(cough) Excuse me. (cough, cough) Sorry … That’s how this picture opens. Can you imagine that that might be the most frightening sound you ever heard? Well, it could be, and it could happen overnight …
Here’s one of the best movies of the year, and it completely slipped under my radar. Didn’t they promote it enough, or was I just nodding off? Whatever, it is by Steven Soderbergh, and it concerns an all-too-plausible scenario, that of a mutated flu that ravages the globe. When you think about it, AIDS was nothing, even though it has killed around 30 million people, with many more to come. But we hardly notice it. People sicken and die, one at a time, not contagious at all. It is transmitted only through the most intimate physical contact, and can take many years to kill you, or not kill you at all.
Now imagine a highly virulent flu that is transmitted through the air or by hand-to-hand contact, and has a 20% kill rate within a few weeks. That we would notice. Millions would be deathly ill, all at once, including the people who try to treat it. It would spread almost instantly around the world. Civilization would shut down, there is no question about it. It would be chaos in a matter of months.
This movie shows that, in a totally non-hysterical way. Much of the focus is on tracking the disease, finding the “index case,” trying to figure out a vaccine. We see the societal effects, but mostly on a small scale. And it brings the horror right to your doorstep. It breaks all the rules, most especially in that it violates that cardinal rule of movies, which is that good people aren’t supposed to die halfway through. I was stunned, as I have seldom been since Janet Leigh died in the first half of Psycho, and I think you will be, too. This is just an awesome movie. Matt Damon is in it, but he’s only part of the tapestry of humanity. There is no real star, but everyone is very good. It ought to be on the Oscar shortlist.