The plandemic saw Contagion’s stock soar, which isn’t something that happens too often to a Steven Soderbergh movie. His ostensibly liberal outlook has hitherto found him on the side of the little people (class action suits) and interrogating the drugs trade while scrupulously avoiding institutional connivance (unless it’s Mexican institutional connivance). More recently, The Laundromat’s Panama Papers puff piece fell fall flat on its face in attempting broad, knowing satire (in some respects, this is curious, as The Informant! is one of Soderbergh’s better-judged films, perhaps because it makes no bones about its maker’s indifference towards its characters). There’s no dilution involved with Contagion, however.
It amounts to a bare-faced propaganda piece, serving to emphasise that the indie-minded director is Hollywood establishment through and through. This is a picture that can comfortably sit alongside any given Tinseltown handwringing over the War of Terror (never incendiary enough to come out and actually say it, and so only ever eliciting scant viewer interest) or the kind of overtly approved narrative garbage that deserves outright mockery (9/11 narratives from the likes of Paul Greengrass and Oliver Stone).
When I first saw Contagion, I gave it grudging pass, feeling it failed as the kind of pulse raiser it absolutely needed to be, and that, despite Soderbergh being as cool and unemotive as they come, it was unable to the command the attention in the clinical manner of Robert Wise’s earlier big virus pic The Andromeda Strain. I didn’t broach its wholesale endorsement of Rockefeller’s systematised allopathic medicine, although I remember being distinctly uneasy about the demonisation of both naturopaths and conspiracy theorists in the form of Jude Law’s character. I wasn’t versed in germ theory at this stage – most outside of GNM or Jon Rappoport had little need to be – but I was well aware that most of the character’s utterances about Big Pharma were entirely on point (and with them, the inherent dangers of being stuck with a needle for your own or the greater good).
Of course, the presentation of Law’s Alan Krumwiede – even the name is suggestive of a weasel – was precisely Sodebergh and Scott Z Burns’ purpose: put truths in the mouth of a character who is wholly culpable, and you discredit those truths by association (see also mad Brad in 12 Monkeys). Krumwiede is undoubtedly the bad guy, but like Joel McHale’s right-wing blogger in The X-Files, he’s allowed to drop truth bombs we ignore due to de facto character flaws. “Some say it’s staged. An art project” his journo observes of the initial progress of the outbreak. And yet, despite being a conspiracy “nut”, Krumwiede’s entirely on board with approved virus theory; it’s only in terms of curative methodologies – so roundly pilloried, you can only assume Contagion was financed by the FDA – that he presents a divergent view.
As such, even aside from being inherently unscrupulous, Krumwiede embodies controlled opposition. Of course, in Soderbergh’s fiction, the virus theory works exactly as Pascal, as opposed to Bechamp, proposed, which means Krumwiede would be vilified as an even worse human being were he to tout such notions (nevertheless, we are allowed crumbs that would lead along that trail of thought, per reference to Minamata disease from mercury content in fish). Even lending Krumwiede flawed but genuine intentions would have required too much work for Burns and Soderbergh, presumably. Besides not being the sort of thing that would get Warner Bros on board as distributor.
While producer Gregory Jacobs yielded “I think we all suspect at one time or another that we’re not getting the whole truth…” regarding government complicity with Big Pharma, Contagion carries the rubber stamp of official approval in entirely denying such motives, from the top down. The only thing the solid and true, noble officials of the WHO or CDC are guilty of is humanity, dammit (letting slip to loved ones the danger everyone is in).
Querent: Is there any way someone could weaponise bird flu? Is that what we’re looking at?
Dr Cheever: Someone doesn’t have to weaponise bird flu. The birds are doing that.
And the media too, absolutely wouldn’t be the sorts to get on board with creating public panic – or more still, promoting outright lies – if they weren’t justified: “We don’t want to be the paper that cries wolf”, Krumwiede is informed when his story is rejected early on. We’re reminded of previous, failed – or simply positioned as test runs for the “real” operation – attempts to provoke mass panic (“We tried that with swine flu, and all we did was get healthy people scared”). Bird flu. Remember how awful that was? No, me neither. But they told you it was. This mention also proposes the idea of engineered viruses (a classic red herring of “If they have all these labs engineering viruses, then viruses must be as stated” proportions. See also NASA). Then there’s Spanish Flu, the great undeniable of pandemics. Because stats are always correct, just as long as you know how to interpret or invent them.
Dr Cheever: But right now, our best defence has been social distancing. No handshaking, stay home when you’re sick.
