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The Host [2013)

Science fiction is often a metaphor…and this movie is about the national security state (whether it knows it or not).  It would be easy to fault this film for its trite trappings, but if one has reason to give the film a chance…  My reason was Saoirse Ronan.

I remember being a big fan of Thora Birch after seeing Ghost World.  [I’m still a big fan.]  The lengths to which film fans go to see their favorite players is sometimes remarkable.  My admiration went so far as to watch Dungeons & Dragons (2000).  Boy, I wish I could get those 107 minutes back!

I can’t echo the same sentiment about The Host.  This is truly a fine film.  Granted, it is a pale imitation of Hanna (2011), but I believe that Hanna will stand as one of the best films of all time.

What we do have is a dystopian “failure to communicate.”  This is essentially the problem with the national security state.  No reasonable person can seriously believe that the men and women of the CIA, NSA, and other such agencies are truly sitting around frying up babies on spits.  The problem is that the technology has far outstripped the human skills of these agencies.  For every action which is automated–every process given over to a computer…these agencies lose the war they think they are winning.

When agencies such as MI6 and Mossad no longer have popular support, their days are numbered.  The American intelligence community has failed to recognize that the war is not against “terrorists,” but rather for Americans.  “Hearts and minds” went the old phrase…  The world’s most powerful intelligence agencies are losing the human relations race almost as much as they are losing the information race.

Every once in a while there is a crack in this monolithic façade.  Not so long ago, Zbigniew Brzezinski (perhaps inadvertently) blurted out the real score of both the information and interpersonal communications races during a speech in Canada (Toronto, I believe).  It may have been a Council on Foreign Relations function, but really:  who cares?  The sentiment was echoed on the floor of Congress some years back by Hillary Clinton.  Whether explicit or not, these cracks indicate the panic of highly intelligent and heavily-invested players on the world stage.

Technology brings with it a certain uncertainty:  an undefinable amount of risk.  The same can be said of democracy.  It is no wonder that certain American Founding Fathers (Alexander Hamilton, for instance) felt ill at ease about the prospect of “government by the people.”  But this fear only shows weakness.  When power is fearful, power shows its ass.  Obverse and reverse.  We are used to seeing the obverse, but we must remember there is a man behind that wizard curtain.

Diane Kruger impressed me with her articulate acting in the National Treasure movies.  Here, she represents the sheen of the national security state.  She is like Shannon Bream on FOX News:  a neocon trophy anchor.  In truth, her character is staged in almost an identical way as that of Cate Blanchett in Hanna.  The accoutrements of power in The Host also have a ubiquitous and literal sheen in the form of mirrored-paint (chrome).  It is not far from the cheese factor of Sphere (1998).

Yet, The Host truly does have something to offer…and that is primarily due to the acting prowess of Ronan.  The major addition is the superb support of William Hurt.  In his character “Jeb” we see the dreamer mentality of American ingenuity which stretches back at least to Benjamin Franklin.  We also see in Hurt’s depiction the presence of John Wayne and other noble examples of simple morality from the American western genre of film.  What is really at issue is consequentialist morality vs. deontological morality.  Consequentialists (such as the rational aliens of our film) would argue that their ends justify their means.  Deontological circumspection (as in the case of Hurt’s character) holds that certain acts are repulsive in and of themselves (ontology) and therefore to be considered in such light.

Hurt’s character goes against the grain (Huysmans, anyone?) by refusing to kill the alien which has occupied the body of his niece.  His hunch turns out to be right:  his niece is still alive somewhere deep down inside there.  In Hurt’s character and his milieu we see the “prepper” mentality which has remained strong in America, but most of all we see the imagination to think conceptually.  Uncle Jeb is the only one to give credence to the thought which those around him spurn.  It is possible.

Much has been made about the American intelligence community’s “failure of imagination” regarding 9/11 all those many years ago, but I believe that’s rubbish.  However, the only way the U.S. will ever heal and move forward in an evolutionary way is for those “in the know” to come forward in numbers and ways heretofore unseen.  Likewise, those upset with even the most senior of the military-industrialists must be prepared to embrace the unique wisdom they have.  It is hard to talk about such things in precise terms owing to the nature of the dispute, but ultimately the powerful and the powerless need each other.

-PD

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