“Before my father died, he said the worst thing about growing old was that other men stop seeing you as dangerous….Dangerousness was sacred.”
Last night I watched Act of Valor. I liveblogged it so you don’t have to watch it. You’re welcome.
First there was The Lottery, a dystopic tale of social gruesomeness that I encountered in high school English. It got me thinking.
Then there was The Running Man and now the Hunger Games.
Now we have UFC and reality TV and their bastard child: Act of Valor, designed to both decry a life filled with terror and celebrate the our military saviours who protect us all, complete with video game narration and HUD bios of the main cast members. And another feature is the well-advertised production choice of integrating actual active duty US Navy SEALs operations into the movie. In the past, movies have used Pentagon equipment in their fictionalized stories. Now they have moved one step beyond that separation, breaking down the fourth wall in a new direction.
Act of Valor opens with a Manila ice cream truck exploding, killing a couple dozen school kids and an American ambassador. The evildoers hate America for being superior, thus America is the bullied victim, hated for its freedom, or something.
“There’s threats everywhere.”
There is an abduction of a CIA agent, complete with plenty of gore. The culprit: you pick your combination of stereotypes. It fits here.
There is a testosterone-laden pep talk for the hero crew. On the beach, at a campfire, with their families off to the side. Like Top Gun, but less campy, but only a little less. They work hard on establishing duty and strong family men. Mythology is rich. One fellow has announced that he’s going to be a father. They all hope he’ll come back to see his new child and not become Ensign Toast on the mission. Hmmm.
The acting is really quite bad. Don’t ask how bad.
Drones spy for the good guys. This helps us feel better when they start patrolling our cities.
Our militaristic despot prime minister is busy lately celebrating how the spectacularly momentous War of 1812 helped define Canada as a nation, despite the fact that 1812 was some other empire’s war and it took place 55 years before some businessmen’s wet dream of creating this economic entity they called Canada. This is Harper as Orwell in his historical revisionism and identity spinning.
Someone in a large helicopter has IN GOD WE TRUST on their helmet. Just a reminder of core iconography.
And then there’s some torture of the CIA hostage underlying the barbarism of the enemy. We [“we”] don’t torture. Since we don’t torture, whatever we do is not torture. QED, Donald Rumsfeld. Our hands are bloody too. Ask Maher Arar.
We have sniper headshots with little mistings of cranial blood spraying like a cloud of no-see-ums.
After wasting a handful of sloppy looking bad guys, a car chase ensues followed by an unbelievable number of reinforcement bad guys showing up in three trucks to try to foil the hostage rescue. As the crew escapes with the hostage there is lots of slow-motion, sunset shots, serious-faced men nodding to each other [again in slow motion], and a forceful homage to Top Gun.
Then a cut scene to the criminal masterminds, one of whom naturally plays the violin in a zen-like state for the henchmen.
So now that the early part of the movie is over the greater evil is confronted as the crew go after these criminal masterminds, who we encounter in a James Bond-like special gadget equipping warehouse. But instead of good guy gadgets, they’re gadgets for mass murder.
One of the masterminds confesses he is afraid of the Americans watching him so he’s going to retire, but the more unbalanced one doesn’t take the news well. This must make NSA fans happy.
Then, some SEALs push a boat out of a plane and parachute after it. They motor around for a bit and a sub surfaces into which they climb. Now they’re heading to a remote airfield in Somalia to track some bad guys.
Meanwhile, the now retired mastermind is on a yacht with a handful of girls in bikinis left over from a music video. “I’m on a yacht.”
Then we see the expectant father standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier while a plane is taking off. He’s on a satellite phone telling his wife that he loves her. That’s where most folks make personal calls, I guess. Cut to their living room. She’s sitting on the floor assembling…wait for it…the playpen. Without him. Sigh.
The bikini yacht is now being boarded by the good guys.
Then we have the heart to heart with the military commander and the mastermind about their paradigms [family above all]. And the villain coughs up his whole motivation and all the secret plans. Just like at the end of a Scooby Doo episode.
Meanwhile the SEALs are closing in on the suicide bombers in a village on an island off the coast of Mexico. That should make us want a bigger wall on the Rio Grande. They appear to not have acquired permission from the Mexican government to invade this small village.
Mounting cameras on rifles firing headshots at the bad guys, who almost all die from headshots, gives a real first person shooter video game effect for viewers. A coy cinematographic choice.
Then the Lt. jumps on a grenade to save his troops. In slow motion.
Then a soldier is shot up and dies. The one who had a baby on the way. Seriously. Honest.
Cut to the military funeral.
“Put your pain in a box. Lock it down.”
The narration establishes the place for emotions before the end titles, which are themselves pre-empted by a list of navy personnel who have died since 9/11.
And the not so unpredictable is the “in association with Tom Clancy” at the end of the lead credits.
In general I have a great deal of respect for armed forces personnel. People who would risk their lives to save others, even on a dubious mission dreamed up by political megalomaniacs, deserve our respect. But when our culture becomes militarized it also embraces being terrorized. It’s a kind of Stockholm syndrome. We drink the kool-aid and accept the “reality” spun for us that war is the answer and fear is the currency of the future. Boo! Are you scared yet?
And we are told to ignore the military industrial complex, the imperial icons re-entering the Canadian Forces, the new Winnipeg Jets logo, the baseless arguments for buying a bunch of white elephant F-35s, and Don Cherry whooping it up with the troops in Afghanistan. Glorify the war, support the troops, but don’t question the mission.
But we have to draw a line.
Act of Valor legitimizes, celebrates and endorses a mindset of eternal warfare and oversimplified stereotypes. It glorifies emotional repression, celebrates fear and limits our choices as we slide to an evermore barbaric society.
We need to resist these messages and call them out as aberrations of a society we do want to create.
In short, we must rise above our primitive need for terror and seek enlightenment in conflict resolution because if we don’t, Act of Valor will be the blueprint of our destruction.