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S3: Shiell in great shape. I am.
S4: Lots of yo, yo, yo, yo.
S5: Hello and welcome to Slate. Spoiler special. I’m Sam Adams, a senior editor at Slate, and I’m joined today by staff writer Rebecca Onion. Normally we spoil new releases, but since there are no new releases this week, you’re spoiling the movie from 2011 that’s been climbing the i-Tunes rental chart Contagion. Steven Soderbergh pandemic movie has been receiving a lot of attention because of the movie’s parallels to the Corona virus outbreak. It is something that I had been putting off watching for a while and it sort of forced myself to watch last week. You did as well. Hello.
S2: Hello. I’m excited to talk about this, I think. Question mark.
S5: We’re both promote right now, as is everyone. How are you doing?
S2: Well, thank you very much for asking. I am in my bedroom and my 3 year old and my husband are right outside the door. So hopefully we will not be treated to a cameo, although maybe it’ll be fun. Who knows?
S5: How are you doing? I’m OK. I am likewise at home in my office. I have a 10 year old doing what they’re calling distance learning. We’re holding up OK. Lokey freaking out. Like every other person in the country watching Contagion. Yes, that’s right. When did you wash this? And you’ve been sort of wrestling with the idea of doing it. How did it play for you at this precise moment?
S2: Well, I first saw it when it came out. I have to say, I don’t know. I completely understand how people can feel like something like that is never going to happen to them, because for about a day after I saw it, when it first came out, I was like, oh, no. There’s gonna be some new virus that’s gonna be really bad. And everything seems terrible. And then I immediately push it to the back of my mind. It didn’t think about it again. I proceeded to have poor hygiene and not wash my hands and all the things that you’re supposed to learn from that were lost on me. I wash it again at the end of January to write about it for Slate. And there are some parts of it that made me think, oh, this didn’t wear very well. It’s not complex enough or something. But then it’s a movie. We can talk about all that. Obviously, it was still pretty terrifying. Perhaps more so. What about you?
S5: Like you, I saw it, you know, when it came out. I think I may have written about it. But it was something that I know people started talking, you know, probably in January about like rewatching Contagion. And I was just like, hell no. Like, why would I want to do that right now? But then we came up with the idea of me interviewing screenwriter Scott Burns, which I did last week, and is like, well, crap. Yeah, actually, you have to watch it now. Hear me out. So it kind of, you know, steeled myself, watched it, I think Monday or Tuesday of last week, maybe 48 hours before sleep started closing its offices because of the pandemic. You go back to what you said first. I mean, I watched it at the time, and I believe I’m fortunate enough not to put this into print. But I do recall thinking at the time one of the main funding agents for contagion is what’s called participant media, which is a sort of Jeff Skoll company that’s put up to sort of fund like socially conscious filmmaking. And that can be sort of a broad net. You know, the fiction stories usually have some sort of sort of social component of their men to kind of educate people. And I remember seeing this at the time being like, well, they really kind of stretch to the idea that this clearly isn’t about anything real or important that we need to pay attention to. That I think qualifies as one of the stupidest things I’ve ever thought. Certainly watching it now, I mean, the striking thing is it feels uncanny for a little while. You’re just watching it and just all these kind of terms that are coming up, the stuff about social distancing as mentioned in their film. Yeah. That’s the reason you touch your face. The idea of an hour not which is based on the number of people that an infected person can pass the disease onto. It’s all in there. And you think, oh, my God. Like, how did they see the future? And then you think, well, everybody who knows anything about this saw this coming. When I talked to Scott Burns, he did research where the number of experts in the field, people who are now self quarantining because they went to China to investigate the source of the outbreak. And Laurie Garrett, the author of a book called The Coming Plague Person Who Helped Wipe Out Smallpox. So they all knew and were saying this stuff about 10 years ago and he was doing the research. They’re like, well, yeah, I know you keep saying it’s going to happen, but it won’t happen. Like, will we find or will will handle with it? Long story short, too late. It’s like watching this now was very uncanny and weird. And of course, it’s like a little bit frightening, but also like weirdly comforting. Like one of the weird things about fiction is that even if it’s kind of realizing our worst fears, like you’re still sitting there not in a movie theater at the moment, but at home watching it. And you have that literal distance between you and the thing. And that sort of is helpful somehow.
S6: Yeah, well, at Eiseley makes me wonder because I mean, all those people that you mentioned who’ve been doing this for years have been writing about it and thinking about it for so long and trying to warn us, it’s like, OK. So this movie did scare people. I think when it came out, I mean, I remember that reaction being like, oh, no. Like people who are germophobe didn’t want to go in. People who weren’t want and then were kind of like super conscious for a little while about it. In a way, if the movie was intended to be like socially triggering in some way, it quote-unquote worked. But it makes me wonder whether any movie can really like teach a lesson of the magnitude that this movie was trying to get across. I don’t know. Like no amount of fear that you can get from a movie could move people in the way that they wanted to write them.
S5: And is something I think about a lot as a critic and someone who is kind of invested often into the kind of deeper messages in these movies, like does this stuff sort of actually work? I think you got to give people like a little push in the right direction, but they have to be sort of close to hearing the message. And I’m not even entirely sure many of the people in the US are there now and they definitely are in 2011.
