Contagion: The Art of Using Fear to Inoculate the Public

Why do I love films about quickly spreading epidemics and doomsday scenarios?  I don’t know, but I always have.  Perhaps it is because they strike that primal fear inside all of us that is well aware of the tenuous nature of our existence.  We’re all one virus, one bug, one outbreak away from utter chaos.  It has happened in the past, and we’re poised on the precipice of some new and exotic pandemic at any moment.  And it is this fear that we all feel on some level that is ripe for manipulation.  Never has this been more obvious than with the propaganda driven film Contagion.  SPOILER ALERT.

dating a lawyerDirected by Steven Soderbergh and starring Matt Damon, Kate Winslet,  Jude Law, and Laurence Fishburne, is a film with a familiar premise.  Strange new virus enters the public domain via tourist in Asia.  Said bug spreads rapidly, is pretty much deadly, and spins beyond the control of the CDC.  Before we know it, millions are dead, millions more are infected, and pandemonium ensues.  Pretty textbook doomsday infection material.

What stands out about Contagion is that it has a very clear agenda, which sneaks up on you as the film carries on.  Jude Law plays Alan Krumwiede, an internet blogger/conspiracy theorist who is attempting to expose the corruption surrounding the search for a cure for this new killer virus.

Appearing at first as something of an intrepid hero, Krumwiede “discovers” a natural remedy for the virus, and uses himself as a guinea pig to see if it works.  After becoming infected, he vlogs himself administering the herbal remedy, and proves that it works, as he doesn’t succumb to the illness.  After seeing this, the public bombards shops in hopes of procuring the non-prescription drug, and supplies run out.  In the meantime, Alan Krumwiede continues to hold the feet of the CDC to the fire, accusing them of covering up the cure, and allowing millions to die.

As the film presses on, the members of the CDC continue to search for a vaccine.  With their own members becoming infected and dying, one heroic scientist tests a potential vaccine on herself.  When she emerges from the test unscathed, a cure is announced, and the world is eventually inoculated against what could have been an extinction level event.

need a paper written without plagiarismMeanwhile, our fantastic Mr. Krumwiede is being exposed as not so heroic.  Turns out, he was never infected with the disease, he fabricated the efficacy of his herbal remedy, and is now encouraging the populace NOT to take the life saving vaccine.  Because of this, he’s accused of jeopardizing the lives of millions of brainless followers who visit his conspiracy blog daily.  Alan Krumwiede is laughing all the way to the bank.  Thank GOODNESS for the government, who only has our best interests and well being in mind.  Otherwise we could all succumb to the wiles of those sinister bloggers and devious conspiracy theorists, who will only cause us (because we can’t think for ourselves and NEED government to make our choices for us) pain and heartache.

While watching the film, my mind kept wandering back to the H1N1 scare of a few years ago.  This swine flu was supposed to be the pandemic that brought the world to its knees.  Vaccinations were handed out, and an undercurrent of skepticism began to boil.  Do we know what is in these vaccines?  Didn’t the Swine Flu vaccine of 1976 kill or seriously injure hundreds if not thousands of people?  Will these vaccines become mandatory?  What happens if I refuse?   Conspiracies became commonplace, people really began to talk about the vaccine and its potential risks, and the CDC ended up with a public relations nightmare, particularly because this horrible H1N1 scare turned out to be a bust. used these fears and skeptical inquiries against the public, by offering a scenario where believing anything other than the official government stance on the outbreak could get you killed.  Presenting the person who questions the government as the eventual villain was brilliant, because it painted the picture that to question the CDC or the government at large would be a huge mistake that is irrational at best and deadly at worst.

The most frightening thing about Contagion is the implication that such a scenario is right around the corner, and that the circumstances leading to the creation of such a killer virus are as random as the “wrong pig encountering the wrong bat.”   The beautiful people who played the CDC heroes of the film (Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard) and the pretty victims (Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow) are sympathetic characters, while the evil conspiracy blogger, played by a normally attractive Jude Law, is presented as slimy and scheming, right down to the unnecessary use of fake crooked teeth to make Law appear less attractive than normal.

Contagion seemed to foreshadow a possible future event wherein we must be on guard against those who would try to convince us that the government has anything less than noble intentions.  I was shocked that the end credits didn’t display the message “Brought to you by the Centers for Disease Control and the friendly politicians that love you ever so much.”

This film should be seen by anyone who wants a lesson in the high art of manipulation through entertainment.  Contagion: The Art of Using Fear to Inoculate the Public.  Now playing everywhere.  Let the Academy Award nominations fly.