Donald Trump

THE MOVIE CHALLENGES

THE MAN WHO SAVED THE WORLD

2014, DENMARK

 MWSTW_Website

This week we discovered that Stanislav Petrov was dead. His death happened in May. On the 19th he left the planet he had done so much to protect. Stanislav Petrov was the man, Russian and Lieutenant Colonel who in 1983 resisted responding to the warnings of the computer defence systems that insisted that the Soviet Union was being attacked by missiles from the USA. Petrov gambled and waited for radar confirmation. Eventually the radar operators were able to establish that there were no missiles. The computers or the programmers had made an error. In the movie about the event someone shouts, ‘attention algorithimists’. Deadlines are always tight around a potential apocalypse, so it was no surprise that the geeks were not much use. The news that Petrov was no longer with us came out on the same day that Donald Trump suggested it would be a good idea to kill everyone in North Korea. The word he used was total – babies, schoolchildren, pregnant women, pensioners, the disabled and the rest, what the hell.

The estimate is that the decision by Petrov saved 200 million lives. Asked to explain why he hesitated, Petrov said he found it impossible to contemplate that amount of human destruction. He wanted a legacy that would be something other than a desert and charred bodies. Donald Trump, though, appears to have no such inhibitions. It takes insight beyond mine to understand the madness that obliged Petrov to make a decision about obliterating the world and to know why Trump now indulges in nuclear brinkmanship with a country that has no intention of invading the United States.

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33 years have elapsed since Petrov refused to press the nuclear button. I have been alive for all of them. Some years were better than others but I thank Stanislav Petrov for every one. Years, hours and minutes, all were essential, and that is what Petrov held in his hand while he waited for radar confirmation, waited on a night cursed with poor visibility. Somehow Petrov held his nerve and was able to bless us all.   At the time Donald Trump was thinking about money and trophy women.   The Man Who Saved The World is essential viewing for all of us. It not only puts us on gloomy alert the film enables us to pay homage to a man who rescued the human race. The film was made in 2014. Faced with a camera, Petrov made gloomy predictions about the future. He felt a nuclear holocaust was inevitable. His view was simple. Nuclear weapons should not exist.   But they do travel at 15000 miles per hour, and that must impress Jeremy Clarkson.

The Man Who Saved The World provides not only urgent history but also mixes themes that evoke Tolstoy.  The wife of Petrov had a premature death because of cancer. He was caring for his wife when the nuclear incident happened. Mortality is understood to be precious. The violent and all violence transgress both intimacy and destiny.  During the film his translator prods Petrov to reconcile with his mother, to bury the enmity that existed within his family and to follow the principles he urges on nation states. This connection between domestic and military conflict appeared in War And Peace, and its existence in the narrative of The Man Who Saved The World is both deliberate and telling.

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The scenes that feature the young Petrov are played by actors. These scenes include the nuclear incident, the suffering of his wife and the subsequent frustration of the young Petrov. The rest of the film documents the interaction of the real 74 year old Petrov with the filmmakers.  It also records an arranged visit to the USA.  The complex elements of the film reflect on the choice between fraternity and enmity, the capricious relationship between coincidence and fate, and what constitutes heroism.  If the movie has superficial aspects, it is because political analysis is sidestepped. The Man Who Saved The World ignores how nuclear armament is the inevitable consequence of military and industrial modernism. The film pleads for sensitivity, decency, empathy and conscience. All are desirable but it will take more than human beings behaving well to sort out this mess.  The Man Who Saved The World is intelligent and is focussed but it aims for the heart rather than the head.  Few will dispute that it hits the target.

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Coincidence is at the heart of pure romance, and there are enough coincidences in what happened that night in1983 to satisfy any devotee of the Chaos Theory.  Petrov was not supposed to be working that evening. Someone called in sick. He was also not a typical Army man.  His parents pushed him into military service when he was 17 years old.  According to Petrov, they did it because they wanted to reduce the cost of the household bills.  Petrov refers to his years in the Army as a lost part of his life. The movie suggests that on another night with a more typical officer the Russian missiles would have been launched. This may be true or it may be movie affectation. For a man who endured alienation in his career Petrov was able to be successful. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was given responsibility for designing the protocols to manage nuclear incidents. This is not the usual criterion we associate with bureaucratic outsiders. And we will never know how others would have responded. The lack of radar confirmation may have tempted not just Petrov to be hesitant. It is not difficult, though, to imagine a personality that would have responded in a different manner. Petrov wanted to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Donald Trump wants to spend billions on building more.  Perhaps we should not prod too much at the complex personality of Stanislav Petrov.  He was as consequential and as mysterious as the circumstances that demanded his response.

