August 29, 2013

CONTAGION Has Me Preparing For A Global Biological Crisis

"Someone doesn't have to weaponize the bird flu.  The birds are doing that."
Sunday was our last day in New York and sadly we didn't really get the chance to do much.  After another late morning we packed up our stuff and trekked back downtown in search of Gray's Papaya, only to be betrayed by Google Maps, which still listed a location near the bus stop that had long since closed.  Instead we grabbed a few slices of pizza across the street from Madison Square Garden and had some beers at a nearby patio bar before climbing back onto the bus and heading home once again.

Contagion marks the latest step in my impromptu mission to catch up on the rest of Steven Soderbergh's filmography.  (I've still got Che, Bubble, The Limey, Full Frontal and The Girlfriend Experience to go, among others.)  The movie was absolutely fucking terrifying in the worst way possible - unlike a psycho slasher movie, the events of Contagion feel not just disturbingly plausible, but bordering on outright prescient.  And for the record, watching Contagion on a bus from New York to Boston only augmented that terror - it's like watching United 93 or Flight while on an airplane.  As a result, I spent the next two days spitballing out my own epidemic contingency plans in the case of just such an outbreak.  I'm not about to become one of those doomsday preppers who starts stockpiling canned goods, but it never hurts to have a basic strategy in place.

First and foremost is location, location, location.  Major cities are pretty much a death sentence, giant peitri dishes that virtually guarantee infection given enough time.  Thankfully the disease from the film was propagated by touch or fluid exchange as opposed to being airborne.  If a disease like this goes airborne, we're screwed; makeshift plastic suits like the one Jude Law wears in the picture above will become the required fashion of the day.  But for a disease spread by contact, the first priority should be getting the fuck out of dodge to the most secluded spot you can find.  Living in Boston, there are two logical evacuation destinations: Vermont or Cape Cod.  (I 'm ruling out New Hampshire only because I have friends in Vermont and none in the 'Shire.)  Vermont is certainly remote - living on a mountain with the nearest neighbors located miles away is pretty much exactly what you want in a situation like this.  I suppose I'd have to learn to hunt, as grocery stores are few and far between in those parts, and I'd want to limit human contact anyway.  Besides, depending on how bad things get, there may come a point where I no longer trust the internal plumbing.  At the very least I'll have to get in the habit of boiling my drinking water.

Then again, Vermont might actually be too remote.  I feel like I'm exactly the kind of asshole who would fall down and break my leg and have no way to reach assistance.  Those issues would only become exacerbated over the long winters, when blizzards make the roads totally unusable.  On top of that, if I wait too long to make my move, the government will likely shut down the state borders, which is what happens to Matt Damon's character.  So the Cape makes a good alternative, especially since I've got family there.  Then again, if the initial outbreak goes down in the summer than I'll have to write off the Cape entirely, as the place is choked with tourists from May to September.  Maybe I could venture down to retrieve my family, but they're not even that far down the Cape which is both a blessing and a curse: it's less distance to travel but also far more crowded than I'd like, so it's not the kind of place I want to set up shop so long as tourism is still a thing.

Food and supplies become tricky.  I'll want to hit up stores early and often, but eventually that well is going to dry up.  At some point I'm going to have to ride the wave of looting, whether that means cleaning out my local Shaws and Home Depot or just busting into abandoned homes to gather up whatever I can find of use.  I'm not encouraging general lawlessness - we're not talking about carrying flatscreens out of a Best Buy, we're talking about food, duct tape, gasoline...survival tools.  And speaking of survival tools, at some point firearms are probably going to come into play.  I used to go to the shooting range near by apartment in Los Angeles, so I've fired a weapon before, but I'd hardly consider myself comfortable around guns.  Still, eventually I'm gonna have to protect myself against the infected, or even just some asshole who's trying to take my gear.  Here's hoping I'll have the resolve to do what's needed.  Either that or I need to find a friend who's got a better stomach for these things.  And let's just hope that I never find myself on the other end of that equation, attacking innocent people for their supplies.  Unlike some others, my first instinct would hardly be turning into a raiding bandit, but when push comes to shove there's no extreme too far in the face of starvation.

Paranoia also has the potential to become a serious non-biological threat.  Jude Law's character is a blogger who sees the writing on the wall after the first few documented deaths and, untrusting of the federal government and the CDC, is intent on spreading the word and advocating preparedness as well as the virtues of a natural supplement called Forsythia.  Law claims it's an effective treatment against the disease and that the CDC is refusing to sign off on its use because they're secretly working with pharmaceutical companies in order to profit off the disease.  As much as I hate to admit it, such a scenario does not seem all that far-fetched.  Certainly there comes a tipping point where the survival of the human race and of our global society becomes of paramount concern.  After all, dollars are useless in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.  But society never reaches that point in Contagion.  Tens of millions are killed worldwide, but law and order remains largely intact so that they never experience the kind of societal breakdown seen in something like The Walking Dead.  As long as that's true, it seems almost obvious that governments and drug companies would be working hand in hand not for the betterment of mankind, but to protect their own power structures.

In a way, Contagion is almost a best case scenario.  There's global devastation to be sure, but it's still considered somewhat manageable.  Once a vaccine is discovered, bracelets are issued to prove that you're not a threat.  The system remains in place, even if it is a bit worse for wear.  A disease like this could just as easily be far more lethal to the human race, moving through the air or water in such a way that any form of protection becomes less and less viable.  The final scene shows the actual genesis of the disease and it is alarmingly simple, the kind of naturally occurring freak accident that seems not so much a likelihood as an inevitability.  We may act like the masters of our domain, but eventually the Earth is going wipe away every trace of humanity, whether it comes in the form of a giant asteroid or a microscopic bacteria.

I say all the more reason to invest in space travel.

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Title: Contagion
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle, John Hawkes, Demitri Martin, Elliott Gould
Year Of Release: 2011
Viewing Method: Netflix DVD (Laptop on a bus)