Mad Scientess Jane Expat
I watched Contagion recently, a film that depicts the origin and spread across the globe of a highly contagious virus with a mortality rate of 25-30%. The virus later mutates and become more lethal. It was praised for, among other things, the quality of its portrayal of scientific research. I enjoyed it immensely.
It managed to pull together the threads of several stories without leaving the viewer baffled or dissatisfied. Kate Winslet played the field doctor (Dr Erin Mears) trying to deploy containment mechanisms for the Centers for Disease Control, overseen by Laurence Fishburne (Dr Ellis Cheever). On the research side, Jennifer Ehle (Dr Ally Hextall) races to find a vaccine for the disease. Matt Damon (Mitch Emhoff) plays an ordinary man - the husband of Patient Zero, the first person to contract the disease. It is mostly through his perspective that we see the effect of the spread of the disease - the devastation wrecked by familial loss, slow and inadequate distribution of reliable information, panic buying of false cures, overwhelmed police and emergency services, and the eventual restoration of order. Marion Cotillard (Dr Leonora Orantes), working for the World Health Organisation, and Chin Han (Sun Feng) provide glimpses of the effects in rural China. All of these portrayals are as understated and realistic as possible. The timeline for the development and eventual release of the vaccine is also realistic - painstakingly slow and hampered by difficulties in mass production and distribution, as well as the misinformation spread by paranoid antigovernment snake oil salesmen like Jude Law (the irritating and criminally negligent Alan Krumwiede).
One thing that I thought many reviews overlooked is that this film provides absolutely magnificent role models for girls aspiring to become scientists and doctors. It is Jennifer Ehle's character who ultimately saves the world. It is Marion Cotillard's who rushes back to the village where she's been held hostage for a supply of the vaccine to tell them that they've been duped with a placebo. It is Kate Winslet's who organises the clinics that help to keep the sick from infecting the healthy. Most of the male characters fail badly in some respect. Laurence Fishburne's practices favouritism by releasing information to his loved ones before it is made public. Chin Han's turns kidnapper to save his village. Jude Law's is downright evil. He pretends to "cure" himself with a homeopathic remedy - off which he makes millions - when he never had the disease in the first place. The women are the key drivers in the resolution of this film. Their characters are nuanced - they have moments when they act out of fear or haste or anger - but they are also overridingly intelligent, competent, perceptive and principled. Combine this with the tight pacing, the carefully woven plot and the positive portrayal of research and my recommendation becomes very enthusiastic indeed.