S6: Yeah, you can measure this, but I have to wonder, like, to what degree like the same people who find this idea scary or the people who aren’t there now in some weird way, right? I’m just speculating. No data. I have to say, I feel like the way that the plot unfolds in this movie, the way that Gwyneth Paltrow’s character, Beth Imhoff getting the virus is kind of like a morality play in some situation, like she’s cheating.
S2: OK, so Gwyneth Paltrow, Beth Imhoff, as she is, has a small child, also has a job that takes her to Hong Kong.
S7: She goes to Hong Kong to open a factory for her company.
S8: And it’s there that she gets infected and she gets the virus when she shakes hands with a cook. We find out at the end, I think it’s a casino where she’s visiting with people from her work. And then on the way back to her home, which I think is in Milwaukee, she sleeps with a man that she had been sleeping with before she was with her husband.
S2: So in a way, there’s sort of this way that she gets what’s coming to her or something and like the logic of the movie. And I know there has to be some sort of story behind why a pandemic starts. But watching it again, I was like that just makes me uncomfortable a little bit like this woman is getting, like, super punished. No way.
S5: Yeah, there is a little bit of a sort of like Hollywood production code idea. Like people have to be punished for their sin. Yeah, that’s right. Whatever. One little piece of trivia that I think is interesting to mention there is that we never see the man that she has the affair with. Think yet? They meet in Chicago on the way home. We hear him on the phone and that is the voice of the director, Steven Soderbergh.
S2: Really? That’s funny.
S5: So that’s his little Hitchcock cameo in this movie. The very first thing we see or hear in this movie is the sound of Gwyneth Paltrow coughing over a black screen. We see her face is kind of shiny. She’s flushed. The movie is called Contagion. The poster on the way into the theater, if nothing else, like we know, she’s sick right away. And one of the things that the movie does so effectively like right from the beginning is it just stigmatizes the idea of touch. So she’s like sitting in an airport bar and the cameras are following like and pulling focus on her hands as they touch a little dish of peanuts in the bar. She has a credit card to another person, the cargo through the slot where, of course, the germs will linger and then be passed on to the next card and a person after that and so on and so forth. I watched this before. Social distancing had really kind of kicked in hard, hardcore. But I mean, one thing that I’m hearing from a lot of people, you know, it is true for me, too, even watching, I watched like the sequel to Babe last night. And even they are like, you’re just so aware in person, but just also even in fiction. Like every time we catch each other in a movie, I was like, oh, don’t don’t do that. And so this is a movie that just super wonderfully really paranoid about this. You just see, you know, Kowloon, I think, was a waiter at the casino. And then you see him, you know, his hand on the subway pole.
S9: You’re getting into like a credit elevator with people and you’re just hyper aware of all these little connections that we make with people in their very sort of crowded, modern world.
S8: And I believe that the CDC investigator played by Kate Winslet actually makes a little speech about face touching, which is another aspect of it, that at the time we didn’t sink in with me. And now I’m like, face touching. It’s all I think about it.
S5: I mean, we’re all like sort of, you know, full of, like, gallows humor. Right. My darkest joke. This is like natural selection’s way of like wiping out face touching. I mean, that seems to be kind of all of us. Yeah. Gwyneth Paltrow makes her way back home. Some of this we don’t see. So sort of the last montage of movies that have gone to a casino like, you know, blown on people’s diocese, they’re shooting crap. That’s right. Yeah. Like hugged people and shake hands with them and pastor glasses around and basically got her like Gwyneth germs all over the whole world. Yeah. So this thing starts spreading fast. It’s called, I think the M 1 virus, which is something they made up. It’s kind of based on a couple of different viruses that they researched like coronavirus. It’s thought to have originated in a bat. Then we see it being passed to a pig. So this is somewhere in the world. The wrong bat met up with the wrong pig and then got passed to humans. Though she makes it home to her husband, played by Matt Damon, their young son, who becomes like, I think maybe the second person in the movie to die from it. She just feels a little under the weather and then just kind of falls to the ground and starts seizing. She dies extremely quickly, I think, within like the first ten minutes of the movie. It’s sort of like a classic movie device that goes back, at least as far as Psycho, where you cast like this huge star in this big role at her face on the poster and then you kill him right away. And that’s just like a shock in every way that we can think of. And it is you don’t you don’t put Gwyneth Paltrow in your movie and then kill her. Yeah. Let alone, like, cut her skull open and peel back the skin to look at her like liquefied brain, you know, and it tells us, like, OK, this virus is like not fucking around. Like, it’s. Yeah, it’s not respecting the sort of the usual rules and movies where the more famous a person is, the more likely they are to survive to the end.
S2: Not only that, but when it’s I mean, I think at the time she didn’t quite have this goop ified reputation. I think she was just getting into doing all the cookbook and goop and supplements and all that sort of like wellness stuff.
S8: But watching it now, I’m like, oh, like, it really strikes the fear of God into you to see someone who’s like a sort of that shining avatar of purity get taken down so quickly by something.
S2: None of that green juice is helping her.
S5: Yes. And that’s basically right around when she was starting to make her way out of acting. I mean, I think she was doing it that she had all her various like ten minute appearances in various Avengers movies and stuff like that. I mean, her last lead was the movie she did before this country strong. And she really kind of hasn’t done one since.
