Sicario [2015)

When you are watching a film or a TV show in which the main character is FBI or CIA, you are watching propaganda.

But some propaganda reaches a height of artfulness which cannot be denied.

Such propaganda, then, in some respects becomes its opposite.

Sicario is one such brilliant enigma.

The main visual motif of this film is Emily Blunt sweating.

That may sound like a rather unglamorous device, but it too has crossed over into its opposite.

Emily Blunt gives a performance which approaches perfection.

But she is not alone.

Benicio del Toro is icy.  Frosty, as they say.  Timeless.

What is the template for Sicario?

You might be surprised, but it reveals itself quite early on to be none other than The Silence of the Lambs.

You must see Sicario to understand this parallel.

Nothing in the previews intimates this definite relationship.

But what else do we get?

Torture is good.

Torture works.

This is where Josh Brolin comes in.

His previous turn as the title character in W. is essential to the code of Sicario.

I must credit director Denis Villeneuve.

For propaganda, this gets in some pretty stellar body shots at the expense of the CIA.

But it is all for show.

The message is that terrorism works.

Terrorism?

Yes, terror.

It only depends which side of the battle you’re on.

Brolin’s character is a “DoD advisor”.  [More on that in the film.]

It’s strategy.

Get the straggler to come back to the hive.

We’ve heard that trope for a long while.

Regardless, Brolin is the quintessential consequentialist.

The end justifies the means.

Emily Blunt is the conscience.  And as that she is magnificent.

But propaganda needs a hero (or heroine) to knock down.

Perhaps you remember the disheartening ending of 1984?

The book.

Orwell.

Winston Smith.

It is quite correct that whenever America declares a “war on” something, the smartest thing is to consider failure a foregone conclusion.

Here we have that old chestnut the “War on Drugs”.

There have been several other lackluster “War on(s)”.

The main offender is the War “on” Terror.

But director Villeneuve gives away the secret a little bit (as the best propaganda does).

From Medellín to Mena, Arkansas.

Maybe Phoenix is no accident either.

Remember Ken Williams?

Sicario shows the FBI getting royally fucked.

In game theory, we might call them (full-on “meta-“) good cop.

The whipping boys…the ostensible sack of shit which acts as a catch-all flypaper of blame…are our bad cops:  CIA.

It is, however, significant that Brolin operates under the aegis of “DoD advisor” insofar as the US military then becomes the butt (ass end) of flipped propaganda.

To wit, much of this film is code…not for the drug war, but for the geopolitical ransacking of the past 15 years.

It is a comment.

Not particularly clever.

But perhaps accurate.

That methods have bled over (no pun) from the hinterlands to the “homeland”.

My final caveat is this:

Sicario is an absolute masterpiece.

 

-PD

Twin Peaks “Realization Time” [1990)

Always apologize to the authorities.

What the French call cache-cache.

There are two great series of propaganda of which I’m aware.

One is the James Bond franchise.

The other is Twin Peaks.

External intelligence (I/O).

Internal intelligence (RB).

I/O (:OT)

RB (SW:)

I might suck at chess, but so did Napoleon.

Admitting one does not really understand does not have to lead to abject sellout.

Certain information is classified for a reason.

It was hard to come by.

It does not exist in an open source.

And so I try real hard to imagine an honorable employee of the CIA.

Maybe somebody like “Buzzy” Krongard who forgets to unpack a couple of Walther PPKs from his overnight bag before heading to the airport.

Oops…

Could happen to the best of us.

But why A.B.?

Why the lapse??

9/11:  where are they now???

When we imagine external intelligence, we might think of a world completely ruled by consequentialism and Realpolitik.

We like to think of Daniel Craig.  Sean Connery.  Roger Moore.

We like to think of our operatives as protectors.

But my guess is they perform some of the ugliest jobs on the planet.

For the state!

The dear, sweet NSA knows every book I’ve bought (unless I paid cash).

Knows my library withdrawals.

So I might as well cite Burckhardt.

The State as a Work of Art.

Seems pretty self-explanatory (if fanciful).

But German can be slippery.

And so we come to,

War as a Work of Art.

The “dilettante” Machiavelli gets the usual translation (Art of War), but not Burckhardt.

Not in my edition.

1958.

Imagination lets me conceive of a good FBI agent.

Like Coleen Rowley.

Robert Wright.

These, perhaps, are the forward projections of Special Agent Dale Cooper.

But let’s get deeper.

The turf war.

Two agencies of the same government.

Working at cross purposes.

I can easily imagine a unique relationship.

You don’t investigate our wholesale illegal activities,

and we don’t disappear your agents.

So that the CIA is beyond the law.

Perhaps it must be that way.  Beethoven might even resign it.

But it is naïve to think of the FBI as merely an investigative entity.

They too get creative.

In Twin Peaks we have an honorable man.  One of the best and brightest.

Dale Cooper.

Doing a job.  Innocent as a dove, but wise as a serpent.

When dealing with Log Lady, one gets crosswise with Elf Power and Stereolab.

Ending up, Gus the Mynah Bird with the Candy Bar Head.

There is an information hierarchy.

Pertinent to all forms of intelligence gathering and interpretation.

Data–>Info–>Knowledge (–> Wisdom)

The final stage is not optional, but it is elusive.

It is the most valuable.

It’s the part that says, “Hey, CIA man (or woman)…don’t take The Fugs too seriously.”

It’s also the fine line between bravery and stupidity (practically the same phenomenon) which inspires Sherilyn Fenn to smoke a fag in the closet.  [Err…]

Nothing to lose.  Fearless.

And what if such fire is married to morals?  Ethics?

We’re no saints, but we do a lot of selfless stuff.

And yet we spout our shit and muck up the mission of consummate professionals.

Differing perspectives.

Two meanings of intelligence.

We don’t have the intelligence (because we are civilian nobodies…combing the net for OSINT).

But we have intelligence.

It may not be Ivy League.

But it’s relentless.

 

-PD

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