Editor’s Note: For our third edition of “From the Archives,” we return again to Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, a film that, in its startling prescience and relevance for our current crisis, merits multiple readings. In this article, Aaron Baker notes the continuities between Contagion‘s multidimensional, hyperlink narrative structure and the complexities and even randomness of the impact of a global pandemic. — Rebecca Prime
Best known for his prolific output and ability to work at the intersection of Hollywood and art cinema, Steven Soderbergh makes films that present diverse subject matter and formal styles. His 25 movies include the 1989 independent hit, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, social problem films (Erin Brockovich, 2000; Traffic, 2000; Che, 2008), deconstructions of genre (The Limey, 1999; Solaris, 2002; Haywire, 2011), digital video improvisation (Full Frontal, 2002; Bubble, 2005), and star-studded blockbusters (the Ocean’s trilogy 2001, 2004, 2007; Magic Mike, 2012).
This eclecticism in Soderbergh’s movies might appear to invalidate a claim to the thematic consistency and distinctive style expected by many analysts of film authorship. One could also point to his commercial projects as evidence of a lack of creative integrity. However, a more fruitful approach to Soderbergh’s thematic and formal variety and the use of stars and genre in some of his movies would be to focus less on how he exemplifies unified creative subjectivity and more on how he raises important questions about film style and cultural issues. Because Soderbergh’s films as a body of work take on a range of topics and combine Hollywood invisible style with discontinuity form, they comment on the ability of movies to engage and challenge as well as reassure audiences. His films merit attention because of their variety and the complex picture of the world that they communicate — as well as the commercial viability that allows some of them to reach large audiences.
The article can be read in its entirety here.