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The presence of Kevin Costner in the documentary element of the film is important. Petrov was a big fan of the famous Untouchable and his favourite movie was The Bodyguard. This is perhaps the most shocking revelation in The Man Who Saved The World.  We owe our existence to a man who had terrible taste in movies.  Such is human dependency.  Petrov meets Costner on an unnamed film set. Robert de Niro and Matt Damon also appear and shake hands with Petrov. All the actors appear to be ill at ease. Petrov has never heard of Matt Damon, and the Danish filmmakers have fun with the surprise. This is a mere moment.  Costner welcomes Petrov, and the two men have a stilted conversation.  Both men are overawed by the hero in the opposite armchair. Later, Costner announces Petrov to the rest of the film crew and compares his role as an actor to the genuine heroism of Petrov.  The Russian looks at his shoes. Costner is not articulate but we still sense how cinema has so often provided a narrow definition of heroism, defined it as no more than being ready for a fight. Petrov smiles at his admirers but he is a remote figure, a reminder of how heroism is also about the willingness to take responsibility, to stand alone and be defiant.

This strength is not always appreciated. Members of the CND in Britain have had at times needed to be heroic. They have had few friends. During the recent election campaign Theresa May won admiration because she insisted that she would pull the trigger on nuclear bombs when needed, whatever that may mean.  The conflict and argument were unseemly.  Middle-aged men appeared on television and with relish talked about potential destruction. Jeremy Corbyn was derided for his opposition to nuclear weapons. He was called gutless and feeble by far from man alone Michael Fallon. This barking poodle and his unseemly behaviour have precedence. In their determination to break the spirit of CND members, Michael Heseltine and others in British Government abandoned the rule of law and contravened more than a few democratic principles.

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Nine countries have nuclear armaments. The proponents of nuclear weapons argue that they are a deterrent. They may or may not be. What they do, though, is persuade others that they also need some. The nine countries possess between them 15,000 nuclear weapons. If that lot went off, even God would notice, wherever he is.  Imagine him raising an eyebrow and putting a finger in his ear.  Replacing the UK Trident nuclear missile system will cost £205 billion. The total proposed Government expenditure for 2016-17 is £772 billion. The missiles will last beyond twelve months but the money has to be paid as the damn things are built. In Britain the NHS is in crisis and wages in the public sector have been reduced in real terms.  Vital government services including homeland security are suffering because of staffing shortages.  The only consolation the British have is that this crazy willingness to waste money does not make them unique.

Kevin Costner announced Stanislav Petrov as a ‘man amongst men’. Costner meant well but he misunderstood.  Petrov made a brave decision that perilous night in 1983.  He was prepared to be amongst no one. Nuclear weapons have arrived because of the sinister relationship that exists between economics, military appetites and imperial expansion. The weapons persist, despite the ridiculous expense, because there is a crowd that demands them, a crowd too prone to shaking its fist.

Howard Jackson has had six books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and Horror Pickers, a collection of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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REAL MEAN CRITTERS

THE BAY

USA

2012

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Jason Blum helped produce The Bay because he wanted to work with director Barry Levinson and because he liked the idea of a horror film with a message. We all need to hold our breath and let Blum believe that most horror movies are message free.   Horror films are rooted in neurosis and fear, sometimes caused by the legacies of the past but often a consequence of anxiety about the future; that ignorance aside The Bay is a cracking and ambitious production.  Ecological nightmares depend on stupidity, corruption, greed and gluttony. The formula appears in The Bay and is believable but it does weaken sympathy in an audience for the victims. Watch The Bay and you wonder if the human race is entitled to concern and the effort.  It is, of course, but, for compassion to be merited, at some point we need to get wise to our prospects and responsibilities. Arnold Schwarzenegger worries about the 200,000 citizens of the United States who die every year because of pollution.  Donald Trump plays golf and grabs something other than little white balls.

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The Bay uses the found footage formula that first appeared in The Blair Witch Project. This time the budget is bigger but Levinson avoids the compromise of complementing the found footage with pictorial landscape filmed on a 35mm camera. Instead he mixes different cameras and technology.   The film cuts between scenes filmed on iPhones, location cameras by TV companies, home video and CCTV. There are a couple of stationary shots that offer relief but they all convince. In other films the found footage technique was used to reduce budgets but in The Bay it makes artistic and thematic sense. Most people are aware of economic philosopher Adam Smith and his early praise for the division of labour. In The Wealth Of Nations he described a production line in a nail factory.  Self-serving capitalists soon got the point. Our jobs became more specialised, and we became blinkered. Today few of us are capable of understanding or managing the wider world we live in. This phenomenon is caught well in The Bay. Experts struggle to communicate with each other. They doubt what they are being told by both victims and other experts. We exist in a world that is fractured and held together in high-risk fashion by people who have narrow concerns. The human race has been lucky so far but this is how ecological disasters happen, people saying it was not their responsibility. Donald Trump says he has to think about American jobs and that others can worry about climate change. The planet is beyond his pay grade. It is surreal and irresponsible but in a way the coiffured dope has a point.