S10: So this was almost sort of her like kind of announcing and killing off her movie career. I’m out of here as well. Yeah, yeah. My brain I’ve done.
S5: Yeah. So anyway, so she makes it home to her husband, played by Matt Damon, infects their son Clark, who I think is about eight I got. They both die very quickly.
S11: Yeah. I don’t like seeing that little kid die. It is dark. Yeah. I mean, they they spare us his death agony as we just kind of see him dead in his bed. Yes. And like, you know, vomit itself. That’s bad enough. Thank you very much. Yeah.
S12: But this is where we kind of discover that, you know, Matt Damon’s character is presumptively immune.
S2: I mean, I think that they’re trying to make him like the audience surrogate in a way and in a way where his immunity makes that interesting. Like, if I ever got too worried, I would always relax my mind by thinking, oh, well, Matt Damon will live through like it’ll be OK. Which is an interesting dynamic to introduce into your pandemic fiction, to have some people who don’t get it.
S5: There isn’t really a main character in this movie, but he’s the closest thing to an everyman. Like pretty much all the other regular characters are high level scientists. Some point the W.H.O. or or the CDC. You know, Matt Damon is just kind of like the shmo like muddling his way through this.
S11: Yeah. It’s a pretty good guy. It’s good to have him be like the one person you like. Don’t have to worry about in that. That’s right. Like there’s lots of other things to worry about. Yeah.
S2: Yeah. You feel a little sorry for him because his wife cheated on him and then died and then he finds out about it after she dies, which is pretty and bitter.
S5: Right. They say like you. Did she have any reason to have any contact with anybody in Chicago? And it’s clear they already know. Yeah. What the reason is.
S2: Kate Winslet, I think, has to tell them. And then he has to deal with his teenage daughter, who’s, I guess his daughter from a previous marriage. I think both kids are from previous marriages, but his teenage daughter is with him. And so he has to figure out how to, like, keep her in the house. And she has a boyfriend that makes that hard. So that’s even more of an every dad situation.
S5: Right. And there’s people who are both like trying to keep children at home as a lot of people are. I know that as a son of a bitch. And my daughter is not a teenager. Thank God for all sorts of reasons. But it does look really tough. I mean, the kids like sort of get what’s going on. But I mean, you’re seeing, I’m sure, the same stuff all over social media about these sort of groups have like idiot teenage boys like, you know, running around and like, you know, spitting on stuff and coughing on people because they all think it’s like a big joke to people in their 20s, like cramming bars over the weekend.
S13: And that’s one thing about the difference between this ennarah and contagion. And the scenario in our lives right now is that I think it’s MTV. Dash one is the name of the syndrome that you get in the same way that we have coronavirus. It’s giving people covered. People are getting ME1. I believe that that’s supposed to be like a twenty five percent mortality rate or something or like they say 20 to 30. Yeah. So the fear that people had in the movie is different from like the healthier younger people right now are social distancing to be kind. Hopefully, hopefully that becomes more of a widespread thing, you know, whatever other measures that are taken to make it socially encouraged to do. But in contagion, people are scared because if you get it, you might probably die. I don’t believe that there is a age.
S5: I don’t think that issue comes up in it at all. Seems to be kind of an equal opportunity killer. Right.
S13: So like if you’re a kid could get coronavirus and die, we would feel differently. There would be a different balance to it right now. I mean, I’m plenty scared because of the people there are going to be affected and also because of the economy. But I’m not like personally scared in the same way that people are in this movie.
S5: It’s been very interesting for me. You know, both their symptoms, watching and thinking about it and also talking it over with gut burns, the writer. Clearly, there are things about this virus in the movie that are much worse and things are now you mentioned. I mean, this kills, you know, 20 to 30 percent. It starts off with an not of two, which is roughly what we think it is percovich 19. And then it jumps at some point. They don’t say to what, but they just say, well, we we have a new ANA. It’s not true anymore. And presumably it’s much higher. Yeah, it moves much faster. It’s much deadlier. Part of that is scary, but it does doesn’t like kind of dramatic. And it’s weird to think of one of the issues we’re having with Cauvin 19. One of the reasons it’s been so difficult for us to kind of socially mobilize against it is because it’s so undramatic. Yeah, in a way like this two week incubation period is just from like a virus propagation standpoint, like kind of the masterstroke because we just we can’t think that far.
S13: Yeah, that’s why people are making the climate change analogy. Right. Like it’s like the thing that we’re doing now that’s gonna hurt us in two weeks and we can’t even deal with curtailing our activities now for in service of two weeks, let alone curtail our activities now in service of 20 years or 30 year.
