Static Mass Rating: 3/5
Warner Bros

Release date: October 21st, 2011
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 100 minutes

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Scott Z. Burns
Composer: Cliff Martinez

Cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne , Marion Cotillard,, Kate Winslet, Jude Law

The events of the past 10 years; September 11th, Hurricane Katrina, The Boxing Day Tsunami, The London Bombings, the Christchurch and Japanese Earthquakes, all have one thing in common. They’ve shown that no matter where in the world it happens, we’re just not prepared to deal with a disaster, whether man-made or natural.

The loss of life, both immediate and in the aftermath, shocks not only its nation, but the world as it watches. It’s different from the everyday goings-on of war because it’s the life of innocents – non-combatants – that are lost. The responses by military, emergency services or other authorities should be swift, but when it’s not, as with Katrina, we see another side of human nature as desperation turns to anger and panic and society itself begins to crumble.


Contagion, directed by Steven Soderbergh, is a film which explores how society would deal with the outbreak of a lethal airborne human virus that’s spread by human contact and kills within days. Its plot is driven by a wide cast of characters who each come into contact with MEV-1, a paramyxovirus that infects the lungs and brain.

Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns to Minneapolis from a business trip in Hong Kong and quickly falls ill. Her husband, Mitch (Matt Damon) and their two children are at risk from infection. Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) works at the CDC and meets with the Department of Homeland Security. At first they fear the new virus is a bioweapon as more new cases surface in the run-up to Thanksgiving. Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer, travels to Minneapolis to re-trace Beth’s steps and find the virus’ point of origin.


There’s also Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), an obnoxious blogger who starts a smear campaign against the CDC for his own purposes and Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) a World Health Organization epidemiologist who’s sent to Hong Kong to establish if Beth was indeed patient zero.

Contagion carries with it a feeling of urgency as we watch this deadly virus catch and spread. Stores run out of food; banks, schools and gas stations close; borders are locked down. And while a crisis can inspire touching acts of compassion as we saw in London and New York after the attacks, the reality is more often panic, paranoia, and a lawlessness that quickly becomes a threat in itself. The only hope hangs on first successfully growing the virus in the lab before being able to develop a vaccine against it which could take months. And months is what they don’t have.


While it handles these themes of dystopia and paranoia well I wasn’t quite sure what Contagion wanted to tell me. I was already aware of roughly how many times a day the average human being touches their face, door handles, railings, desktops and toilet seats, as well as how many germs we breathe in (and out) on the streets and on public transport. It does however contain many technical terms, you’ll hear a lot about what an R0 is and learn what fromites are.

The main idea put forward by Contagion is not so much if, but when it happens…and then? The 1918 Spanish Flu wiped out 50 million people – that was one-fifth of the world’s population and I’m not convinced that we’ve gotten any better at dealing with problems we can’t aim weapons at.

About Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.