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Cameras give us an illusion we are in control. We half-master technology and capture what is momentary and remote, what used to be beyond our reach. We may be filming more of the world and our lives than we did in the past but what is stored on our electronic devices is telling us little about the world we inhabit and, as a consequence, ourselves. The found footage in The Bay is a record that reveals only confusion. Give us a camera and we become myopic. Faced with death and calamity the victims inThe Bay are inarticulate.  Their cameras continue to roll, and the audience is given a glimpse of what the future will contain whatever the result of our negligence, a chaotic collection of disconnected images and daft grins.

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The events in The Bay take place on Independence Day.  Three and a half thousand miles away from the American continent it is easy for Europeans to imagine Independence Day celebrations as austere and serious, Americans remembering both self-sufficient heroes that secured a nation and high minded men who devoted themselves to cherishing human rights. The Bay soon puts that notion to bed. It is a holiday, and Americans do what everybody else does on holiday. They overeat, drink alcohol and look for sunshine and the sea. This escapist indulgence is afforded by an organised tourist industry. As the various cameras reveal in The Bay, independence and self-sufficiency is a myth. We have become specialists who follow routine processes defined by our job descriptions.   A desperate doctor from the hospital telephones the Centre For Disease Control. The bureaucratic expert in the Centre takes him through a standard questionnaire. Told about the bizarre outbreak the expert nods his head. His colleague also nods. They pretend to think, and their sympathy is also pretence. Their main concern is to when concede defeat and call the White House.

In The Wealth Of Nations the author Adam Smith imagined something he described as the invisible hand. The theory is that greed and selfishness will combine to produce a benevolent effect, profit makers will respond to demand and human need. Apart from the brutalised losers that the followers of Adam Smith dismiss as essential utilitarian wreckage, the invisible hand also produces a fractured and vulnerable society. This is because everyone concentrates on his or her increasingly narrow responsibilities. There have been benefits including really small cameras but now it feels like the invisible hand is more like an elastic band ready to snap. No wonder we are happy in our free time to get drunk and point our cameras at nothing in particular.  In The Bay the final victim we watch die is a dentist. The occupation chosen by the scriptwriters is deliberate. Successful dentists are rich and have high status. Medicine and the human body, though, they do not understand.

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The reporter who is obliged to report the events to the TV Company is an intern. She is clueless but the experienced presenters who sneer at her in an off-camera moment are the really ignorant. They know even less than the overwhelmed intern because they think glamour and smiles qualify them to be journalists. A mayor answers a question from a concerned citizen and quotes statistics that neither he nor anyone else understands. The lake is polluted but percentages rather than clear water are quoted as evidence that pollution is not a problem. The intern narrates the events and appears in the subsequent film collected from the found footage. Her hair is different and she is unrecognisable as the previous employee of the TV Company. She has left the fractured creation that collapsed in Chesapeake Bay, the scene of the outbreak. The intern now has a wider understanding of what happens in the real and complex world, aspects of which the powerful had hidden from view. The intern has acquired purpose and rather than exist as an isolated specialist she has delved into the experiences of the victims and others.

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Barry Levinson the director of The Bay has had a mixed career but he has made some interesting films. His decision to use Chesapeake Bay as the location for a horror movie based on an ecological disaster would not have been appreciated in Maryland. Chesapeake Bay is a major tourist attraction. This adds to the impact of the film.   Tourists, though, have not stayed away from the resort. Neither is there evidence that the movie has informed the thinking of Donald Trump. The Bay was inspired by real events. The tourists consume food and drink and leave waste. Chicken farms deposit tons of excrement, which pollutes the water and sea life in the bay.  Both fish and bird life have suffered. In the 1990s humans who swam in the bay suffered a mysterious skin rash.  Efforts have been made to control the pollution, and today well-meaning experts offer reassurances about recognised problems and the serious attempts to achieve ecological balance.  Meanwhile there just might be an elastic band waiting to snap.

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The carping that The Bay is not a horror film is not justified. Ignore the unintended pun. The film has jump scares, creepy effects, threatening noises and gruesome disfigurement. 700 people die.  In fact The Bay is the horror film that Steven Spielberg would have made if he had not chickened out halfway through making Jaws, another unintended pun best ignored. There are references to the film by Spielberg. The mayor is corrupt and self-satisfied, crowds panic and there are three people on a boat. Levinson also repeats the scene where a beautiful girl is attacked by an unseen monster under the surface of the sea. This scene depends on dodgy science but it is also clever and an interesting variation on what happened in Jaws. Near the end of The Bay there is a fine jump scare, and credit has to be given to the person that came up with an original idea for diverting the attention of the audience.

The music in The Bay also needs to be mentioned.  Only three records are used to complement the score. Our Town is a classical piece by the great American composer Aaron Copeland and suggests calm and trust. It evokes the sharing of harmonious fate that occurs within a real community.  This is more irony.   Red Cadillac And Black Moustache is a rockabilly classic by Warren Smith, and Spoonful is great Chicago blues from Howling Wolf.   The latter adds atmosphere to a suspense scene.   The former is a tale of confusion, mistrust and destructive dependence.   The truth is we cannot resist stretching and playing with elastic bands.

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Howard Jackson has had six books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and Horror Pickers, a collection of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.