S5: It’s really striking to think that like one of before Scott Burns, you wrote this like his first screen credit was as a producer on An Inconvenient Truth. Oh, really? Yeah. So I got a measure that Jim is a guy. You’re like, yeah, that’s all I could think about. So I know the pandemic is kind of catching on at this point. People are starting to realize it’s going on. And this is where we introduce most of the movie’s other characters who, as I mentioned, are mostly doctor types. CDC epidemiologists. So we have Merrion Coat Yards character. Who is from the W.H.O.? We have. Fishermens character who is from the CDC, we have Kate Winslet, who is sort of a epidemiologist and they’re all sort of fighting the disease from different angles, differing in his character, who is the kind of lab rat scientist like searching for a vaccine. We have all these hyper competent people coming in to take care of the virus. And that’s like very comforting in a way. I mean, they’re the ones who are saying, you know, this is really bad. Like this is about it is it’s getting worse. And that’s all freaky. But they do know what’s going on. And then the one real contrast to that is this great sort of scummy character played by Jude Law, Ellen Cromartie, who is a blogger.
S8: I’m obsessed with both how like on point that Jude Law character is and how insufficient this is for what was actually going on right now for us. It’s like such a 2011 character. I feel like to be like, oh, a blogger. Like they can write anything they want. No editor is like holding them in. So you first see him at the beginning before everything starts trying to pitch an editor. He’s failing to get a commission that Atter says like we don’t have any money for her right now. I’m sorry. He is sort of like off the rails for the rest of the movie and is online lying about having the disease, lying about carrying it with a thing called for Sathya, which is some kind of homeopathic treatment that he’s also selling and and involved secretly behind the scenes and trying to basically manipulate markets for then even at one point in the development of the movie. He even like runs into his old editor on the street and she begs him for force at the ad because she’s really sick. And it’s all sort of like he ascends up through this chaos to a higher and higher point. He even gets to appear on TV opposite the head of the CDC at one point. And basically this call up and I make is like super great for him until it’s not at the end, but for a while it really works for him.
S5: The movie is kind of giving us the point of view that like even the paranoids are right about one thing sometimes. Yes. Yes. Kind of conspiracy theory. Bloggers slash sort of failed journalists. I think it’s. Yeah, but the Sun-Times newsroom that we see him in the beginning, I think a genius article. Yeah. In person for some reason because that’s you know, it freelancers always do is just show up at your office. And it definitely works. And they’re like, no, we don’t think so. And he started out as the print media is dying. Then he goes online and starts talking about his two million unique users trying to get people to pay attention. So he is one of the first people to see this virus taking root and start spreading the word about it. But he is, of course, kind of only interested in raising the alarm. He’s not actually dealing with all the facts. He’s just kind of becomes drunk on this. By the end, his audience for his website has gone up to like twelve million or something like that. In the end, as you mentioned, he starts hawking this herbal supplement called Forsythia, which he claims can help people get over the virus. And we find out at the end, it’s a little ambiguous for a while and then we find out definitively he just straight up like fakes having the virus. He’s doing these kind of, you know, video logs. So he’s telling people like, I’m really sick and I’ve got it now and I’m taking forsythia. And then later, it’s like I’m fine. Yeah. Yeah. He gets kind of arrested. And it turns out that he completely lied about having the virus because they do like a blood test and he doesn’t have any of the antibodies to it. And B, that he has been, you know, sort of selling forsythia on the side. And he’s made, you know, like a million dollars. Hawking it as well. Hmm.
S8: At the end, it’s like he’s gonna get punished, like he gets taken by government agents, which is like another aspect of this movie. That’s very morality tale. It’s like that worked out.
S5: One of the things that’s interesting about this movie is, you know, because it’s about a pandemic spreading over the place, it has a kind of conspiratorial like air to it. It’s about this kind of terrible thing happening. And it’s alarmist is telling us, you know, this could happen any moment. But it is also the movie is a deeply, deeply institutionalist and a lot of ways. So it really is about, you know, the CDC will save us. The W.H.O. will save us. There will be bad bloggers who are bad because they’re not part of an established newspaper. Maybe they’re right about things, but they’re also like unreliable. And at the end, like a law will come back in and punish them, you know? Yeah.
S2: Yes. And men in black will be here to take him away. Yes.
S5: Women, it’s really scary to me, is not the places in which the movie is worse, but the places in which the movie is better. Yeah. The federal response in this movie is so much more competent and inspiring than what we have seen in the US so far.
S7: I mean, there’s little like moments that are seated throughout it that sort of make you distrust the government response a little bit like the time when that Alan Krummy character challenges Laurence Fishburne as Alice Cheever on live TV about the fact that he warned his fiance ahead of time to get out of town. He gave her privileged information. And then there’s one other instance where. Alice Schieber character is trying to get the Kait ones like character Aaron Meirs out of town when she gets sick. He’s trying to like fly her out of town to give her hospital treatment. And the flight gets taken by a senator who basically, like Bigfoot’s, her out of her treatment and she ends up dying.
S8: But those two exceptions aside, all the government actions are great and they work pretty well. And it ends up sort of, as you say, being a movie that cedes a lot of trust in the government’s public health efforts.
S5: I guess it is really a movie that sort of puts his faith in, I guess, for lack of a better word, kind of middle management. Yeah, I think it was a Soderbergh I was reading an interview with and he was saying they made themselves rules for this movie as Scott Burns is right to get in. One of them was like, this is gonna be a disaster movie or we don’t see the president. I mean. So that sort of upper echelon, we don’t see there’s no senators or presidents or governors or any of those sort of upper echelon people in it. And we get sort of vague wind, you know, as you mentioned, that, you know, cute Windsor’s character gets denied a flight like a one plane with an isolation. Yes. That they could fly to a treatment center because some, you know, senator has to come back from somewhere. She can’t get on it. And then that’s the last flight before they ground all air traffic. So she’s just stuck. Yep. And then she eventually dies. So, yeah, you know, we definitely the sense that like the upper levels of government are not doing what they could be or certainly not like giving anybody any hope in these dark cabs. But the people whose job it really is specifically to deal with this kind of thing are dealing with this kind of thing.
