The 8 Conscious Lessons of Contagion

Will you survive a pandemic?

Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion opened last weekend to reviews written by the glow of a thousand hand-sanitizer chemicals. This medical thriller tells the story of a lethal pandemic sweeping the globe as the medical community fights for a cure. Meanwhile, everyone else fights for truth, justice, and the American way – if the American way means bureaucratic angling for a vaccine while pharmaceutical companies count dollar signs from bunkers 50 feet below the surface of the earth.

Soderbergh taunts us again and again with a question that feels uncomfortably realistic: what would you do in a pandemic? Would you hunker down in your shed next to a stack of Twinkies with a shot-gun trained at the door, would you live-blog the event from your dark apartment promoting FTC-compliant homeopathic cures, or would you maintain your dignity while heroically saving the world and the last Rhesus Monkey with disturbingly gentle eyes?

Contagion offers us several lessons of conscious living in the event of a global medical crisis. Lessons of truth, lessons of sacrifice, and lessons of amazing skin tone achieved through truth and sacrifice. We’ve listed them below with spoilers. Lots of spoilers.

Handsome bloggers with questionable teeth speak the truth while the government lies. (Or do they?)
When we first meet Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), he is a “freelance journalist” storming out of the offices of the San Francisco Chronicle when they won’t cover his blog about a strange death on YouTube. (Law’s handsome looks are made blogger-real by a prosthetic snaggle-tooth.)

His character becomes a paranoid prophet to 12 million followers as he searches for the truth. But is Krumwiede really the ultimate conscious writer bound to integrity? Only his fake tooth knows the truth.

Bottled water will not save you.
Environmentalists go on and go and on about the evils of bottled water. “The plastic makes baby dolphins cry” and “The water isn’t cleaner than your tap.” All true. But as bottled water is snatched off shelves in this movie by panicked mobs, virus germs start flying about the grocery store like winged wee-beasties gunning for any visible mucus membrane.

Meanwhile, one can only assume the conscious-living folk are safely at home, sipping their tap water out of stainless-steel BPA-free containers.

Neither will hand-sanitizer.
Sure, no one listens to you when you spout about the dangers of overusing hand sanitizers. Triclosan, its main ingredient, may help create bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

So when the pandemic hits the fan, are you going to want to be facing it with an awesomely-developed immune system or a bottle of triclosan dripping all over your hands?

The importance of luminous skin in a world-saving heroine cannot be emphasized enough.
The greatest lesson of this movie is to Stop. Touching. Your. Face. (And giving germs quick entry.) But if you must touch your face, make sure it is to apply a good moisturizer.

Several of the heroes of this film are doctors who work for the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO). They are played by Kate Winslet, Jennifer Ehle, and Marion Cotillard, a trio of gorgeous women who could collectively stand on a beachfront and make like a super-human lighthouse to ships passing at sea.

If you are in touch with your humanity, you get to live.
See, it pays to be sensitive and conscious. At least if you are gentle-souled Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon), who shepherds his teenaged daughter through the pandemic with a superior immune system and many empathetic looks.

As the movie’s moral Everyman, Mitch holds our hand through the scary parts and totally understands when we get up to wash them afterwards.

If you aren’t in touch with humanity, you get to kill the planet – Gwyneth.
The fact that Soderbergh cast Gwyneth Paltrow, the Queen of Unconscious Blogging, as Typhoid Mary/Beth Emhoff seems almost too literal. Ultimately, it is Beth and her adulterous ways who unleash the virus upon North America.

But while Gwyneth of GOOP can laud a “gorgeously-textured [$2595] Prada satchel” and prattle about “a delightfully laborious Labor Day weekend in Venice, Italy,” does she really deserve to get her scalp peeled back for an autopsy to reveal her brain is mush?

Corporations and governments are in cahoots. (Wait, didn’t we already know this?)
In Contagion, corporations honor the Almighty Dollar Sign over human health while the government enables them to do so. Meanwhile, doctors wring their hands at the bureaucratic red-tape they must cut through while they’re just trying to get the damn job done.

But then, maybe these are just the ravings of a crazed blogger conspiracy theorist who plays with her hair while she types. Or his prosthetic snaggle tooth. The truth is out there, people.

In the end, rhesus monkeys save our asses. Again.
H1N1, Avian Flu 1, SARS are all viruses whose vaccines have arrived the backs of animals. This movie doesn’t shy away from that fact. There’s no way PETA would approve a movie that shows medical scientists carting away rhesus monkeys in bloody, plastic bags.

But it is the gentle eyes of a sad test monkey who finally compels hero Doctor Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) to plunge the test vaccine into her own thigh. And consequently, save humanity.

We salute you nevertheless, Mr. Rhesus Monkey.

Katherine Butler

Katherine Butler is the Beauty Editor of EcoSalon and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.