“Contagion” (2011). Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, John Hawkes, Elliott Gould, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle, Demetri Martin, Anna Jacoby-Heron, Sanaa Lathan, Chin Han, Tien You Chui, Larry Clarke, Randy Lowell. Director: Steven Soderbergh. Screenplay: Scott Z. Burns. http://contagionmovie.warnerbros.com/index.html
We’ve all heard about videos and other internet phenomena that have “gone viral.” They spread across the web like wildfire, getting into email boxes and social network walls everywhere, with an almost infectious efficiency. Beliefs can work like that, too, for better or worse, in the reality they help to shape, an impact seen in myriad ways in the new disaster drama, “Contagion.”
Filmed much like a documentary, “Contagion” explores its subject from multiple angles, providing audiences with an overview of different aspects of a global epidemic. In doing so, it takes (ironically enough) a sort of “clinical” approach to its material, presenting its story from more of a detached, rather than a highly personalized, perspective. In that regard, the film doesn’t readily evoke the kinds of deep, heartfelt emotional responses one might expect out of a contemporary drama, but that’s not to suggest it doesn’t have a powerful impact on viewers.
Several significant story threads run throughout the film:
* A suburban Minnesota family is torn apart when a young mother, Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), quickly succumbs to the disease at the beginning of the outbreak, leaving her stunned—and apparently immune—husband Mitch (Matt Damon) and step-daughter Jory (Anna Jacoby-Heron) devastated.
* Officials from the Centers for Disease Control seek to get a handle on the mysterious new disease. Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) tackles the crisis from a management standpoint, while Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) researches it in the field and Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) studies it in the lab. They coordinate their efforts with independent investigators, like Dr. Ian Sussman (Elliott Gould), who diligently look into understanding how the suspected virus functions. For all involved, the main concern—officially at least—is the public welfare, but, when personal considerations become involved, conflicts of interest arise, and priorities can become compromised, potentially undermining efforts to fulfill the primary objective.
* Overseas efforts by the World Health Organization are spearheaded by Dr. Leonara Orandes (Marion Cotillard), who visits Hong Kong, the region where the disease was believed to have originated, to determine how it got its start. While conducting her investigation, however, she encounters elements that would resort to desperate measures to get assistance for those who are in peril of becoming infected.
* The internet lights up in the wake of the epidemic, particularly when provocative, independent bloggers like Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) begin posting pieces with potentially explosive ramifications, particularly those involving alternative, but untested, cures.
* Money can always be made, even in a crisis, and the raging epidemic depicted in this film is no exception, especially when a hedge fund manager (Randy Lowell) looks for ways to cash in on it for his clients.
As the saga unfolds, viewers witness how these individual stories progress and ultimately become interwoven with one another, all set against the backdrop of panic and a crumbling civil society. It paints a chilling picture of what can happen when things quickly get out of hand. Because of that, some may question what value there is in a story with such a dismal and depressing narrative. But, from a conscious creation standpoint, there are a number of significant lessons.
For instance, the concept of connectedness—and the role it plays in unifying all aspects of our consciously created reality—takes center stage in this film. Simple gestures, such as people touching staircase railings, exchanging money or giving one another hugs, take on heightened significance (especially once the outbreak spreads), clearly illustrating the inherent interrelatedness of all things in our world, not just in terms of superficial physical acts but also in terms of underlying metaphysical intents. Attention is deliberately drawn to these considerations in the cinematography, with camera work that purposely follows the flow of such otherwise seemingly inconsequential movements, pointing out that they and the potential implications that come with them are all connected—and not as supposedly innocuous as one might think.
The intrinsic profundity in this, of course, is present in every context of our everyday consciously created reality, not just in situations where public health is on the line, yet connectedness is something we so often we take for granted that we rarely, if ever, give it a second thought. In that sense, then, this aspect of the film’s narrative could easily be viewed as a metaphysical wake-up call to pay more attention to connectedness matters (and their consequences) in daily life, not just when our survival is threatened.
As one might expect, one of the core emotions depicted in the picture’s story line, of course, is fear. And, as the plot unfolds, it spreads as uncontrollably as the virus itself. However, it’s also apparent that fear, like all other emotions, is driven by beliefs, the underlying creative force responsible for shaping the reality we experience. As more and more victims fall prey to the viral epidemic, so, too, do more and more victims fall prey to the epidemic of fear.
Under these circumstances, one could argue that such reactions are understandable and “only natural,” but they also need not be automatic. Clearly there are those in the film who don’t buy into it, such as those who are immune to the disease and those who are on the front lines actively managing public health concerns; they’ve obviously chosen to embrace other beliefs, even if they’re not “consciously” aware of having done so. Their experiences thus illustrate why it’s so important that we monitor our beliefs, for they shape the outcomes we experience, some of which could be vastly different from those of others (and from “expectations”), responses that might allow us to let cool heads prevail at a time when things are falling apart around us. Indeed, the words of Franklin Roosevelt—who had himself been afflicted with the debilitating effects of an epidemic disease—that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself,” take on added meaning in a scenario such as this.
The public’s responses to the crisis portrayed in the film also spotlight the role of the mass consciousness in reality creation. A wide-scale co-creation, like a global epidemic, has many aspects to it, and each participant plays a part in how it unfolds, as if each were carrying out a role in a theatrical production. In that respect, then, the movie draws attention to the role that the mass consciousness plays in the wide-scale co-created human dramas that unfold in our own everyday lives, events that themselves are not unlike what one might witness taking place on stage or, in this case, on the screen.
To be sure, many of us may not be experiencing situations as dramatic as those taking place in this picture, and many of us may not be readily aware of the roles that we play in the unfolding of events like global climate change, the worldwide economic collapse or the wars in the Middle East, but our involvement in them is there to one degree or another, whether it’s engaging in activist programs to draw public attention to them or even in seemingly “passive” acts like ignoring them and the impact they have on our lives. It’s important that we recognize our roles in scenarios like this, because, if we dislike the mass events we’re witnessing, then it’s apparent we need to change our participation in them—and the mass consciousness beliefs that underlie them. When it comes to events like this, we need to ask ourselves, “What line of probability do we want to see play out?”
“Contagion” is by no means an “uplifting” picture, but it gives us plenty to think about, both practically and theoretically. If it chills you, on no matter what level, it’s obviously getting though to you. That’s made possible by capable writing and acting, as well as excellent direction and production values, all of which show what could easily happen if things were to get even only slightly out of balance.
Think about that the next time you shrug off a major world event as being something that’s “not my problem.” You just might have a very different reaction.
Copyright © 2011, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.