S13: That’s right. The other thing is that the way the vaccine gets found, it’s a research scientist, basically sort of like taking it upon himself to break the rules and uses a method to grow the cells that the CDC had said, don’t do this.
S6: So he basically sort of take matters into his own hands. This is the and that’s my character, that Elliot Gold’s character. Right. And then Ali Hextall, who’s played by Jennifer Ealy, who’s a scientist with the CDC, she develops a vaccine using this cultured cells and she gives herself the vaccine to test herself. So that’s another instance in which it’s like these people are really brave. But I’m also like, who am I hoping that there are people out there like breaking the rules to do this right now? Like, is that what I’m hoping? You know, I don’t know. Like, it makes it seem like, oh, they wouldn’t have found a vaccine unless these two people who again, it’s like they’re not like fancy famous people. They’re just like scientists in the bureaucracy who have decided to do something a little bit out of the lines.
S5: Right. And that’s a sort of startling contrast with this is about a week ago, the article that ran in The New York Times saying that there was an effort sort of early on in Seattle to test a bunch of samples because they had just been, I think, doing a study on like a flu study on people. So they had all these things that they could have tested to see if people were carrying covered in part because of HIPA and like medical confidentiality rules and because they their samples hadn’t been drawn for that purpose. And they were just told like, no, don’t test them if you’re testing, stop and those laws are in place for a reason, yadda, yadda. And that was a place where at least this land of the article was like there was a place where bureaucracy just like purely got in the way of something that could have stopped. But I think it’s going to the worst spread in the country right now.
S2: Yeah. Seattle. Yeah, but it’s hard because it’s like, well I’m I’m rooting for. Yeah. I guess it’s a movie problem. A movie problem and depicting a pandemic. I mean like like you say, Soderbergh is trying really hard to show. This is like a web of people who are being heroic together. Kind of. But then in the end, the people who break through it are the ones who do something that they probably shouldn’t have or maybe they should have. Who knows?
S5: Is there a moment in a movie that really, like, struck home for you or felt particularly sort of resonant or chilling or the scenes at the field hospitals?
S6: I think Kate Winslet, the Aaron Mears character, is in Minneapolis or Chicago, and there is field hospitals being built in stadiums. The scenes in the field hospitals were just like, I hate seeing that.
S2: I mean, on the one hand, it’s like hopefully we build something like that because apparently we’re not going to have enough. I see beds and ventilators for everybody, but just seeing everyone laid out in lines like that. It just that’s really upsetting. Hard to see right now. Right.
S12: It’s characteristic of the movie and also very much like Steven Soderbergh, who’s just can be like a ruthlessly economical filmmaker. I mean, I know this is a movie. I think he said there were the most versions of this movie than anything he’s ever made. He had like 20 different cuts of it.
S5: Oh, really? There’s a huge lacuna in it where Mary Courtyards character, who’s this W.H.O. doctor gets basically kidnapped and taken to this Chinese village and hellish passage until they can deliver a vaccine to them. And she disappears from the movie for like half an hour. And then you come back to her and she’s just like teaching the kids there and had sort of settled into Life Village. And that’s all kind of stuff that they shot that they then just completely cut out of the movie. So it places this really kind of like sort of daring narrative jump. Could it actually. An editing decision, yeah, that they made, but one of those cuts that especially is hard for me is striking. Powerful is Kate Winslet in the armory where they’ve said it was Field Hospital and you see her kind of coughing and sweating. And then at some point later, there’s just as direct cut to her face, like wrapped in a plastic bag and duct taped and just being put into this, like, mass grave that they’ve dug outside. Yeah, you hear this voice over like, you know, how many days you go to be run out of body bags or something of that. But just this kind of stark brutality of, you know, Gwyneth Paltrow kind of gets like a death scene and whatever. But Kate Windsor’s character, she’s like dead. Yeah. That is one thing that feels very realistic to an epidemic like this is like you just stop having time to even kind of take stock of individual deaths. Like it’s just the bodies are coming so fast that just after, like, register and move on.
S2: Yeah. Reading the accounts from the doctors in Italy, just thinking about that, like the point at which it becomes just like that’s a blunt themselves against thinking too much about it because it’s just like ongoing. I really am. I mean, who knows what’s gonna happen? Like, I have no idea. But I just I’m thinking like I just like wonder what is gonna happen for our own, like, process of mourning for this. Like whether any Americans are like that. How’s that going to be?
S12: All right. Another movie that’s really striking for me is I guess there’s a whole thread in the movie that kind of culminates at the end. But there is this whole issue with Matt Damon’s character and his teenage daughter, you know, as you mentioned, has this boyfriend, but keeps kind of wanting to sneak out and see him. There’s one point where they’re making snow angels in the back and then he rolls on top of it that’s about to kiss her.