Except, being a form of media, telling people “what they should be scared of” is precisely Contagion’s purpose. It’s intent on pouring so much “indisputable” science on the garbage fire of infectious agents, anyone would think this was a zombie movie (probably, ultimately, far more effective at doing the job than a rigorously scientific Soderbergh approach. After all, the salient principles are the same).
“The average person touches their face two or three thousand times a day” one-time English rose Kate Winslet (as Dr Erin Mears, Epidemic Intelligence Service office with the CDC) informs ignorant government proles (you know, the ones who advocate lockdowns). Oor Kate, who nobly threw Woody Allen under a bus in the hope it would improve her career (good luck there, Kate, better hope holding your breath for Avatar 2 pays off). That’s after also working with him and Polanski, fully cognisant of their reps. Talk about salient principles.
Many of the touchstones of current “lore” are broached, such as evergreen favourite “Sometimes people can be contagious without ever having symptoms” (or even all the time!) The occasional line does poke fun at such unadulterated wisdom, though (regarding those who are susceptible to virulent MEV-1, a waggish government official comments “So far, that appears to be everyone with hands, a mouth and a nose”. Which is exactly what they want you to think).
Dr Sussman: Blogging is not writing. It’s graffiti with punctuation.
Anyone who disagrees with the science is easily discredited on the grounds that they don’t read from the same script that grants authority to those who are qualified: “You’re not a doctor. You’re a writer” Elliot Gould’s unlikely Dr Sussman tells Krumwiede. In a stroke of genius that hasn’t been repeated in the “real” world yet – but give it time, I’m sure it will be “reported” – the idea of wilful infection is broached, in the manner of suicide bombers (“… walking through a crowded casino must have crossed their mind”). The virus can’t live four days on a box, we are informed, but “It kills every cell we put it in!” It’s dark magic! It’s unstoppable! The human race will be toast in no time!
This is followed by seriously presented junk science attesting that the virus contains “pig and bat sequences” (next thing, you’re slaughtering millions of Danish mink. Allegedly). And best of all, the favoured fall back for terror: “It’s mutated”. Not only that, even more terrifying than mutation, there’s the most successful of all terror campaigns that aren’t nukes: “It’s moved into a HIV African AIDS population” (for which, I advise you to take a look at Rappaport’s blog).
Krumwiede: That’s a bad day to be a rhesus monkey. First we shoot them into space. And now we’ll be shooting them full of virus.
This is the same essential refrain found in the earlier Outbreak. Look to pigs and bats and monkeys for the nasties (and, if it helps, to wet markets). Contagion’s message would surely have been much more effective in the hands of a shameless showman like Roland Emmerich, since Wolfgang Peterson embraces Outbreak with more shameless gusto. With Soderbergh, the essential “Germs! Everywhere! They’ll get you through the air! They’re swarming across your peanuts! The environment, the natural world, is inherently your enemy!” is rather diluted through his impassivity. Still, this lie is an ironic one, since unlike Outbreak, Contagion is set almost exclusively in an urban environment (you know, the same one where, entirely divorced from our connection to the planet, we will shortly be shuffled en masse under the auspices of Agenda 21/30).
Dr Cheever: The CDC is exploring forsythia and other homeopathic treatments. But right now, there’s no science to back any of these claims.
Contagion – while attempting to foster balance, which is the smartest form of agenda pushing – entirely savages alternative medicine. I didn’t remember quite how unbridled this was, other than the Law character being a charlatan. Instead of someone genuinely believing they have an alternative remedy, Krumwiede promotes “forsythia” (not Bruce) – “It’s the cure”. We see him faking illness and surviving thanks to the miracle drug, after meeting with a market specialist who agrees to back his sales pitch of this “homeopathic treatment”.
This itself is a lazy and loaded classification, since we all know – as disreputable Krumwiede charges “Who conducted the studies?” – that clinical trials have repeatedly invalidated homeopathy (let us not forget that allopathic trailblazer Rockefeller was having none of his new-fangled medicine for himself and kept a personal homeopath on his payroll until his dying day). All Burns has to do is label forsythia homeopathic and the audience – well, those who buy the allopathic illusion – will be instantly sceptical. Because Burns and Soderbergh’s intention is to discourage viewers from considering any and all other possibilities, and believe the predominant paradigm. When Krumwiede is told “Evidently, there are twelve million other people just as crazy as you are. You made bail”, we’re not expected, as viewers, to count ourselves among the crazies.
