I stopped listening to the news for about a week, and was startled, when I reengaged today, to discover that the world was entering a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity. Then the alarm went off and NPR’s Morning Edition came on: “Reports that the earth is rapidly moving closer to the sun were rebutted by Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, who said ‘That makes about as much sense as a pig poopin’ on a rooster,’ then flipped a silver dollar in the air, winked at the gathered reporters, and shot a hole clean through the coin, adding, ‘That’s how we do it in Paint Creek, Texas.’ Support for NPR comes from Chevron, DynCorp, Dow Chemicals, Philip Morris, Pfizer, Wal-Mart, and listeners like you.”
Maybe it’s just my perception, but we do seem to be in a period of extraordinary rancor, dislocation, turmoil, danger, and fear. As a result, I decided to go see a movie.
I chose Contagion, which follows Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), an American businesswoman flying home from Hong Kong. She is not feeling well and complains to her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) that she is suffering from jet lag. She falls violently ill and is taken to the hospital, becomes the first known casualty, and is labeled patient zero. The director of the Center for Disease Control, Dr Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne), sends Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to discover the pandemic’s origins. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization’s Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) heads to China for the same purpose, but is kidnapped by locals seeking a cure. Conspiracy blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) fans the flames of panic for his own reasons. The death toll rises and panic ensues. There are riots, cities are quarantined, bodies are thrown in mass graves, and millions die. I didn’t get any popcorn. I did notice, when I went to the bathroom, that everyone was doing an especially good job of washing their hands.
In a number of significant ways, Contagion reminded me of the Disneyland ride “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.” At first everything seems okay as we are swept away by a magic breeze past colorful leaves, but then a blustery windstorm blows Winnie the Pooh (Zach Galifianakis) and baby Roo (Patton Oswalt) into the air and a storm floods the Hundred-Acre Woods. Later, when Pooh settles down for a nap, he starts to dream about pots and pots of his favorite thing: honey. Then the Heffalumps (Jack Black) and Woozles (Jim Carrey) come to life wanting to steal Pooh’s honey and everything goes horribly wrong.
By the way, near the end of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, as you pass through the tunnel after Pooh has his honey wet dream turned nightmare, look up and back and you will see the three moose heads from the old Country Bear Jamboree ride. This is because The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was built on the location of the old “Country Bear Jamboree” nightmare. For more fun facts about Country Bear Jamboree, watch Tony Goldmark’s video.
But back to Contagion—it’s a good movie with a stellar cast. Don’t leave before the credits end—you don’t want to miss the zany outtakes and wacky flu pandemic humor, such as Gwyneth Paltrow winking flirtatiously at the camera while her skull is sawed off during an autopsy.
If a rapid pandemic like that portrayed in the movie was really underway, I suspect Contagion would be a box office flop. As I write this we are witnessing a global financial mess unfold, the paralysis of our federal government, and—well, I’ll stop listing. The point is, we don’t want to see movies about these events because they’re already happening, and we hear about them every day when our alarm clock radios go off, unless we have them set on a shock jock’s show for sanity’s sake.
I have a harmonica student named Alex Tuch who works in the financial sector. One night during a lesson he quipped that we should stockpile “water, bullets, and gold.” If it gets that bad, I’m not sure I see the point. I think I’ll stick with honey. And while I’m on the subject—don’t ever share your harmonica with anyone.