In Contagion, Steven Soderbergh’s dark medical thriller about a viral pandemic, Jude Law plays Alan Krumwiede, a hyperventilating, overexposed anti-science blogger who convinces his 12 million “unique visitors” not to vaccinate. He also makes millions pushing a quack homeopathic remedy, and stalks a CDC scientist, tape recorder in hand.
Sound familiar? To those us who have been monitoring the real-life Krumwiedes, it’s obvious that Law spent some serious Google time to learn the anti-vaccine talking points.
“I don’t want to list anyone in particular,” Law told a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, when asked to cite a couple of influential anti-vaccine bloggers. “I’d rather people see it and draw on their own imagination, but yeah, I certainly looked at an awful lot of blogs, and bloggers who have been interviewed and who have made a bit of a name for themselves, who have become personalities. … I drew on a few and tried to create someone that seemed to fit that particular persona.”
I don’t blame Law for making us guess. After all, it’s not like millions of people really have to know. The universe of on-line watchdogs who keep track of this sort of thing is small compared to, say, tinikling dancers or Ed Wood fans. But then the versatile Jude Law, who has also played a Red Army sniper, robot gigolo, Confederate deserter, and a gay con man, said this:
“And yet, what was most exciting was that Steven (Soderbergh) didn’t want to judge him. He didn’t want him to necessarily be a bad guy … Maybe this guy was correct all along, who knows?”
Hey, Jude, did you see the final cut? Is there an alternative version edited for the Burmese straight-to-video market? The only way Law’s character could have been “right all along” is if Contagion Part Two reveals that the pandemic was all just a dream, and the opportunistic Krumweide’s homeopathic Chinese root saved mankind.
In what universe could Law’s character have been right all along? That’s like saying the captain in Jaws was right all along, or those zany high school kids in Nightmare on Elm Street 14 were right to investigate the strange noise coming from the abandoned slaughterhouse.
Soderbergh’s story leaves little room for ambiguity, which is the movie’s strength. It’s a morality tale for the age of the internet, when the outrageous good fortune of one con-man can slow medical progress. The last moments of the movie show that Krumweide was wrong: the virus was not man made. There was no conspiracy to sell vaccines or establish martial law. And vaccines work. Not to spoil the ending or anything.
Law’s vacuous spinning aside, I hope Contagion gets the attention it deserves. One good sign: the New York Times calls it “The most high minded disaster film ever made.” It does to Big Placebo and the anti-vaccine cabal what another Soderberg film, Traffic, did to the war on drugs, by stripping away pretense to expose the human vanity, ignorance, and wishful thinking that too often passes for what is real.