Monday, September 12, 2011

CONTAGION: MOVIE REVIEW


Cast: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Runtime: 106 min.
Verdict: Seems like it’s a product of a resolve to be aggressively anti-Emmerich. Genre: Drama, Sci-fi, Thriller

        A virus running amuck is probably the least of the concerns here, one might feel, considering that Contagion diffuses the virus just about as simply as it introduces it. There’s a certain inevitability to the proceedings, which the melodramatic could very well interpret as helplessness, and Mr. Soderbergh manages to extend this finitude to the virus too. You might even remember Gita here – what comes into this world has to go – and the whole epidemic-o-rama is witnessed by us with this very same insularity. Not once, not even when the salesgirl in the Allen Solly section coughed on our way down to the parking, did the contagion jump out of the screen and threaten to enter our lives. Believe me, I was terrified after reading The Cobra Event, and Lesch-Nyhan syndrome was the topic of most of my conversations for days. I mean, for a film that is an epidemic procedural, Contagion is not high on details but exposition, with characters explaining each other’s reason for existing in the narrative, including that of the virus in our lives. Everybody talks, talks a lot, there’re hell of a lot of conversations, and yet there’re no details. There’s no process, or no events colliding into each other, just a series a series of obligatory milestones – the establishment keeping the thing under wraps, left wing forces trying to uncover it, people panicking, dying – on the roadmap to eventual vaccinestation and our eventual exit from the theatre premises.
        I know, I am reacting to the reactions rather than to the film here, and in fact, considering its temporal aspect, I suspect even the film encourages that insularity. There’s a certain inertness, or indifference if one might interpret it thus, to Mr. Soderbergh’s film, and although my singular viewing doesn’t fill me with authority, memory aides me with images of evenings seeping in through glass panes and rooms filled with them yellow glum lightings, the sort where you almost want to summon an extra bit of lighting and knock some brightness in. Not in the casino, not in the airport, and even when the lighting is not yellow, like in Mitch’s apartment, where it’s one of those greys that again seeks a little bit of illumination. Point is, the situation is bleak in America and that every Roland Emmerich is blinding bright. And what catches our attention in Mr. Soderbergh’s film is this effort – right from Mitch’s dry interaction with the doctor who has overseen his wife’s death – to try and be an anti-Emmerich film, almost making that its main objective, and serve us a film that is pretending to be completely devoid of cheap-thrills.
        And yet, the film itself might not be all that insular, although the film’s score might want us to believe thus. Adultery on the part of a dead wife (the micro) is as much a part of the tragedy as the viral epidemic reducing the death toll to a speculative statistic (the micro) uttered by newsreaders like, well, news. A virus spreading like crazy is as much a threat to the citizens as is a blogger spreading false rumors and installing himself as a prophet within them. A teenage girl’s yearning to be with her boyfriend is as much a part of the struggle as the race to the anti-virus. One ought to consider here that a major objective in the disaster-porn genre is to try and find an organic way of intertwining the micro with the macro, thus creating what we refer to as stakes, and finding a way into getting us hooked onto the proceedings. An academic exercise here would be to find out if Mr. Soderbergh’s film is also aiming for a similar sort of commercial prospects. A cursory glance at the nature of the characters, and one might realize that apart from Mitch (who probably “represents” the “gullible” citizenry), each one of them exists to serve either of two agendas – (a) to reveal something about the process of an epidemic, or (b) to cause a political statement. A stray human appears, in the form of a woman seeking forsythia, and her death is supposed to reveal a “darker” secret. Everyone exists to further the narrative, so to speak, and considering all the anti-Emmerich posturing, I don’t think that is going down my throat any easily. I mean, a C.D.C. doctor Ally Hextall (Ms. Jennifer Ehle) sitting by her infected father, whom we’ve never met before, explaining her inspiration to try the vaccine on herself to be her unselfish father who took to nursing the infected is as much a moment of melodrama as Mr. Emmerich’s films are capable of. The camera, or the film itself, seems to have as much as access to the virus as its characters provide it with, learning it all like a documentary, gaining information through surrogates like video footage, and one might suspect there’s a certain degree of “plausibility” Contagion is attaching to its formal choices. And yet it obliges us with a last minute revelation whose convenience completely destroys the narrative integrity it promised upfront, feeling like an appendage borne out of commercial necessity. It is strange, for such a “realistic” film, to be in the right place at the right moment with an unnerving precision. Aha, I know what you’re thinking. Convenience. Same pinch.
        But as I said, the virus is the least of the concerns here. It is people like me, hacks like me, bloggers you know, or rather opinion disseminators, whose main objective is to gain readers and followers and validity, and that proves to be Contagion’s most interesting thread. In keeping with cinematic traditions, Mr. Alan Krumwiede is a video blogger, and the left-winging of his kind is an epidemic is a million times more dangerous as any virus imaginable. You wouldn’t need to look too far into the past to find evidence – right from Egypt to the “intelligentsia” right here. Mr. Soderbergh’s biological virus is almost pushed to the background by the topicality achieved by Alan and his little thread. It did for me, and that is probably the only part I felt. You, sir, are the vermin.

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