WHY CONTAGION WORKS

September 12, 2011

GIVEN THE IMMINENT BEHEMOTH OF A COLUMN THAT HULK UNLEASHING ON YOU THIS WEEK, HULK GONNA KEEP IT SHORT AND TIGHT WITH THIS ONE.

SOMETIMES THE EASIEST WAY TO BOIL DOWN A MOVIE IS NOT TO SAY WHETHER IT’S GOOD OR BAD, BUT TO SIMPLY ASSESS IF IT “WORKS” OR NOT AND WHY. HULK’S RECENT ESSAY “PEGGY CARTER – WHY CAPTAIN AMERICA WORKS” FOR EXAMPLE TRIED DELVE INTO THAT KIND OF THINKING.

SO HERE IS A LIST OF ALL THE REASONS CONTAGION WORKED:

- IT WISELY DECIDES THAT THE MAIN “CHARACTER” OF THE FILM IS THE VIRUS ITSELF.

- SODERBERGH IS AN INSANELY SMART DIRECTOR. PEOPLE ACCUSE HIM OF OVERT FORMALISM, BUT WHEN HE TACKLES MAINSTREAM PROJECTS AND IS ABLE TO IMBUE HIS FORMALISM WITH A HUMANE, ORGANIC FEELING, AND THUS THE SKY IS THE PROVERBIAL LIMIT.

- HE SEEMS TO HAVE FOUND AN AMAZING WRITING PARTNER IN SCOTT Z. BURNS. TOGETHER THEY CRAFTED SOMETHING EXTREMELY THOUGHTFUL, WELL-RESEARCHED, AND COMMITTED TO REALISM.

-THIS REALISM IS ALSO SUPER FREAKING TERRIFYING. HULK NEVER TOUCHING ANYTHING AGAIN. HOLY CRAP, THE KEYBOARD!

- THE MUSIC CHOICES GIVE A “LOOSE” FEELING FILM A VERY NICE PROPULSIVE QUALITY. HULK ACTUALLY THINK THAT ONE OF SODERBERGH’S BEST QUALITIES IS THAT HE A GREAT EDITOR AND THAT EVIDENT IN THESE CHOICES.

- EVERY ACTOR BRINGS A NICE UNDERSTATED PROFESSIONALISM. HULK HAVE TO SINGLE OUT TWO PEOPLE JENNIFER EHLE FOR DOING SO MUCH WITH JUST SIMPLE LOOKS, SMILES, AND A FEW CHOICE WORDS. AND ALSO MATT DAMON, WHO SPENDS MOST OF THE TIME IN SURVIVAL MODE UNTIL THE TIME COMES FOR EMOTIONAL RESONANCE. TOGETHER THEY THE SOUL OF THE FILM.

- AND NOW THE MOST SUPER IMPORTANT REASON IT WORKS – CONTAGION TREATS THE GOVERNMENT’S HEALTH PROFESSIONALS: THE DOCTORS, THE CDC, THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION, WITH PROFOUND RESPECT AND ADMIRATION. FOR SOME REASON, MOVIES ARE ALWAYS SO CONTENT TO SLAM THE PEOPLE AND ORGANIZATIONS WHO AT THE CENTER OF UNPARALLELED CRISIS. MOVIES ALWAYS RALLY BEHIND THE LONE MAN WILLING TO DECRY THE FACELESS AGENCIES WHO ARE NOT “ACTING IN OUR INTEREST!” IN FACT, CONTAGION IS WILLING TO GO SO FAR AS TO TELL A VERY UNPOPULAR TRUTH, THAT THESE FIGURES (THE JUDE LAW CHARACTER) ARE OFTEN MORE SELF-SERVING AND INSIDIOUS THAN COMMITTED PROFESSIONALS (AND OFTEN MORE CORRUPT).*

-AT THE SAME TIME THE MOVIE IS COMPLETELY FAIR AND MATTER OF FACT ABOUT THE COMPLICATIONS OF BUREAUCRACY. IT COULD OVERTLY DRAMATIZE THESE COMPLICATIONS BUT IT DOES NOT. THEY ARE SIMPLY THE REALITIES OF HANDLING MASSIVE PROBLEMS FOR LARGE POPULATIONS. HULK LOVED SEEING THAT EXPRESSED.

