Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people
not been restored?
“Death has come up into our windows,
it has entered our palaces,
to cut off the children from the streets
and the young men from the squares.”
Speak! Thus says the Lord:
“Human corpses shall fall
like dung upon the open field,
like sheaves behind the reaper,
and no one shall gather them.”
Jeremiah 8:22 & 9:21-22
Steven Soderberg (Erin Brocovich, Oceans 11) and screenwriter: Scott Z. Burns’ thriller boasts an ensemble cast and a globe-circling plot. The villain this time is not human, but a deadly virus that threatens to destroy humanity, or at least a major portion of it. Business woman Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), has just returned from Hong Kong to Minneapolis when she comes down with what at first seems like a minor illness. However, within two days she collapses, her body twitching, and her mouth fomaing. When the doctor reports her death, the husband Mitch (Matt Damon) cannot believe it. He is crushed even further when their little son also dies.
In Minneapolis, Chicago, London, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong people develop mysterious symptoms: coughs that wrack the body. Fever, soon followed by seizures, and brain hemorrhage quickly lead to death. At the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Deputy Director Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) directs researchers discover what it is causing the growing pandemic. From Geneva the World Health Organization sends Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) to Asia to uncover the source. Her scanning surveillance tapes of a casion and restaurant visited by Beth Emhoff gives the film the aura of a crime who-dunit.
In Chicago, as the disease spreads, people start to panic, much of this induced by rumors spread on the Internet by Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), an unscrupilous blogger who has gained a following by raising government conspiracy theories. Mitch, quarantined in a hospital, is anxious to get out so he can protect his college-aged daughter who has returned home. She feels guilty because she was not there when her mother and brother died. Even though plays Mitch, there are no false heroics, he representing the ordinary citizen victimized by the world-spanning contagion. He stands out because he was fortunate enough to be immune to the disease.
Although the large cast and episodic structure does not allow us to focus much on any one character, the film is exciting to watch—and chilling to see how jet travel contributes to the spread of disease and the Internet to the spread of almost equally deadly false rumors. In the time of Jeremiah the prophet such a plague was regarded as a sign of God’s wrathful judgment, but what about today? Some would still regard this as being the case, but the film suggests that there are a lot of complicating factors that the ancients never dreamt of. What do you think?
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