There’s a great quotation from Manhattan Institute scholar Peter Huber about contagious disease. I used it as the epigram for a book I’m working on about the use of smallpox as a bioweapon, and it goes as follows:
“Germs are never in fact defeated completely. If they retire for a while, it’s only to search, in their ingeniously stupid and methodically random way, for a bold new strategy. They’ve also contrived, of late, to get human sociopaths to add thought and order to the search. The germs will return. We won’t be ready.”
Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, scripted by frequent Soderbergh collaborator Scott Z. Burns, is not about how human beings warp natural diseases to make weapons, but Huber’s quotation makes sense in this context: there are deadly diseases out there, and when they break wide into the human population we are going to suffer for our failure to properly prepare. When Contagion begins, we are already on day two of an outbreak that will spread worldwide and kill millions as governments struggle to stay ahead of the game. It’s an intense journey filled with human drama and is well worth your time.
I could stop my discussion of Contagion right there, but I’ll tell you more if you’re interested. In some ways, Contagion represents a contemporary take on the disaster film, a genre that exploded in the ’70s, but died out shortly thereafter. Thankfully it doesn’t descend into melodrama and self-parody like the most prominent disaster movies did, but it still borrows from the structure in ways you would recognize. First and foremost among them: an all-star cast. Contagion is full to the brim with recognizable performers, including Gwyneth Paltrow as Patient Zero, Matt Damon as her husband, Marion Cotillard as an infectious disease specialist, plus Kate Winslet and Laurence Fishburne and a whole slew of others.