S5: And that comes out of like chases them away like a sort of, you know, scandalized Victorian father.
S10: I mean, they’re kind of annoying.
S5: Teenage daughter in these scenarios. I think back to like, you know, the early seasons of 24 and stuff like, oh, yeah, you’re kind of infuriating, like stock character. It’s always like, oh, you’re so stupid and you just want to do things according to your motion. We don’t have to be serious and compartmentalised and whatever. But I think it is actually done well in this movie. And she is the smart character who is nonetheless like a smart teenage girl and like has the feelings that a teenage girl has and doesn’t want to just like give up this whole portion of her life, doesn’t want to die without having, you know, kissed a boy or had sex or whatever gets to the point or whatever. You do that. Yeah. This is basically end of the movie. But after they sort of start rolling out, this large scale vaccine was they’ve discovered it and they allocate it by birth dates, which I think is an idea that just came straight out of like the pandemic response playbook. Like if it ever gets to the point where there like mass vaccinating people, that seems like the most kind of evenhanded way. He gets his little vaccine bracelet and he comes over and they have this sort of mock prom in their living room with the two of them, because that’s you know, the gatherings of two are still allowed at that point, I guess. But it has maybe think of it, especially as, you know, parents and doing a lot of other parents with kids of different ages.
S9: It’s just all about all the little holes that this thing is kind of punching in people’s lives.
S5: I mean, they’re probably going to be much bigger ones quite soon. Yeah. Right now, it’s just, you know, school plays and swim meets and middle school graduations and all these little things that are gonna be like taken away from kids who don’t get those back. I mean, I’m very curious, like what the effect is gonna be on me, I guess, as well. But like, it’s gonna be on people who are just at this really formative stage of their life and that’s.
S11: Yeah. Have a lot of questions.
S2: It has me thinking a lot about friendships and romantic relationships among like people who are, you know, between 15 and twenty five or whatever, which it’s like for me and you. I mean hopefully our marriages won’t break out because of this. I mean, I guess, you know, it felt like I don’t know, like our relationships are pretty stable, but when you’re between 15 and twenty five, like, I feel like it’s like every day changes your relationship to our people. And I keep thinking about them all, like all the people who I have just been started to flirt with someone. And then, you know, it’s like in your house for three weeks. I mean, they do have social media, though. Is that right?
S5: It’s you get social media. We got sexting, that video chat. There’s creative ways around.
S2: Yeah. Yeah. And in fact, actually, I do believe that the data and contagion. We don’t see her as sexting, but she is texting constantly with this book, which is so 2011.
S5: One aspect of the movie that we haven’t sort of really talked about yet, because I think for me it’s the least strong. Maybe you’ll agree it up. It is the sort of walking dead aspect, sort of. Society crumbling. So we have, you know, not just kind of runs on the stories, but people, you know, smashing bad windows to, you know, like Ray, TMZ, we have there’s a scene where Matt Damon is kind of looking out his window through the windows of the house across the street at night. You see these two flashes and these two cops have gunfire. We never find out. What have you done there? You know, society goes to pieces and we enter this sort of time of the wolf scenario, which is I mean, that’s a sort of constant dystopian fiction. May go on when we get there that in a way kind of seems like the least likely here and part of it.
S2: Yeah. Now I know what you mean. I think of that scene in the pharmacy whenever it’s like crashing the counter or trying to get force at the lake. I believe that’s what they’re there for and kind of like. No, we’re not gonna stand in line anymore. We’re gonna like scream and yell. I mean, again, if it were a 20 to 30 percent mortality rate and it affected children and young people, I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe it would be like that. I do agree with you, though, that I think for a filmmaker, it’s like too tempting to do this. Like you have the scene where Alan crÃme lady is like out in a biohazard suit going up and down the streets in San Francisco.
S7: And there’s like trash everywhere and like paper blowing in. Like just everything is like a complete and total mess. It’s like too visually appealing not to do or something that’s kind of, you know, the price you pay like.
S5: Steven Soderbergh is very much a kind of one for me, one for them. Filmmaker And that’s often true even within movies, kind of scene by scene. So that’s sort of like the price you pay for having a scene where like Kate Winslet gives a lot of speech about.
S8: So yeah, that’s that’s right. I feel like we should talk more about the disinformation aspect of this movie. It strikes me so much about it is that there’s only one source of disinformation seemingly.
S6: Maybe there’s others that we don’t see. And that’s just like the narrative thing. Like it feels so before times to me to only be worried about like one person that if we just stamp out Alan Crumb wady, then like everything will be fine and everyone will like believe the authorities. Whereas now the information landscape that we’re looking at, we’re already so poisoned and confused about what is real and what’s not in the news.
S2: And now we have this situation where it’s just like a million different factors in a million different people with a million different motivations who are doing things. And then you add the presidential election in and it’s just like such a mass that I don’t even know. Like if you were gonna have someone try to write a movie about the disinformation related to this outbreak. I don’t think you could represent it fairly. I don’t know. What do you think? I do agree that it’s not it’s not a documentary. Anderson, no.
