Sunday, April 24, 2011

Something Spiritual Stops Terrorism

2008's Deja Vu, a satisfying romp in the impossible, directed in name by Tony Scott but in reality by Bruckheimer.

It's hard to isolate what it is about the film that makes it pre-recession, but it couldn't have been made after 2008. Not enough cynicism, too much techno-optimism and naive terrorist paranoia. Denzel sends a note back in time to an ATF agent, his former partner, which says, in few words, that there will be a terrorist attack at a particular time and place. The agent rushes, alone, to the location, and is shot dead by the terrorist. In light of the recent scholarship showing that the authorities passed up the opportunity, on a number of occasions, to prevent 9/11, this is a nice, comforting fiction that does not belong. The entire idea that any federal agent is willing to put his/her life on the line for the lives of everyday people is dubious, unfortunately. Since their creation, the various secret polices have not served to protect the people, but to protect the people from being dissuaded from following certain legitimized centers of power, and "neutralizing" others such as Fred Hampton, Patrice Lumumba, and so on.

A more amusing comfort is the creation of an attractive collaboration of races in the execution of cutting-edge scientific projects... when last I checked the faculty at CalTech was about 95% white. Val Kilmer, a Jewish guy (the Hebrew Hammer AKA Adam Goldberg, an actor who, in not changing his Jewish name, and in playing stereotypically Jewish characters, has become a "character actor"), and a Black woman (Erika Alexander, from "Living Single") are the three top time-travel scientists in the world who create a wormhole in spacetime. Denzel is the House M.D. to them, the subject-supposed-to-know, a kind of brash father figure who tells them what they're wrong and cowardly about, and he's always right, because he can see beyond their narrow, bureaucratic perspective.

Jewish guy: It's physically impossible.

Denzel: What if it's more than physics?

Jewish guy: Something spiritual?

Denzel: Yeah. Something spiritual.

Denzel is the Ed Harris character in The Truman Show, in love with his subject, who he monitors without her knowing, on massive projection screens with a team of lackeys administering reality for him on a billion dollars' worth of technical equipment. Yet, unlike Harris' Manichean manipulator, Denzel is squarely on the side of good in his voyeurism, doing it all for the good of humanity and a beautiful woman who stands for the lives of hundreds of innocents.

The most ignorant option for the terrorist antagonist would have also been the easiest: the mindless Arab bomber from The Hurt Locker (thanks to Hisham Awad for pointing this out). But the filmmakers are not that simpleminded--they opt, instead, for the white nationalist patriot, the Timothy McVeigh type, equally-feared, in urban bourgeois circles. Jim Caviezel, best known for his portrayal of Jesus, is a more perverted messenger now, spreading an incoherent message which is unimportant to the plot, having something to do with patriotism. At the end they try to make it into a Se7en moment, with the terrorist confessing his motivations, but it turns out just to be a ploy to stall for time while Paula Patton prepares to crush him between two cars, which she does, sending him flailing, shooting semiautomatic rounds everywhere. Caviezel's character is a cross between McVeigh and the Columbine Shooters, yet the narrative explains as much about them as Hurt Locker does about Islamic terrorists.

But nobody expected it to explain anything. It does mention an interesting idea about folding spacetime in on itself.

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