Monday, November 03, 2008

Body of Lies

"So what do you prefer to eat?" Di Caprio asks two young Iranian children living in Jordan. They answer, "Burgers and Spaghetti." In the film theatre, both of my friends on either side cringe at the same time after hearing the answer; it's so like Hollywood they say when I ask them later. I didn't understand what's too Hollywood exactly, the film or our lives.

For some reason or another I was the only one who saw this as a reflection of reality. The irony is that both my friends are ardent fans of reality being represented accurately in movies; I'm not dead set on it. It really got me wondering why two of the biggest fans of reality rejected it. Did they not really think it was a real answer or was there something more to it?

In all my life around the Arab world, I've found that this statement about burgers and spaghetti almost always true. This is what young kids love; this is what I loved as a child, they just simply taste good. Obviously there's more to cringing than a matter of taste.

The disdain was most likely at America trying to force its values, its culture and its tastes down our throats, and while this may have been true in the past, what my friends may have chosen to ignore is that it has now become a reality. America is very alive in the Arab world with its burgers and its vision.

But the only real problem with America is that it's loved and hated at the same time. In the movie Body of Lies this sentiment is accurately portrayed. One of the terrorists has got a PhD and speaks five languages; he wants to go to America, that's reality.

America is a land that enables you to succeed based on your skills and hard work, that's why it is loved.  But as the terrorist tries to bargain, the CIA agent cuts him loose to see who'll kill him. To Americans we're no longer people, we're no longer the needy and poor whom they had invited to join them, they've closed their doors, and turned their backs on the world and that's why we hate them.

Our love comes from wanting to have a place like America to live in, a place that has all its virtues. Our hate comes from our anger at their ignorance and rejection of the entire world; it's at their self absorption. Russel Crowe is an epitome of what America has become, a loving father and a kind family man who takes care of his own and attends their soccer matches and tries to spend time with them in a superficially loving manner, but when dealing with families thousands of miles away he is a completely different man, both ruthless and hurtful. He has shut down his sympathy and compassion for others and everyone is a tool or a pawn in the game he plays.

Di Caprio tells him, "Be careful about calling yourself America." But he is America, in all its intelligence and splendor, in all its deceit and indifference, in all its greed and power thirst. Crowe is a charming and yet spiteful man. He's charming because he's Russel Crowe, but we have an inner desire to love him and forgive him if only his actions would meet his charm… but till that happens (and it never will) it's love and hate.

Crowe sits from his base of operations, remote and disconnected from what's going on, only understanding what his modern technology brings him. He cannot understand that sometimes you can do nothing but wait, and that sometimes you cannot buy your way, or torture your way into success.

There is some value in the movie that chose not just to make the same old statement about a useless war with very hurtful strategy, it chose to describe a piece of reality in a more updated fashion. Perhaps it will never match any reality we know of, but considering that less than 2% of Americans have ventured outside their own state, it has brought an image of the Middle East that's a little closer to reality from what the majority would see in other movies or their largely biased Fox news.

There are a few things that appealed to me about the movie and perhaps being a simple minded Arab, they appeared to be real. When portraying an Iraqi working with Di Caprio, the young man barely had an accent. That was particularly interesting considering that all Arabs in the past have were made to have an accent even if they spoke English fluently. To have an Arab working with the Americans who showed no traces of an Arabic accent was very bold and yet so accurate. Consider the multitude of Egyptians who can speak English without an accent, there are so many of them and yet, without the accent you couldn't be an Arabic speaker. This is a shift in paradigm, just like when they decided that Egyptians could be portrayed without the need for a desert, the pyramid and camels.

There were many other items of authenticity in the movie, one of which was the cyclone club in Dubai that was visited by people on their business visits and making use of its prostitutes. There was also the fact that the American's weren't necessarily always the smartest, they were surpassed by the head of Jordanian intelligence played brilliantly by Mark Strong. There was also the values of friendships and personal relationships that were highlighted, and a rejection of technology that cancelled out these inter personal relations.

The portrayal of several events seems to have been well researched and it marks a change in the way Hollywood approaches the Middle East. There's an attempt, albeit just an attempt, to find out more about what's really going on, what Arabs are like and how in-over-their-heads Americans really are.

Why then did my friends dislike this movie? The simple fact is that anything associated with America's foreign policy and operations is hateful. There's just too much American crap around us now and America is still at it, trying to keep pushing the lie till it becomes true. My friends seemed to think that the movie was pro American in some way or the other because the hero was American, but looking back there wasn't a single good point about the Americans that was portrayed. Americans were remote, ruthless and did not comprehend the world they've forced themselves into. They were in over their heads and they didn't give a damn about the Arab world. They were incompetent and outsmarted and eventually taught a thing or two.

America with all its evils does not realize that the world is waiting for a chance to love it again because of the good it had advocated in the past. In both world wars it has been important for the triumph of a good side and has preached some of the greatest values. The problem is that America falls short on implementing any of its values and all that they have preached has become a body of lies. They are fading into oblivion and even that remote desire to forgive America for all the hate it has spread is turning or has turned into an unfriendly ghost that no one wants to be haunted by.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's astonishing how this post and the one right before it mirror eachother.

No need to urge you to keep the words flooding.