S5: Well, it’s not a sort of like a TV screens movie. Like it’s not one in which we’re sort of constantly checking in with like what CNN is reporting, the other, which is fine. Like there are plenty of those movies. That’s sort of the more common disaster movie. Like, you know, Godzilla trope or whatever it is, or he’s writing the as you say, it’s just as one kind of rogue person who’s out herself. Interest in that does feel very 2011. That does not field now, which like the Allen crime weeds are on, you know, primetime. They’re on major networks. They are the president of the United Gess saying that we’ve got this other control. They are. That’s right. Of New York saying that like he can’t spread the disease if you don’t have symptoms. Right. I like things that are lies that they are saying that authority figures are saying in public, you know, it’s not just like rogue bloggers is the absolute top of the information food chain. The people who should be giving us the clearest information and telling us what to do are actively spreading things that aren’t true. Yeah, that feels like a whole different movie. George Orwell, Paul Verhoeven type dystopia. I can see why mixing that with, you know, is supposed to be a very realistic like fact based account of this would be difficult, but it is another way in which contagion feels like sort of a better developed best, at least a better case scenario than what we’re dealing with now. Really? That is truly frightening.
S6: Yeah, it is truly frightening. I think I’ve been struck so much in the past couple of weeks, like people trying to calibrate, like how afraid to be or what amount of panic is like responsible amount of panic and what amount of panic is beyond the pale. And it’s been very complicated for us by the fact that our president and the people who support him have persisted in trying to tag panic as liberal or something like who is panicked? It’s become like a partisan thing. And the idea that crÃme Wady is like creating panic and that that’s bad. Those of us who considered ourselves to be like a little bit educated or whatever about how one should act during an emergency situation. It’s like very tempting. And I have older relatives, I love them who have been doing this, who will say like, oh, I don’t want to be hysterical about this, which is like in some way like a sober position that this movie is also trying to take. Like Krumm Wady is like the one who’s selling hysteria. And that’s undesirable, but in our situation. And we sort of like a little bit more hysteria.
S5: Yes, it’s just complicated, the line that I keep thinking of and this is an entirely unrelated and different movie. But there’s a line from the Coen Brothers movie, Miller’s Crossing, where Debra Burns character, who’s kind of like the right hand man, you know, fixer to this mob boss, played by Albert Finney, says, I worry less if I felt like you were worrying enough.
S10: Yeah. And that phrase it like I’m undoubtedly, like, worrying too much. Yeah, I’m sorry, I am.
S5: But I see so many people not worrying enough. Yeah. You know, and just sort of in my like high information little bubble that I live in, but just kind of around my city and around the country like this social distancing. And also it’s not something you can balance out. Like if if I do it more and someone else says at least it bounces out. Yeah. Doesn’t work that way like everybody to get to a certain level. Yeah. It also probably doesn’t include like people who listen to this podcast. Why not? Slate readers are probably just as educated and therefore like paranoid and freaked out as we are.
S11: And if you’re not, you should be. Yes. Save a life. Get someone to listen to the spoilers. That’s right.
S5: That is like one of the striking things about this movie is that illustration of panic. And that is one of the things that feels wrong or like miscalculated to me. Like we’re just at the point now as we record this on Monday where you could see this coming days ago. I mean, I I did. I mean, that restaurants are now kind of finally being shut down and going take out only. And I feel like it’s just a matter of days before that goes from, hey, I want to get like pho from the Vietnamese place on the corner to like, I’m going to get like, you know, fancy takeout from the best restaurant in town. A sort of a majo king. It’s only a matter of time until someone’s like you can get like an on the causeway is like 18 separate from the freezer or something like that. Like the social stratification friend of I mentioned the J.G. Ballard novel High Rise, which is really about how kind of class differences like just they don’t, like, disappear. It’s not like, oh, everybody’s the same. And the situation is like, no, they just get more intense. And I feel like as we become at least for a little while, we have more of a kind of, you know, high end like delivery driven society and prices on things are going up and, you know, really suggesting it, you know, tip your delivery person. Twenty five percent or whatever else. Like, it’s just I feel like those stratifications are just going to kind of amplify and become more intense. Mini series version of Contagion to get a job. That is one of the places where I feel like the movie doesn’t really. Get at some of what I think.
S7: Yeah, no, I agree. When it comes to the people who don’t who are in the know in this movie, there’s not very many of them. I think it’s just Matt Damon, really, the other people that you meet through him like his daughter and the boyfriend and stuff like that. Guess also the editor. Parmly is editor. And those people are just all like universally panicked and afraid and throwing paper in the streets and litter and stuff. And as you say, there’s not really an examination of how this is affecting different kinds of people differently.
S5: Right. There’s no scene in this movie where someone has to, like, call up their grandparents and beg them to, like, stop watching Fox. All right. Feeling the way to deal with this is like, be brave and keep going.
S2: Yeah. Now, you don’t need to go to the bakery. It’s like.
S5: And then like the virus is not interested in stoicism. Now, I feel like you’re sort of, you know, are kind of Anglo Saxon like, you know, don’t let Hitler win like blitz spawns. Reactions are really just precisely wrong for this scenario.
S8: We need to be accessing the don’t buy flour. I don’t buy bacon. Parts of those were Wati sacrifices. Instead of I’m going to go to a foxhole and die. It’s part of the sacrifice. Yes.
