Day 34: Today write a letter to a dictator to stop torture.

Back in late December, I got around to watching The International. As a digression: I don’t see many movies in the theatre any more, largely because movie tickets + babysitter + finding time to go = more than I can usually afford. We took Ella & my mom to see Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1 (and we’ll see Pt. 2 in the theatre as well), and I think the last movie I saw in a theatre was Half-Blood Prince, though I’m not entirely sure I even saw that. The point is, I don’t usually see a film until about a year after its theatrical release – and that’s just the ones I really want to see.

To return: I watched The International shortly after Christmas. It’s a serviceable political thriller: it’s no Bourne Identity, but it’s no Shoot ’em Up, either. The gunfight at the Guggenheim was impressive, mostly for its audacity – I mean, people trying to kill each other? with guns? in a fucking museum? What could be better?

The plot involves two law enforcement agents – Ms. Watts and Mr. Owen – attempting to bring down a corrupt Belgian bank, the IBBC, which is attempting to set itself up as the premier name in banks-that-sell-Asian-handguns-to-African-dictatorships. Things don’t go well for our heroes – dead witnesses, unsympathetic bosses, diphtheria – until they manage to get hold of the “handler” the bank used for much of its dirty work (assassinations and whatnot).

(You may be asking yourself: “What in the hell does this have to do with today’s task?” Keep reading, it will eventually make some sort of sense.)

The movie gets really interesting when Salinger (Mr. Owen) interrogates Wexler, the handler. Wexler – who had been some sort of Soviet military officer and has Guilt – tells Salinger that there’s absolutely nothing he can do about the IBBC, because it’s part of a vast network of power and money – a vast network that includes most governments, most international corporations, various mafias, arms dealers, Google, &c – and taking out the IBBC is like cutting the head off a hydra: ineffectual.

It’s such an interesting scene because it calls the whole genre into question. Movies like this are built on the fantasy that taking out a corrupt institution will Make A Difference, and Wexler’s speech reveals the fantasy – a bold move. There’s a period of maybe twenty minutes – the final act – where one thinks that the film has backed down from that speech: Salinger goes “outside the law” to bring down the head of the IBBC on his own. At the last minute, though, somebody else shoots the guy (it’s too complicated to explain who), and Salinger is left on the roof of some building in Istanbul, looking stunned. The credits roll, and various newspaper clippings reveal that, as predicted, getting rid of one corrupt dude makes absolutely no difference – there are plenty of other corrupt dudes to fill the vacuum.

My point? Writing a letter to a dictator to ask him to “stop torturing people” is a hollow and meaningless gesture. We Americans can’t keep our own government from torturing people, and we’ve got a fucking democracy federal constitutional republic – writing a weepy letter to someone who takes tips on governing from Thomas Hobbes is going to accomplish absolutely nothing.


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