The most emotionally powerful movie would seem to be the one that make you question or change a part of your life, motivating you to do better in some facet of your being. Perhaps the most realistically chilling movie would then be the one that keeps you from doing something in your day to day life.Like touching you face—or really anything in public.
Steven Soderbergh’s very chilling, very believable, and very-well crafted movie, Contagion, doesn’t quite reach the power of Jaws¸ which kept movie-goers out of the water and on the beach for summers upon summers, but certainly has more influence than Sideways, which kept cinephiles from drinking Merlot for reasons passing understanding.
Contagion will make you aware of where you hands are, and those hands of the people around you, and when someone coughs in the theatre as you watch, an inevitable and perhaps fortuitous part of the experience, you will do as the movie characters do, and cover your moth. The titular flu spreads as fast and easily as rumour though far more uncontrollably, and doesn’t seem that far off from real life. It is a very simple story detailing the spreading of the virus/bacteria (not bird or chicken-based, but a pig-bat hybrid in this case), and those affected, not just by exposure, by but economic, familial, or professional interests.
It would seem not easy weaving together a story that takes place across countries and continents with more than a handful of well-known and talented actors, but Soderbergh does it with efficiency and effectiveness. Nothing is forced, and what is left out of the movie is just as important as what is left in.
A lesser director would leave the main artery of the story to go on meaningless diatribes. Matt Damon’s character hears gunfire in his neighbor’s house months after the disease has ravaged the world, and he watches as looters leave. But Damon is not forced to confront these men in the movie and become a regular superhero he is in other movies. The scene simply shows both the despair and helplessness of humans when society beaks down. In another instance, a main character gets sick halfway into the story and is sure to die, but the character does not become a martyr, and nothing new is introduced so as to make this figure more compelling.
You care for the characters in the way they are human, not superhuman. They fight and die, laugh and grieve, sin and atone, like every other. What Soderbergh does as well as any other director is showing you characters before and after they say something. The dialogue and action has moved elsewhere in the room, but the camera stays on Damon, or Paltrow, or whomever, as you watch them think and react, which is why you cast such big name stars.
What is in the movie is just what is needed, and scenes of riots, pandemonium, and hysteria are exactly what it should be, never over the top, and the perfect balance of horror and absurdity.
Contagion is a fast-paced, intense, unnerving, and all-too real look of the current world amidst an uncontrolled outbreak, and a very welcome movie reprieve from the mostly awful summer cinema scene.