Thursday, 19 April 2012

Contagion Through the Eyes of A Microbiologist

Last year a movie came out that I've been avoiding like the plague. That movie is Contagion. I have not been avoiding it because I dislike Matt Damon or I heard about Jude Law's incongruous accent (it's something between Australian and cockney and I don't like it). I have been avoiding it because I am a microbiologist. I studied microbiology at university and I currently work for big pharma as one so I've been worried that this particular film may just wind me up because Hollywood thinks science is magic. It also likes to make movies that oversimplify things to a point where laypeople think they can understand science.
Those people like to talk to me about stuff like this (just like I do to my physicist friends, sorry guys) as if we are on a level playing field. I have to smile politely and nod as if they are making interesting points then try to explain to them that they have to go to university for at least 3 years and get into shit loads of debt if they want to properly comprehend how stupid they sound.
As this picture suggests, my educational arrogance prevents me from having that many friends
So I've been avoiding Contagion because I don't want to embarrass myself during tedious conversations with know it alls, in this case ignorance is bliss. This week however I figured I'd give it a go because what the hell, if I can't be slightly arrogant about my own opinions on the internet, where else can I do it?

First of all film makers need to stop using foaming at the mouth so much. Its as if they assume we're all to stupid to understand someone is dying of poisoning or a seizure unless they look like they've just crunched up a mouthful of refreshers.
He's been poisoned... by some kind of tablet... and he's having a seizure! What monster would do this?
So Contagion is about a super virus that is transmitted by surface contact and is absorbed through the respiratory tract from which it makes its way to the brain and proceeds to fuck shit up causing encephalitis (swelling around the brain) and foamy seizure death. It spreads around the world and kills a bunch of people causing widespread panic and general bad times. This is not a new story but the extra elements that Contagion brings to the table are exemplified by two characters: the Star Trek Microbiology techno-babble spouting Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) and blogger, contrarian and all around ass hole Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law). Both of these characters bug me for different reasons:

Dr Hextall is a Superscientist who Appears to have Missed out on Most of her University Education

This is quite a specific gripe for me but it would appear that the driving scientific mind of Contagion doesn't appear to actually know much about vaccine production. She's used by the writer to be a font of exposition and knowledge but she doesn't seem to use much of it in her research. For example half an hour into the film she's worked out the exact protein alignment of the region where the virus adheres to host cells leading to penetration, replication and host cell destruction (that's what kills you).
At this point I figured she was going to use this information to maybe find a way to synthesise a receptor analogue that binds preferentially to the viral ligand vs the real one on our cells preventing viral uptake and subsequent host death. That's what a scientist would do. Hell I don't even have a PhD and I managed to work that out. Actually she just continued on her merry way killing monkeys with rubbish vaccines until she stumbled on a cure, by which time millions were dead. Good work lady. Where did you get your doctorate? Was it the University of Deus Ex Machina?

Alan is Clearly an Idiot but Everyone Takes him Seriously

So this guy thinks he's a writer/ journalist because he has a popular blog... I'm already not really on his side. He's apparently some kind of truth speaking champion of the people but he spends the whole movie taking about homoeopathic viral cures, referencing ridiculous conspiracy theories and being a smarmy cock.
This but with a dubious Australian accent
He says a few useful things but is mostly a cock and yet everyone loves him. He even gets arrested for fraud and the public bail him out. How is this guy being taken seriously? Here on earth we recently drove a man insane because we disagreed with his motives and methods (the Kony 2012 fiasco) so there is no way that a similar man would be lauded as a voice of the people, even in desperate times.

Contagion was not a bad movie it was just stupid, but not in ways that I expected it to be; the world that the film takes place in is so warped and ridiculous it worries me that anyone could think it has anything to do with the real world. It's message is diluted and bland as well, coming across as some kind of ineffectual teenage anarchist's notebook critique of corporate America and web culture.

Also the science was shit. No one even picked up a micro-pipette.

Stay Crunchy Internet 

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