Today, during some rare and much-needed time off and alone, I did something I rarely ever do. I went to see a movie…in a theater. And, as the hubby and I have very different tastes in movies, I took the opportunity to see one we were unlikely to agree on seeing together. (We’re saving Brokeback Mountain for a post-holiday date movie.) My choice was Syriana. There’s alot I could say about Syriana. The first being that if this movies doesn’t get some Oscar nominations, and win at least a few, then there is no justice in the world. Of course, the whole thesis of Syriana may well be that there is no justice in the world. Of course if you take U.S. politics, Middle East politics, the oil business, and the CIA, and mix them all up in the same pot, asking for justice to be the outcome may be asking too much.
May be? Well.
Seeing Syriana gave me the same sensation I’ve gotten when I try to read about the mix of all of the above in non-fiction; that I have so many threads of so many stories that it’s difficult to follow any one, and that I’ll never be able to make sense of them or weave them into one single story. As happened with my attempt at reading Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, I end up abandoning the effort or at least setting it aside for a while.
Syriana starts off much the same way, weaving together strands of stories in much the same way that the screenwriter/director did in Traffic (which this movie brings to mind, along with The Insider). Only, the medium of film requires fewer theards and demands that they be woven together in a limited span of time. So Syriana is somewhat easier to follow, but only somewhat as from the beginning the movie zips around from continent to continent, following first one character and then another who seem entirely unrelated. It isn’t until nearly halfway through the film that the strands begin to weave together and the story becomes a bit clearer.
That’s probably one of the most obvious barriers to seeing Syriana. It takes some level of investment to attempt to follow the various threads of the story until they come together, above and beyond the price of the ticket. That’s, of course, after getting past the barrier of even being willing to see a movie that even suggests any relationship between America’s politics or foreign policy and its dependency on oil. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a pretty much a conversation stopper. Mention it and people just stop listening. It’s become and remains of those things that’s just “unsayable” in the U.S. So, chances are unless you’re willing to consider a connection between oil and U.S. policy or are at least curious, you probably aren’t going to make it into the theater to see Syriana. And if you’re merely curious, you probably aren’t going to invest much in following the story.
So, much of the message is delivered mostly to the choir — the folks who have already bought in on it to some degree or another. And that’s a shame because it’s a greate movie that many who should see it will miss, even if they’re sitting in the theater, staring right at the screen. Newsweek’s David Ansen has it mostly right in his final assessment.
“Syriana” demands both an alert mind and a stout heart, and not just for its powerfully unpleasant torture scene. Its dark, dog-eat-dog vision of the world we live in may give you geopolitical nightmares.
I’d extend that a bit to include that it probably also demands a willingness to at least consider that not all of the motives of the United States government in its activities in the Middle East are noble, or even benign, at their very foundation. It demands a willingness to at least consider that even some of the more moderate, secular citizens in Arab countries might come to conclusions — based entirely on the consequences visited upon them by U.S. policies — similar to those expressed recently by an Iraqi citizen, merely substituting the names of their own countries.
The sad conclusion is that America can be justifiably seen as an enemy of Iraq. I say America, meaning the United States of America, because this includes the three American components that can be seen responsible for the devastation of Iraq:
1. The successive American administrations, in charge of the American government. They have a decades-long history of policies and acts of aggression against the people of Iraq.
2. The American army that has been the tool through which the American administrations have implemented their policies in Iraq.
3. The American public who, through ignorance, indifference, acquiescence or active support, was ultimately responsible for it all.
Americans are invited to reflect honestly on the idea that if a mild outlook can lead to such a dim view of America, then what conclusions would a fierce nationalist, a deeply religious Muslim or a person with violent inclinations may reach?
And of course, it demands the willingness to consider the above without dismissing it as “justifying terrorism,” along with — perhaps — the willingness and ability to navigate the naunces between justification and explanation.
If it takes all of that to see Syriana, my guess that most won’t; even if they actually make it into the theater. And that’s a shame, because it’s a great movie that needs to be seen, absorbed, discussed, and maybe even seen again. My guess is also that maybe two in five Americans. Maybe just one.
Tomorrow, I may just “let George do it” again, and give Good Night, and Good Luck a look see.