Monday, December 26, 2005

What C. Wright Mills Already Knew: Syriana

Turns out, power is something worth discussing, even if you thought Who Governs? explained that troublesome bogeyman away. Get out your Gramsci, Fanon, Reuther, Niebuhr, Foucault, Said and Anderson, put on a pot of coffee and theorize Blackwater, Bechtel, Halliburton and The Carlyle Group. As an incipient, lacksadaisical political scientist, I'd say the film lacked an additional layer of complexity and subtlety by missing the role played by NGO's and nonprofit corporations mining a lucrative third way. Why bother with shadowy front operations when the money can be funneled back and forth between well-meaning third parties?

From a moviegoing perspective, Syriana does things that confuses Americans (read: non-ideological thinkers) by violating certain principles of fairness which automatically subverts the exoticist rampage storyline. This is Melville and Conrad territory, albeit less poetic, suspended in a value neutral vacuum. This is beyond good and evil; these are tactical losses and collateral damage, tit for tat. Finally a metaphor for the movements of portfolio capital, embodied in the several persons animating the drama.

Unlike Moore, Gaghan and Clooney (channeling something he must have learned under David O. Russell) conspire to create a nearly unimpeachable political film, so restrained it can't be considered exciting or suspenseful or any of the Oscar-worthy blurb cliches that will doubtless be imputed to it. Syriana refutes Soderbergh's hamfisted lecture on the war on drugs and complicates matters by presenting a story in which allegiances change, lessons are learned and time overlaps, rather than evolving from one point through an arc, creating a story rife with coincidence and stinking with serendipity. Unlike the revelations of Medium Cool, Syriana's message breaks across faces with the same grim realization undergone by the executioner in Kafka's In the Penal Colony, not out of enlightenment, but painful necessity.


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