A friend of mine, Caleb Crain, wrote about Contagion for The Paris Review back when the film was released. Note the cameo appearances in his review by Defoe, Camus, and none other than Arthur Mervyn! Caleb’s more extended reading of Arthur Mervyn can be found in his book American Sympathy.
Like this review, which recognises the myriad of themes and ideas that Soderbergh has tried to squish together into this film, I too found myself seeing scenes and ideas from other texts we have studied this semester. What was disappointing though and what is missing from this review was how poorly the film was executed, in my humble opinion of course.
I used the word squish purposely to try and encapsulate how uncomfortably these ideas sit together in the plot narrative and how so many profound ideas are not really fleshed out and so they sit undeveloped. Unlike Crash (I’ve never seen Traffic), Contagion is chaotic and does not do justice to some really challenging ideas that it plays with initially. The reconciliation of Matt Damon’s character and his wife is underdone and so her affair feels like an unresolved dead-weight on the plot.
The cinematography felt cheap as did the acting, dare I say, much more like Valentine’s Day where a seemingly endless line of well-known actors cycle through the script than Crash. The music was terrible and the musical montages were almost laughable.
Just as Zimmer (and Caroline pointed out as we screened it) the action and the plot was realistic enough. The plot thus had the potential to be a great medical-thriller, however the execution was unsatisfactory.
(The movie, not the review!)