Friday, December 16, 2005

Syriana-- Innocent until Investigated

George Clooney's new movie (which is also a new movie starring Christopher Plummer, Matt Damon, William Hurt,and many others)is a political thriller and a brain teaser of major proportions. Clooney stars as a life time CIA operative who is a stand up guy, honest and loyal. His beat has been the Middle East and he knows Iran as well as Lebanon and Saudia Arabia. He even speaks Farsi. Matt Damon plays and energy analyst whose understanding of how things works eventually gets him hired by an Emir or two.

This movie probes the whole issue of corruption surrounding the obtaining of oil, and the political machinations involved-- some minor, some major. We also see the story from the point of view of Middle Eastern persons, including Moslems who live near or on the Persian Gulf. The story centers on the merger of two U.S. oil companies one major, one minor, caused by the fact that the minor company miraculously got the drilling rights to Kahzikstan. The beginning of the corruption starts with the oil companies and their jockeying for the last major oil fields, spreads to U.S. politicians, involves foreign politicians hoping for better relationships with the U.S. and even royal princes and emirs. Lurking in the background are the Free Iran advocates in the U.S. who want the violent overthrow of the current Iranian regime.

There is a telling speech, given by a politician on Capital Hill who informs a lawyer who is investigating some of this oil company corruption and influence peddling. The speech in essence says that corruption is what makes the system work, what makes America safe and on top, what keeps America free,, and is the grease which keeps the wheels of big business turning It is a remarkably candid moment in the movie, almost as candid as the moment when the Emir is told by the character Matt Damon plays that the goal of the West is drain all the oil from the Middle East while keeping those countries at the poverty level, except of course for the uber-wealthy emirs and princes who are America's new best friends. This theme we have seen before in a different guise in Farenheit 9/11.

But the corruption doesn't end with politics and economics. It also affects the whole judicial process. Another telling line in the movie is a person is "innocent until investigated" (and so publicly smeared or shamed whether guilty of not). This raises the ugly spectre of the idea that justice is also a pawn in a corrupt system, where accusations are assumed to be true, until one is proven innocent. But then when everything is seemingly corroded with corruption this is how one will naturally think. It leads to a guilty until proven innocent approach. At some point we must talk about the issue of victimization in our culture, and why it is that so many see themselves as victims, and so few want to take responsibility for their actions. But this is only a sublimated theme of the movie Syriana.

Suffice it to say that Syriana is serious business, as it seeks to peel back the curtain and show us how the world really works. All I can say is, if this is how big business in America really works, then heaven help us. Whether we agree with all or much of this movie is beside the point. It is after all a work of fiction. As a story that makes us think about what makes a fallen world tick it is very thought provoking.

Towards the end of the movie there is another one of this movie's zingers. Some one remarks that when a nation has only 5 percent of the world's population but 50 percent of the worlds weapons and arms, this shows that that nation is on the decline because it has ceased to win its economic and political battles by the oil of persuasion and diplomacy, and instead must increasingly use violence to accomplish its ends. This too deserves careful thought. We must thank George Clooney for giving us soemthing other than Christmas candy to chew on this holiday season.


bickle said...

why was the charachter that Matt Damon played son killed? What does this movie say about the Iraq war if it says anything at all about the war?

Ben Witherington said...

I think in terms of violence the movie is emphasizing the notion of pointless deaths of various sorts, including accidental ones. For example Clooney is killed at the end just by being at the wrong place at the wrong time. It is of course an indirect commentary on how our actions in Iraq stir up the hornet's nest.

Cruciform Catholic said...

I went last night to see the movie. Suffice it to say, it painted a picture of big business that probably is in reality all too real. I remember once hearing someone remark about the former Congessman Dan Rostenkowski from Illinois, saying that Rostenkowski's crime was not so much what he did as it was his getting caught. The point being, everything is fair game in Washington, there is one major rule; cover your tracks. Indeed, as you wrote, the movie gave us a lot to ponder besides some candy.