into the mire.
Stay safe everybody.
A reason why you should watch it: It’s about as realistic an example of virus in popular media as you’ll likely ever see.
A reason why you shouldn’t watch it: Because sticking your fingers in your ears and chanting, “la, la, la, la, la, la, la,” has worked for you thus far and you have no intention of stopping to listen to other possibilities.