Posts Tagged 9/11
Producer Adam McKay’s VICE explores the epic story about how a bureaucratic Washington insider, Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), quietly rises to become the most powerful man in the world as Vice-President to George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell), reshaping the country and the globe with far reaching and long lasting impact to future generations. VICE is a film that matches McKay’s wildly original “The Big Short” about three years back.
While VICE is both angry and informative like it’s predecessor “The Big Short”, unlike the predecessor, VICE does not share implementable insights for ordinary folks. VICE has opened to some mixed reviews and so I will mention and acquiese to the criticisms first. At times VICE feels disjointed as it jumps between time periods, interspersed with wacky methaphors. It also becomes apparent very early that McKay’s concern with telling Cheney’s story or the story of the country and the world that Cheney impacted, pales in comparison to McKay’s anger towards us, the audience. We, the citizens are reproached for having greater interest in entertainment than in the affairs of the government, things that “really” matter. This is where he begins the story and that is where he ends and given what is happening in the country today, I would forgive McKay for blaming the citizens.
In VICE, McKay has a formidable challenge. As the film shows Cheney’s rise to power, it also weaves in years’ of political history of the country. The forces that shaped the climate and allowed Cheney to consolidate his power, began long before Cheney came on the political scene in any serious manner. In fact, McKay traces the conservative forces shaping the political climate in the country, all the way to 1980s. And as he goes through Reagan and Senior G.H.W. Bush years, Cheney is shown to be going through his own transformation. At first, a good for nothing “dirtbag”, aided and supported by his ambitions wife, Lynne (Amy Adams), Cheney focus on amassing power and fortune. It is from Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), Cheney got earlier lessons in looking at Washington as a ruthless, zero sum political place where winners displace losers and policy takes a backseat to power.
Cheney began his political career as an intern to a Congressman and then worked his way into the White House during Nixon and Ford administrations. He served as Secretary of Defense to George H.W. Bush. He was out of the political scene during Clinton years, when he assumed the role of Chairman and CEO of Halliburton Company. In 2000, Cheney was chosen by George W. Bush, as his running mate and has been cited as the most powerful Vice President in American history. McKay telling the story of how Cheney rises to this level and then consolidates his power is nothing short of amazing. Using the fly fishing metaphor, McKay shows how Cheney put a small hook and then gradually draws in his prey. Even as he dies several times, mostly politically, but also endures several heart attacks, Cheney comes back, with more powerful lessons on consolidating power, strongly aligned to the brand of conservatism that seems only to consume, even if it destroys future generations.
Latching on to an obscure theory, propelled by some conservative judges like (Scalia), and made popular by the conservative media, Cheney finds panacea to all political challenges that stand in his way of consolidating his power, in Unitary Executive Theory. Rooted in Article Two of the US Constitution, the theory vests “the executive power” of the United States in the President. Though broadly accepted, it is assumed to be circumscribed by some boundaries of strength and scope. In the aftermath of 9/11, Cheney took advantage of the public anger and sentiment to “do something” and vastly expanded the strength and scope of the power of the President. By his own agreement with the President, Cheney then had the unilateral power that he used for wiretapping by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the enhanced interrogation techniques that included waterboarding, among other things. Cheney is said to have said, “We need to think in a new way about these low-probability, high-impact events; If there’s even a 1 percent chance that WMD have landed in the hands of the terrorists, we need to treat it as a certainty”. He masterminded the pressure on naysayers in the Bush Cabinet, including Condoleezza Rice (LisaGay Hamilton) and Colin Powell (Tyler Perry). Despite no clear evidence of WMD, Powell was pressured to give a speech in the UN regarding strong evidence of WMD which he later described as his most painful moment of his political career.
Despite the fact that none of the 9/11 terrorists came from Iraq, the United State’s war on Iraq eventually cost 189,000 direct war deaths, nearly 5000 deaths of U.S. service personnel, in addition to 32,000+ troops coming back with injuries, not including PTSD. US spent over $1.7 Trillion in this war. Nearly, 134,000 Iraqi civilians lost their lives in this war and 655,000 people who have died in Iraq since the invasion that would not have died if the invasion had not occurred.
