Film: 'Contagion'; Cast: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Director: Steven Soderbergh; Rating: ****
Disaster movies, where humanity faces an unassailable enemy in the form of a meteor, floods, virus, aliens etc. are aplenty. It would hence take a genius to make another and yet make it feel fresh enough for it to be enjoyable and terrifying. Steven Soderbergh, with 'Contagion', is that master.
Its genius lies in its matter-of-fact approach without literally making a statement on anything, either humanity or the possible theories behind an epidemic as also in not using melodrama to raise empathy. In the world of twists and counters twists, the film treads a near straight line, yet manages to give one the shivers.
After a trip to Hongkong, Beth (Paltrow) falls sick and dies in a few days. Even before her husband can come to believe it, their son dies similarly. Before researchers identify the virus, hundreds of people all over the world begin to die.
As the global health bodies jostle to figure what's happening, an epidemic breaks out that threatens to destroy the political, social and economic structure of the world as mobs run riot and anarchy rules. How humanity survives it, forms the later part of the film.
'Contagion' is the story of one virus's journey through humans, its exponential multiplication and final elimination. Unlike many other virus disaster films like '28 Days Later' or 'I Am Legend', it is not a horror film.
Yet, it is much more terrifying for this one seems chillingly possible, as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), bird flu and others have proven.
And it doesn't take a meteor like in the underrated masterpiece 'Deep Impact' or 'Armageddon'; not even aliens like in 'Independence Day'; nor even global warming as in '2012' to threaten human life and bring the world to its knees. It takes one small, invisible virus.
'Contagion' is a spine-chilling tale because it literally and very simplistically shows how a conveniently connected world could actually become a problem in such a case. And how the well oiled governmental machinery globally could collapse under such an onslaught.
If one were to look at parallels or metaphors, they are aplenty.
Consider for example, the financial contagion of 2008-09. The virus of greed, which first showed symptoms in America, nearly took down the world, till two years later, the same time it takes to control the virus in the film, it was controlled and the world limped back to normalcy.
Face it, we live in a world where there may be physical borders but which is so well connected that viruses - be that on bodies or computers or financial systems - can spread rapidly through the world and systematically destroy everything.
Thus, without attempting to make a statement, 'Contagion' decimates the stupid notions of nationality and borders and paints the world as one extended body, where problems in one part, even one human in this case, can affect and destroy the world as we know it.
And it is to the credit of a dream, ensemble star cast who not only do bit parts in a film they believed in, but also give their best.
One can only hope, pray, wish that the scary possibility of such a story stays confined within cinema halls and that we actually never see it.
(Satyen K. Bordoloi can be contacted at [email protected])