* SIDENOTE! AS PART OF THAT, THE FILM IS BRAZEN TO TACKLE THE IDEA THAT FACT HOLISTIC/ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE HAS ABSOLUTELY NO SCIENTIFIC VALUE. HULK REALIZE THIS OPEN UP A CAN OF WORMS WITH A LOT OF PEOPLE, BUT SCIENTIFICALLY SPEAKING IT TRUE. AND HERE HULK GOING INTO SCIENCE BANNER MODE. RIGHT NOW, THE FIELD OF PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS ON HEALTH IS UNDER-STUDIED, KIND OF MURKY, AND WHOLLY IMPORTANT. THAT IS BECAUSE THE MIND’S ABILITY TO ALTER PHYSICAL HEALTH IS SURPRISINGLY, PROFOUNDLY STRONG AND WE DON’T KNOW HOW OR WHY IT WORKS. BUT WE’RE STUDYING IT TO TRY AND FIGURE IT OUT. HOLISTIC/ALTERNATIVE MEDICINES MEANWHILE, HAVE BEEN RESEARCHED TO DEATH AND THE TRUTH IS THAT THE VAST MAJORITY OF THEM HAVE ABOUT ZERO SCIENTIFIC EFFECTIVENESS (THE STUFF THAT IS TRUE IS, LIKE,  VITAMIN C AND ZINC ARE GOOD FOR COLDS, ETC). THE TRUE VALUE OF HOLISTIC/ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE IS THAT IT CAN IMPACT YOUR PSYCHOLOGICAL STATE, AND THUS AFFECT YOUR HEALTH (AGAIN, THE MIND IS A VERY POWERFUL WEAPON IN COMBATING ILLNESS). BUT AGAIN, IT’S NOT ACTUALLY DOING ANYTHING FOR COMBATING YOUR ILLNESS. THEY ARE EXACTLY AS EFFECTIVE AS A PLACEBO. AND THUS TO REALIZE THAT IS TO LOSE THE PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECT. SO IT IS SORT OF A PARADOX BECAUSE IT CAN REALLY HELP SOMEONE, BUT NOT FOR THE REASONS THEY THINK, BUT TO EXPLAIN THE REASONS IS TO REMOVE THE REASON IT WOULD WORK… SO YEAH… IT’S WEIRD, BUT IT’S THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH. ANYWHO, THE FILM TACKLES THIS IN A VERY MATTER OF FACT AND NON-JUDGEMENTAL WAY AND HULK WAS PROFOUNDLY HAPPY TO SEE IT.

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8 Responses to “WHY CONTAGION WORKS”

  1. JONAH KEEL said

    Though the film WAS thoroughly well crafted, i wish it had been an HBO miniseries. Had we geekbrothers been in that pitch meeting, we would have COUNTER pitched that possibility.

  2. Joon Kim said

    Great call about the way the film treats ‘alternative’ medicine. Hollywood has a way of almost ALWAYS giving ‘faith’ and ‘the lone voice of reason’ an out. Soderbergh doesn’t do that.

  3. Chris said

    Hulk, Tim Minchin says it with great acumen: “You know what they call alternative medicine that works? Medicine.”

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      TRUE, BUT LIKE HULK SAID IT’S THE WHOLE PSYCHOLOGICAL PARADOX THING. AND IF THERE’S ANYTHING HULK KNOWS ABOUT PSYCHOLOGICAL PARADOXES IS THAT THERE’S A DANGER WHEN YOU LEND THE LIE THE CREDENCE.

      • I recall reading a summary of a study that claimed that the placebo effect still can work, even when you know it’s just the placebo effect. (Presumably because you know of the placebo effect and then start expecting it…)

        In short, I’m completely justified in eating gummy bears and calling them medicine.

  4. Charming Charlie said

    I suppose it’s true that in the whole of cinema, Jude Law’s character might more frequently be the hero, but while watching the thought I had was what a public disservice it was to show the insider information and vaccine priority higher ups got. I think it’s quite true, but I don’t like having the dumb folk reminded.

    As the movie demonstrates, society is fragile, and the people in your neighborhood are only one or two days of no police away from shooting your other neighbors. Anything that gives those people a sense that they’re getting screwed, like some movie they saw a couple years ago that showed doctors getting vaccines for their families and friends first, is one less less layer of protection. The day-to-day of society runs more on faith than we appreciate, so I don’t imagine a movie planting this seed seems like much of a threat. But when you’re queued at the pharmacy and they announce there’s only enough stuff for 50 people you might wish the movie had suggested civil behavior a bit more strongly.

    • HMMMM. HULK NOT SURE THAT A FAIR EXPECTATION. THE MOVIE TRYING TO SHOW WHAT WOULD HAPPEN, NOT BE AN EXAMPLE OF HOW ONE “SHOULD” ACT. AND THE VERY FACT THAT MOVIE SO WELL ROUNDED IN ITS EXPLORATION A MIRACLE ENOUGH.

      BUT DEFINITELY. IN THE WORLD OF CINEMA LAW WOULD BE THE HERO.

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