Contagion (2011) REVIEW

The film follows several interacting plotlines with no single protagonist over the course of several weeks from the initial outbreak and attempts to contain it, to panic and decay of social order, and finally the introduction of a vaccine.

Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns from a business trip to Hong Kong. Two days later she collapses with severe seizures in her suburban Minneapolis home. Her husband, Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon), rushes her to the hospital but she dies as a result of an unknown disease. Mitch returns home and finds his stepson Clark has also died as a result of similar symptoms. Mitch is put in isolation but turns out to be immune to the disease. He and his daughter attempt to flee the city, but a quarantine has been imposed and they are forced to return to their home to face decaying social order and rampant looting of stores and homes. Mitch struggles to give his daughter, who has a lengthy wait for a vaccination and is thus quarantined to their house, a sense of normality while trying to come to terms with his own loss.

In Atlanta, representatives from the Department of Homeland Security meet with Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and express fears that the disease is a bioweapon intended to cause terror over the Thanksgiving weekend. Cheever sends Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer, to Minneapolis to begin the investigation and traceback. Dr. Mears has to negotiate with local bureaucrats reluctant to commit resources and becomes infected with the disease while staying at her hotel. The Minnesota National Guard arrives to quarantine the city, and a badly deteriorating Dr. Mears is moved to the field medical station she helped set up, where she later succumbs.

Investigations into cures via treatment protocols or vaccines initially prove fruitless as scientists cannot find a cell line to culture the MEV-1 virus. Professor Ian Sussman (Elliott Gould) violates orders from CDC scientist Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) to destroy his samples and identifies a line of bat cells that will support research into a vaccine. At the CDC, Dr. Hextall uses this breakthrough to begin to characterize the properties of the virus which turns out to have a mix of genetic material from bat and pig viruses and appears to spread via fomites.

A conspiratorially-minded freelance journalist named Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) posts video blogs claiming that he has recovered from his sickness using a homeopathic cure based on forsythia. Panicked people attempting to obtain forsythia overwhelm pharmacies and also accelerate the contagion as infected and healthy people congregate. Krumwiede leaps to national attention and during a television interview accuses Dr. Cheever of informing friends and family to leave Chicago before a quarantine is imposed. It is later revealed Krumwiede was never sick but was attempting to boost demand on behalf of investors in the companies producing and distributing the treatment.

Dr. Hextall identifies a potential vaccine using an attenuated (live) virus. Because of the difficulties of human subjects testing, she follows the precedent of other vaccine researchers and inoculates herself first. Hextall visits her gravely-ill father in the hospital to expose herself to the virus and test the vaccine. Production of the vaccine is rapidly ramped up and the CDC awards vaccinations via a random lottery based on birth dates for one full year until every survivor is vaccinated. Dr. Cheever, remorseful of the deaths that his delayed action indirectly caused, gave his fast tracked vaccination to the son of a janitor (John Hawkes) he works with at the disease center.

Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) is a World Health Organization epidemiologist who traveled to Hong Kong to find out where the sickness originated. While she is there, she identifies Emhoff as patient zero. Orantes is kidnapped by epidemiologist, Sun Feng (Chin Han) to use as leverage to obtain the first vaccines for his village. After the vaccines reach there, she is exchanged for some vaccines which turn out to be placebos. Orantes rushes to notify the villagers.

The film concludes with how the virus originated. The mining corporation based in Minneapolis is actively clearing jungle, a bulldozer knocks over a palm tree that had bats nesting in it. They fly out, and one lands on a banana plant, eating a chunk of banana. But not having its tree to go back to, it flies to a nearby hog building, where it drops the banana into a pig sty, where a pig eats it. The pig is then sold and slaughtered and is shown being prepared by a chef in the Macau casino Beth Emhoff was in but not washing his hands afterwards. The chef shakes hands with Beth, showing how she got the disease.

  • Marion Cotillard as Dr. Leonora Orantes
  • Matt Damon as Mitch Emhoff
  • Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Ellis Cheever
  • Jude Law as Alan Krumwiede
  • Gwyneth Paltrow as Beth Emhoff
  • Kate Winslet as Dr. Erin Mears
  • Enrico Colantoni as Dennis French
  • Bryan Cranston as RADM Lyle Haggerty
  • Griffin Kane as Clark Morrow
  • Jennifer Ehle as Dr. Ally Hextall
  • Sanaa Lathan as Mrs. Cheever
  • Demetri Martin as Dr. David Eisenberg
  • Elliott Gould as Dr. Ian Sussman
  • Chin Han as Sun Feng
  • John Hawkes as Roger
  • Amr Waked as Rafik
  • Daria Strokous as Irina
  • Dr. Sanjay Gupta as himself

Sony Alpha NEX NEX5K/S Digital Camera with Interchangeable Lens (Silver)