On The Technical Disaster Movie

Trevor Quirk at The Point:

The invisibility of the disaster presents a serious difficulty to the filmmakers, who need their viewers to perceive it as the expert does. Their ingenious solution is found in the technical disaster movie’s pronounced ambience: the bustled score and sweaty palettes of ContagionChernobyl’s ghostly clanks and drones; the blare of Bloomberg terminals and pristine skylines of Margin Call. Through these effects, viewers are invited to pretend we know things we manifestly do not. We work through the night with Sullivan as he discovers his financial firm’s impending demise, study his stubbled face as he looks up from his illegible scrawl of equations before a pulsing monotone—and we simply know he’s uncovered something. The camera of Contagion fixates upon “fomites” (common objects that facilitate disease transmission), such that we learn to almost see viruses slithering over bus handles, glassware and casino chips. Chernobyl represents the presence of radiation with the throaty static of dosimeters (audible radiological instruments) that is often so loud and unnerving we forget we don’t exactly know what the sound means. Technical knowledge becomes an artificial sensorium, a collage of abstractions forced onto the nerve endings, always attempting to compensate for its baselessness.

more here.