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Contagion, the movie

September 9th, 2011 · 9 Comments · Narrative, Serious overreach

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.

In this scene from Contagion, a paid Pharma shill lures children into an autism trap.



9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Sharon // Sep 10, 2011 at 1:05 am

    One of those times you wish actors would just stick to the script.

  • 2 Orac // Sep 10, 2011 at 5:32 am

    Well, Jude Law might be having some buyer’s remorse. He is into homeopathy and alternative medicine:

  • 3 Lisa R. // Sep 10, 2011 at 7:41 am

    Love the caption!

  • 4 Nathan // Sep 10, 2011 at 8:17 am

    I think you could make the argument that Jude saying he could have been “correct all along,” refers more to the idea that you don’t know until the end that he is completely wrong. In other words, in the context of the movie, you don’t know whether he is truly is a “villain” until the last act. Divining the meaning of language in interviews like that can be tricky.

    Haven’t seen the film yet, but I’m greatly looking forward to it.

  • 5 Liz Ditz // Sep 10, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Rather than crediting Law, I’d look to the scriptwriter Scott Z. Burns. Here’s one of many interviews.

    Q: Just to talk about that misinformation, I thought the character of Alan was absolutely fantastic, the character played by Jude Law. I’m curious if you think that he is drinking is own Kool Aid, or if he’s just an opportunist, seeing a chance and jumping at it. Or is it both?

    A: Well he was the last character that I created… . So I felt like I needed this other guy and as I started playing with him, I thought I want him to be right some of the time and wrong some of the time. I want him in moments to say things that I agree with. I wanted the audience to be a little bit uncomfortable with him because at times he looks like he might be some kind of zealot and at other times you hear him say things that seem very, very plausible. And he’s right once or twice. ..Jude completely got it and inhabited it and filled it with passion. I was really happy with the way he turned out.

    Ian Lipkin also had a lot of influence on the movie: 5 Questions for Ian Lipkin

    Q: Will people leave the film with a new perspective on the health care workers who fight pandemics?

    A: I certainly hope so. This film is a memorial to some of the people who died over the course of many years, from diseases from SARS to Ebola—people who put their lives on the line. The other thing is that we need more kids to go into science and engineering because, frankly, we haven’t made those kinds of investments. We’re trying to demonstrate that these people are the real heroes.

  • 6 EpiApril // Sep 11, 2011 at 5:20 am

    Wow, great review! I can’t wait to see the movie. And I don’t mind a few spoilers cause I already knew that vaccines save lives. :)

  • 7 Jackie // Sep 12, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    I wonder what listing Jude Law’s past characters has to do with this article? Are you trying to suggest that because he played a gay con man, an army deserter, and a robot gigalo that means he’s a corrupt person? He’s playing a character, just because he showed a tiny bit of empathy for the character he played, calls for digging up past characters he’s acted as, to discredit him?

    Perhaps you don’t have a clear understanding of the difference between fantasy and reality. Just because someone plays a villian in a film, doesn’t mean they’re one in real life. If you want to attack Jude Law’s character, then do that. Don’t bring up past fictional characters he’s played that, as if the people an actor portrays directly reflects on who they are as a person. That’s just ridiculous.

  • 8 Chris // Sep 12, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    Jackie, did you miss the word “versatile” that came in front of the list of characters Mr. Law played. I believe that was the most important part of the description. Get a dictionary and look up what it means.

  • 9 Prometheus // Sep 16, 2011 at 10:21 am

    I normally stay away from films about infectious diseases for much the same reason that I imagine police officers don’t go to cop films and doctors don’t watch doctor shows. However, with all the good reviews on science-oriented ‘blogs, I finally had to go.

    In short, I loved it. Finally, a film where the scientists and doctors aren’t the bad guys – or, at least, the clueless, dogma-bound idiots.

    I have to say that I have my own picks for who the Alan Krumwiede character is based on, but I imagine that he is actually a chimera of many of the top “alternative medicine” and “health-care freedom” loons.

    Like them, Alan Krumwiede can appear rational and can even parrot scientific jargon well enough to be mistaken for someone “in the know”. And like them, Alan Krumwiede is completely ignorant of his own ignorance. I did note that – like the “alt-med” and “health-care freedom” advocates, Mr.Krumwiede wasn’t completely fooled by his own eloquence – note the HazMat suit he wore.

    I suspect that, like Mr. Krumwiede, the “alt-med” enthusiasts won’t let their disdain for “Western medicine” keep them from life-saving “Western” medical care if the occasion arises.


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