Sunday, June 17, 2012

The International (dir. Tom Twyker)

I yearn for good spy films. Maybe it was because of my father's obsession with 007 (except for Timothy Dalton!), that I learned the rules of the genre from a young age, got so into these pictures, and even at one point wanted to apply to one of the intelligence services. The films still remain a hit with me. The spy thriller, especially one like The International, has the potential for speaking to larger concerns. Many of these films tend to deal with global politics from the European perspective (at least the English language ones like this, The Bourne Identity, and in some respects, The Constant Gardener even has elements of the genre). They also tend to star Clive Owen, who has established himself as a man's man, looks great with a gun, and has this mix of world-worn resolve, masculinity, and a sense of experienced-based intuition that makes him a great choice for these roles.

The script deals with the role of international banking organizations in the 21st century. It is one of the first works of cinema I have seen that tries to reconcile the current political situation with the one that just passed. After communism was undermined and eventually destroyed by the Western powers, there has been a loss of direction in the world. Leftists, Rightists, and even observers seem to be at a loss as to who is the enemy, or who is in charge. Even Desert Storm, the ousting of Milošević, and similar 90's conflicts seemed to have little cause or purpose in the newly "globalized" world. Society no longer had a leader. Long gone were the absolute monarchies and the evil "dictators", whether of a right or left persuasion, who seemed to imitate them. 

Even Francis Fukuyama, in a bold move, said we had reached "The End of History." And while this is obviously a stupid comment made by an intellectual in need of vitamin D, his sentiments do have some reverberation as to the sense of society having no center, because, well, it just doesn't anymore. Meaning, there is no longer, one, central institution that determines what will happen on the global scale.

The International, I feel, more importantly than it being a visually appealing and well-made piece of cinema, tries to offer up some answers to the suffering in the world. It is the sensitive people who, concerned with suffering, become political, turn to art, and tend to watch movies to gain alternative perspectives and wider understandings, and this film offers answers to the questions.

"The world is an international system of financial interdependency."

This is not a quote from the film, but the logical answer I can gather from watching it play out. Clive Owen plays Louis Salinger, an agent for Interpol, who, along with Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) is investigating the International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC). The IBBC is modeled after many of the large international banks existing these days like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, who loan money to needy, developing nations. However, quickly into the film, we find out that the IBBC has shady dealings. Their executives are loaning money to countries and militias who are seeking to overthrow governments, and their activity goes completely unchallenged, mostly do to the string of bodies that have come up after any investigation into the matter has been attempted.

That is where our heroes come in. Louis is the muscle, and Eleanor, though her role is brief, is interested in finding the truth. It will be the former, the agent, who sees to it that the right people are brought to justice for immoral and illegal activity. Being the Assistant District Attorney of Manhattan, Eleanor has an interest in justice, but her character (one of the flaws of the film as she is not fully fleshed out), is first and foremost looking for scientific evidence to prove what is going on. After Umberto Calvini, a politician and anti-IBBC ideologue, is assassinated mid-speech in public, the game turns deadly, and the search for his killer, and the larger concerns of the bank, initiates.

What is most appealing about the film, again, are its political answers (or its attempts at them---who knows what the motivations are except the people pulling the strings). No one in cinema, to my knowledge, has attempted to create some understanding of global politics after the Soviet Union fell. No one has tried to find the "bad guy", but that is just the thing, because there is no bad guy. It is a large group of international bankers, CEO's, politicians, and arms dealers who have organized themselves into a system of economic control. The old distinctions, according to this film, and I think these are applicable to our world, are totally obsolete. 

It does not matter if a group or individual is black, white, Asian, communist, socialist, gay, Muslim, or any "other". The only concern today is whether or not certain countries and individuals are within this system of interdependency, and that is it. Actually, the dream of Kant, in wanting to make a "universal morality", and the theories of social contract, à La France révolutionnaire, in trying to include everyone into a political system by giving up some minor rights, at least in the sense of the universality of these ideas, has been completed. 

Whether or not a country wants to offer voting rights, women's rights, free market capitalism, social democracy, Shariah law, Marxist-Leninism, or economic protectionism is all irrelevant. It is only relevant that they buy into the system of credit that has been established and become one with the economic structure of debt, borrowing, and repayment. With the loan money, certain goals can be met, but once the money has been taken, the bank's goal is completed. 

Business is good. 

It is a system without an ideology, really, which is why it was so strange and difficult, for me initially, to understand. It does have its benefactors (all of which attend the World Economic Forum), but gone are the cultural or ideological dreams of colonialism (early capitalism's world-plan) or communism (socialism's endgame). This is the future, and also the present: the world of finance capital.

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