Contagion scared me. And I don’t scare too easily.. unless it’s a movie about a possessed kid, or malevolent kid ghost, or demon kid. You get the idea.

Here’s a preview:

The deets:

Released September 9, 2011

Written by Scott Z. Burns

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Starring Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Chin Han, and John Hawkes

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It was a pleasure to watch Gwyneth Paltrow die. I don’t really want to see the actress die, or any harm to come to her, but I am always vaguely annoyed by her when I see her on camera lately. She seems self-conscious and unnatural. I stopped watching Glee partly because of her. Anyway, she plays Beth Emhoff, pretty much the first victim of the virus that is the antagonist in Contagion.


The film starts with Beth Emhoff returning from a business trip to Hong Kong with flu-like symptoms. She worsens quickly, is admitted to the hospital, and soon dies. Mitch Emhoff (Damon) is suitably dumbfounded by all of this, and is even more stricken when his son with Beth dies soon after. Mitch’s storyline is the one wherein we see the effects of the pandemic on normal people. Damon plays this role very nicely as a guy trying to cope with heartbreaking loss and change of world.

Then you have the CDC and the WHO. Not bands. Laurence Fishburne plays an important fellow in the CDC who seems to be heading up the efforts to figure out what this virus is, where it came from, and how to stop it. Kate Winslet plays Fishburne’s protege who goes into the field near where Emhoff died and the virus is particularly awful. Her storyline does a neat job showing the practicalities and logistics of a quick but deliberate response to such an outbreak. Fishburne also has a nice storyline where he must make a moral decision about others who don’t have access to the resources and information that he does.

Marion Cotillard has a smallish role, but she plays it with simple grace. She is a WHO field agent that is sent to Hong Kong to figure out where the virus came from. I won’t spoil the surprise that occurs in her storyline, but it’s nicely done, although it’s not entirely crucial to the overall story.

Jude Law plays an unprincipled, self-righteous blogger in San Francisco. He is dogged in his pursuit of hits and money, coming dangerously close to making the outbreak even worse. Jude Law plays the character very well. He is smart and greedy and retreats to shrillness when under attack.

The film follows these several storylines as the plot unfolds. Emhoff appears to be patient zero and the virus is something that is even worse than the flu. It is incredibly contagious and millions of people die within a couple of months. Widespread panic ensues.


This is a, I suppose, quite realistic depiction of what might pan out if a nasty virus were ever to take hold in the human population. I thought it was understated and not given to hype or melodrama, making it all the more effective. Emotional reactions in the audience are not artificially elicited by camera angles and music; they are caused by people having human reactions to tragedy and other trauma.

I really loved this movie. It is smart, grim, and very tautly put together. Extra cheers for the editing work. Also, the final scene, which shows where the virus started is frankly terrifying.

I washed my hands some four or five times after leaving the theater.

Content warnings: Some language. Some visually disturbing images of illness and death. No nudity or sexuality aside from spoken allusions.

Writing: 5         Acting: 5          Overall: 4.5

Don’t believe me? See if my review matches those on Rotten Tomatoes.

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About jared

Jared Garrett works as a writer, the manager of a program development department in the corporate world, and an instructional designer. He is a family man with an adorable, fun, and way-too-smart wife, six silly kids, a new house with an overgrown back yard, seven fish, and a bunch of chickens. He has written fiction, user manuals, SEO copy, radio scripts and textbooks and has won first place in the Mayhew writing contest at BYU and received honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest. He lives at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains and is currently seeking representation for his myriad completed novels.
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