There’s a word in German which best describes Contagion. The word is schadenfreude, and it means happiness at the misfortune of others. There’s something very primal in the human mind that really gets into watching disaster movies, which is why films like 2012, Outbreak and Titanic do so well at the box office. The only issue with disaster movies is that they’re almost completely cast by low-name actors who have to follow scripts that have as much emotional intensity and compelling drama as a Captain Planet episode. Contagion shines above them all by actually having a compelling script, then filling it with over a dozen incredible actors. Schadenfreude doesn’t get any better than this when it’s performed well.
Contagion is a “what-if” story following a killer virus as it cuts a path of destruction across the land. The film follows people at various parts of the drama, from the Center for Disease Control to an average family, as they all deal with large numbers of people dying each day. As people start to panic, society comes to the verge of collapse while scientists struggle to stop the raging epidemic.
This film isn’t a scenario where all of society breaks down, like in Dawn of the Dead nor is it a disaster film where the entire world is destroyed like in 2012. The scariest part of the film is trying to live in a nightmare world where society has slowed to a crawl, and where even the slightest touch is terrifying. A lot of the early panic is reminiscent of the swine flu scare a couple of years ago, and any film with a terror that timely is sure to definitely freak out the public.
As for the cast, to only mention the main characters wouldn’t only be a disgrace, it would be useless. The star power in this film is ridiculous. Gwyneth Paltrow (Country Strong), Matt Damon (The Adjustment Bureau), Laurence Fishburne (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation), Jude Law (Repo Men), Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose, Nine), Jennifer Ehle (The King’s Speech), Demetri Martin (Demetri Martin. Person.), Elliott Gould (The Cape) and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) all throw their collective hats into the project. Together they take what could’ve been a mediocre disaster movie and turn it into a spectacular drama set around a disaster. This film should win someone another Oscar.
This is probably the last big budget film to come out this summer, one last refreshing drink of cool water before the September-to-Halloween movie drought. It’s a nice and tearful wave goodbye, or a grand finale that will be talked about for years to come.
Contagion is rated PG-13 for seeing a lot of people get sick and drop dead.