Dr Cheever: And without a vaccine, we anticipate that approximately one in twelve people on the planet will contract the disease.
As noted, Krumwiede promulgates the fear fantasy (“In thirty steps, it’s a billion sick”) while presenting the case for the opposition. So when he objects that “Maybe it causes autism, or narcolepsy, or cancer, ten years from now” and backs this with “Swine flu vaccine killed people back in 1976”, he would, were he really on the ball, offer mountains more evidence, such as pharma’s immunity from prosecution for vaccine side effects. But Contagion is designed to offer a surface skim, so as to be brushed off as of trifling concern.
Indeed, while everyone involved is incredibly grateful to receive a “life-saving” immunisation, it is Krumwiede who is charged with “Serious fraud. Conspiracy – wait don’t they not exist? – Likely manslaughter” (I like Krumwiede’s “You can’t take my blood. That’s my private property”. When he responds to “You never had the virus. You have no antibodies. You lied” with “Of course, that’s what your labs say”, this is the correct response). The irony of ironies being that – in a particularly wretched plotline – when Marillon Cotillard’s WHO epidemiologist, suffering from some mutant strain of Stockholm Syndrome, goes to warn her kidnappers that the vaccine they were supplied as ransom comprises only placebos, they ought to have thanked their lucky stars! There’s even a curious suggestion – from Cheever! – to put “the vaccination in the water supply, cure everyone at once” (if they could do that, you can bet they would have).
Dr Cheever: In order to get scared, all you have to do is come in contact with a rumour, or the television. Or the Internet.
While played devotedly for realism, Burns’ screenplay is filled with trite scenarios and characters. John Hawkes’ CDC cleaner Roger is particularly pitiful, coming begging for help to Larry Fishface’s Dr Cheever. Cheever, being a bastion of the medical establishment, doesn’t look to likely causative factors for Roger’s son’s ADHD and adds insult to injury by providing him with a vaccine ahead of time. Of which, it appears Outbreak received all the brickbats for coming up with a cure in mere hours, whereas Contagion has a vaccine ready to go just four months after the bat got busy. Anyone would think Fauci and Gates were directing operations. It’s a miracle!
I’ve mentioned kidnapped Cotillard. Jennifer Ehle makes herself a human guinea pig for the cause – how virtuous! What a wonderful example to set! Gwynie is very convincing dying during the opening sequence. How it might have been different had she a vaginally scented candle to hand. The underlying takeaway here seems to be that, if women weren’t such sluts, there’d be no pandemics (so well done, Steven and Scott).
Witness also poor bereaved widow Matt Damon being over-protective of his surviving daughter Anna Jacoby-Heron. A particularly obnoxious prom-night teaser, set to the sounds of NWO performing seal Bono, establishes the return to normality at the end – yes, Contagion stirs the illusion of the reinstituted old normal, despite the preceding riots, looting, quarantines, mass graves and food queues. But on the plus side, Damon earlier rages at his offspring’s potentially germ-riddled BF with a stolen shotgun. Elsewhere Kate fulfils the role of the brave dying doctor character (there has to be one, see also Outbreak).
Dr Cheever: We get the vaccine tomorrow.
At one point, a disparaging Cheever scolds “The Internet. And you believe it?” To which the astute retort is “The movies. And you believe them?” But that appears to have been the effect of Soderbergh’s flick, almost a decade after its fairly inconspicuous release. Shorn of The Andromeda Strain’s sci-fi trappings, it stands proud as a sobering warning of what will happen to everyone if they don’t get the vaccine (never mind what then happens in the ten years, or weeks, or days, or hours after).
Also of note in Contagion is that the team are remarkably proficient at isolating the pesky virus (they could teach the current institutions a thing or two, clearly). And credit to Soderbergh, saving the causative factor – you know, those pesky bats and their bent for banana – for last; the cross-species contract and trace is quite effectively visualised.
It’s actually Cliff Martinez – generally an underrated composer – though, who furnishes the picture with its most authentic tinge of trad thriller gloss, an insistent heartbeat stressing the urgency of unfolding events. In that sense, this is exactly the fare to propel anyone already totally convinced of their imminent infection and potential demise into a right state. Wearing a mask outside, inside, around the house, in the bath, even on the toilet. Especially on the toilet.
If you want to see a good science-fiction virus movie, see The Andromeda Strain, not Contagion. Why, Soderberg has even been told to assure you it will all be alright in the end. Mind you, he did then make another movie called Side Effects, so who is he trying to kid? Right?