S5: We continue doing our little pandemic movie club here. Maybe we’ll talk about a week or two. Maybe some of the time. Oh, yeah. So one of the things that I’m curious to hear from you, Rebecca, is basically how having watched this movie made you feel. Because as I mentioned, I was very reluctant to rewatch it. It was basically like I would sooner, like, jump out a window than like marinate in like a fictional pandemic for a while. But I suddenly weirdly comforting. And that’s partly just because of like it’s fiction, like it’s a distance, like it’s nice to, like, pay attention to some other deadly virus for a little while. But it is also because I mean, I do remember the final death toll is permitted pretty big immediately. I think millions of people die in the movie. It’s a stretch to say that it’s like a happy ending. Exactly. But it is one in which, like normality is restored at the end, they find a vaccine. The government gets it under control. They set up this vaccination program. You know, Matt Damon’s daughter gets to go to her prom, etc. I find that weirdly comforting in a way. And I’m wondering if you had a similar experience.
S7: I definitely had a similar experience. I mean, I’m thinking about the interaction between the Laurence Fishburne, head of the CDC, Dr. Cheever character, and there’s a custodian at the CDC who’s played by John Hawkes, who’s like my favorite actress. I mean, he had like two scenes at the beginning of the movie. They have an interaction. And John Hawkes makes the point that, you know, he has a kid, too. And so he’s worried about what’s going to happen to this kid. And so he is sort of like eavesdropping to try to get information because he’s like so nervous about it. And then at the end of the movie, Dr. Cheever ends up giving somehow through having pulled strings, I think giving the vaccine to the John Hawkes character and his kid. And they’re shaking hands and talking about how important shaking hands is for like social cohesion, because it evolved as a custom where people shake hands to show that they don’t have a weapon in their hand. Which I wonder if that’s true.
S10: It probably is something that probably is going to add value as our sort of historical if that’s accurate.
S2: I don’t know. I feel like Steven Soderbergh is someone who would check, but maybe not. I’m not sure. But anyway, that interaction, I’m like, okay, great. Like, this guy was very worried.
S7: Now he’s not worried anymore. He’s got the vaccine and all the like. Bond’s going to be netback together. And pretty soon he and Dr. Cheever will be like bullshitting about Atlanta, like baseball teams or whatever they talk about at the beginning. And everything will be pretty much OK. Which I know it’s a movie and it has to do that. But it seems a little cheesy to me. So, yeah, I don’t think it makes me feel better or worse. I feel like things in real life are both were in a worse situation in some ways and then a less scary situation in other ways. And I just don’t feel like the movie has that much relevance to our situation in a way.
S5: Anyway, I think one of the moments that I keep going back to is the lesson that Jennifer Aley character was a virologist who eventually ends up, you know, she has this vaccine developed and needs to go into human trials. Not surprisingly, no one seems to want to volunteer for that. So she ends up injecting it into herself. Science will save us all. She is fine, right? And then that ends up getting mass-produce and saving people. And then you have her and you mentioned John Hawkes. And one of the things that’s amazing about this movie is just like every role is filled by some maybe even out at the time, but now recognizable. So she has like this, you know, assistant at the Catholic two or three lines that he’s played by, you know, the comedian and future Daily Show correspondent Dimitri Murga. That’s right. And it just goes to be true, Martin. In this movie, which I was not something I would have said in 2011, but so they go and they open up the little deep freeze where they have, you know, their samples of H1N1 and Saad’s and then take the m.e.b. one sample and put it into the deep freeze, you know, where they just like save it for future study or whatever. But it’s that very like, OK, this is put away now.
S13: Like it’s. Yes. Handle. That’s right.
S5: You know, it’s not going to escape and things start to go back to normal. I would really like to be able to like fast forward to reality and find it when that point comes for us. Great. And another way in which the movie feels a little more optimistic, because we don’t I mean, constantly movie deals with it all. But basically this assumption is that when the starts that we’re kind of everything is kind of like normal until this happens, we’re not like already in like twelve different crises. Yeah. When the virus hits.
S2: That’s what I mean when I say it’s like both like a scarier situation in the movie because of the mortality rate and a less scary situation because they’re not entering into this from a perspective of deep confusion. The way that we are.
S14: All right. Well, I think that about covers it, Rebecca. Thank you so much. That is our show. Please subscribe to clips for their special podcast, Feed. And if you’d like to show these rate review at the Apple podcast store, wherever you get your podcast, your suggestions for movies or TV shows, we should spoil or if you’ve any other feedback you’d like to share. Please send it to spoilers at Slate.com. If you enjoyed this flashback to an older movie, you should also know about our Slate Plus podcast about classic and older movies, which is conveniently named Flashback, posted by Slate’s own Dana Stevens, along with Vanity Fair’s movie critic Chaos Collins podcast features the two of them flashing back to a creature thousands movie every two weeks, re-evaluating the film stance today. So far, they’ve visited movies like Kramer versus Kramer, Silence of The Lambs, The Magnificent Ambersons hit over the slate that Tom Slash flashback to sign up for Slate Plus and subscribe to the podcast.
S15: Our producer is Rosemary Bellson. Rebecca Onion and Sam Adams. Thank you for this.