Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"Contagion" a joy of paranoid delusions

A recent rain-soaked weekend saw TJ and I in the theater, plopping down matinee prices to see Matt Damon, Kate Winslet and Jude Law worry their way through 106 minutes of pandemic in "Contagion."

If you haven't bothered to see it yet, here are the basics: Unknown disease starts popping up all over the globe, killing people at an obscene rate, leaving the CDC and WHO dumbfounded as to how to stop it. It lacks the climatic tipping point of other disease-thrillers, instead choosing a deliberate, slow swell to the credits. It's not a fast-paced movie, but the trio of plot lines keeps things interesting. It's "Outbreak," but it's missing Cuba. And the monkeys.

This movie is not about how the virus was created, how it's going to be cured or individual stories of heroism and virtue. You get the impression the filmmakers didn't care much about that. There are a lot of characters who aren't fully explained and a lot of plot twists that are left untwisted.

As blogger Alan Krumwiede, Jude Law is the (incredibly annoying, pompous and arrogant) "voice of truth" to the people. Krumwiede is the one who sees it all coming.

The character is your classic conspiracy theorist (the kind that makes post about government efforts to create a race of zombie caterpillars popular). He spends the first portion of the film accusing the government of withholding the cure — saying they know exactly what the disease is, exactly how to fix it, but won't because they have to a) Protect some sort of biological warfare (wrong movie, dude). or b) Just don't feel like it. He says he has the super special cure — Forsythia, a compound that is often mentioned but never explained.

As scientists move to find a cure and create a vaccine, Krumwiede's call changes. Now, the government is rushing things. Injecting people with a vaccine that could cause cancer in 10 years. They are moving too quickly, putting the world's health at risk, working to promote special interests, save their friends first and bolster the bottom line of the pharmaceutical company.

Krumwiede — along with many independent,"truth-seeking" bloggers — is a shepherd boy, crying wolf into the night.

Driven only by the push for growing his "12 million individual page views," and his pocketbook, Krumwiede calls foul at everything. How can you accuse the government of withholding treatment and then be angry when treatment is given? Are there risks associated with a new vaccine that we won't know for decades? Absolutely. But he'd be bitching and moaning should the government allow millions more to die while they do clinical trials.

In bed with the Forsythia folks, Krumwiede's bottom line grows, he helps incite panic and mistrust and his own cocky sense of self swells to irritating heights.

Conspiracy theorists fall prey to the psychological concept of confirmation bias. In layman's terms, Krumwiede has a set of beliefs about the world, and based on that set he sees proof everywhere he goes. He sees what he wants to see — that which upholds his world view. Democrats, Republicans and conservative religious folk often do the same. And it never matters how many other contradicting facts there are.

Are there government conspiracies out there? Yeah, probably. Don't trust the government. But don't trust self-important jackasses, either. They are always promoting some hidden agenda. Their kind of paranoia can spread like a new disease, and we don't have a cure for stupidity.

Threat level: YELLOW. It's a fine movie, but you won't miss out not seeing it in theaters and there is little suspense to even earn it the title of "thriller."

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