So what did we gain from the Iraq war? Who gained from the war, if not the Iraqi civilians or the American citizens?
Contractors, primarily Halliburton company has reaped over $140 billion from US invasion of Iraq. In the end, the movie will leave you feeling both deeply sad and angry. Cheney’s brand of conservatism, his generation of mostly while males, stole from the future to enrich themselves. (Certainly not saying that all while men are evil and in fact it is with the support of dedicated men and women, white and black, that our country will always face the challenges head-on and after the challenges, will always emerge better and stronger). The cascading impact of actions of Cheney, Rumsfeld and others, very likely threw the country into a deep recession and eventually impacted lives of several future generations. AND HERE IS WHERE I HAVE A MESSAGE FOR MCKAY. Not it is not the concern with entertainment that keeps the citizens busy and unconcerned with what goes on. It is not even boredom with tiresome facts that are not revealed all at once. It is our preoccupation with making ends meet, with getting two square meals on the table for the families, that keeps us so woefully unprepared for devilish machinations of our elected leaders.
VICE is a not-to-miss movie of this holiday season. The film has received several Golden Globe awards and numerous nominations. It is great entertainment along with powerful history lesson for free. On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being excellent, I rate the movie as 4.9.
Directed by brilliant filmmaker Mira Nair, this movie is based on a novel by Mohsin Hamid, adapted for screen, by Ami Boghani , with screen play by William Wheeler. Riz Ahmed’s performance is brilliant, in the role of Changez, a Pakistani-born, Wall Street financial analyst, who is living the American dream, before everything changes with the terrorist attacks, on 9/11.
The way in which the word “fundamental” is used in the movie, is as complex as the human saga that unfolds, in the larger context of the events that occur around him. Changez is living an American dream, a rising star in the meritocracy based system at Underwood Sampson firm, which instructs its employees to “focus on the fundamentals”, referring to laser sharp focus on assessing the assets’ value, through clear, data driven financial details. Changez also has an American girl friend, played by Kate Hudson and he is dreaming of becoming a Managing Director, some day.
However, following 9/11, Changez is singled out, arrested, strip searched, and he begins to see holes in his American dream. The very materialism that had enticed and captured his imagination, he finds lacking. While visiting Pakistan, he is frequently at odds with his father (played by Om Puri) but his mother (played by Shabana Azmi) dotes on him, and he loves his sister (played by Meesha Shafi), who has her own American dreams. Changez feels, he can no longer be a part of the “establishment”, and he quits it all, and moves back to Pakistan. Is he becoming a reluctant “fundamentalist”? Changez tells his story to an American, Bobby Lincoln, played by Liev Schreiber, who has gone to Pakistan, in search of his recently kidnapped friend.
Before Changez attempts to help him with crucial information that could lead Bobby to his friend, Changez wants Bobby to hear his whole story. He says, when he watched the events of 9/11, for a split second, a small part of him, felt in awe of the genius with which the events were orchestrated. He adds, after he moved back, he told his students at the university where he teaches, that he just quit his American dream, in favor of Pakistani dream and then asked them, “what is Pakistani dream”? He also says, he had an epiphany, that in life one must adhere to certain “fundamental truths”.
What are those fundamental truths? Are they different for different people, standing on different sides of an issue? In telling his story, Chanez says, he did not even have an opportunity to pick sides, his side was picked for him. Is that possible or do we always have a choice? And what about prematurely exercising the choice, before we learn complete details? Did Bobby listen to the whole story? The story of 9/11 has been told often. But there is little that could change with each account. The events unfolded with precision and majority of the people, on both sides of the ocean, would agree that it was an evil deed. But how do these geo political events impact each individual, at deeply personal, intimate level? There can be as many stories, as people who experienced that time in history. And Mira Nair has done a fabulous job in telling one such deeply personal tale of how the events affected Changez and Bobby, both struggling in their own way, to strive for the greater good. I rate the movie 4.7 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent.