Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Trinity, Redemption, and John Cusack's War, Inc.

WARNING! Contains spoilers! The following is an in-depth examination of some specific scenes in the movie War, Inc. If you have not seen the movie, read no further.

I previously wrote a review of War, Inc., which was a general first impression that spilled out of me immediately after seeing the movie for the first time. That first review really focused on the political issues of war profiteering and privatization of government functions, which Cusack raises in this film. Upon a second viewing, I realized there is a lot more going on in this movie. The layers of meaning I find in it are exquisite.

This movie is John Cusack's baby. It's never completely fair to say one contributor is responsible for a film. Films are always collective efforts. But Cusack produced, starred in, and contributed as a writer for this one. In an interview with costar Marisa Tomei, she emphasized that he had a hand in just about everything, and credited him with writing the film, although there are two other writer’s names on it along with his. He has created something very special.

A blog post by someone on MySpace named The REAL Bill got me thinking about what I might have missed on my first viewing of this film. I didn’t agree with much of Bill’s post, because the political content of War, Inc. is important, and Cusack has given many interviews on his political views. It really IS a political movie, and I don’t think it makes any sense to deny that.

But Bill proposed the idea that at a deeper level, the film was really about what we do to fill up our emptiness. Certainly these characters struggle with the feeling of emptiness.

I will hazard a guess that it's really about love and redemption, with that deeper message a brilliant counterpoint to the political message about crass commercialism, greed, and a callous disregard for life. In fact, in an early meeting over drinks with Natalie, Hauser says he is “looking for redemption in all the wrong places.”

There are three characters and three moments in the film that create a triangle relationship that I think is really interesting.

I hinted in my earlier review that the improbable relationships between Brand Hauser (John Cusack), Natalie Hagelhuzen (Marisa Tomei), and Yonica Babyyeah (Hilary Duff) turned into the most human and tender moments of the film. There are three moments of connection between these characters that I think are really key to understanding what is going on in this film.

The first one of them is when Hauser and Natalie come together in a sudden, unexpected, but irresistible kiss. This is the sexiest moment in the film for me.

Other sexual references throughout the film are deliberately crude, predatory, and depraved, to illustrate how sick it really is when sex becomes a commodity and is sold as a product.

The kiss in the Humvee between these two characters is different. This is the blossoming of real love between two people who've been able to "peel away the masks" and see each other. Earlier in the film, Hauser makes a remark about the word person:

“Did you know that the word person comes from the Latin word persona, which means mask? So maybe being human means we invite spectators to ponder what lies behind. Each of us would be composed of a variety of different masks, and if we can see behind the mask, we would get a burst of clarity, and if that flame was bright enough, that’s when we fall in love.”

Natalie takes this as a pretentious pickup line, and maybe that is how Hauser intends it, or maybe not.

In fact, this line may be one of the deepest insights at the heart of War, Inc. By the time Natalie and Hauser kiss, she has been able to glimpse the haunted soul of this very troubled man, seeing him for so much more than the dumb corporate drone she thought he was. He has likewise been able to see past her political preaching to the compassion from which it springs.

The second amazing moment in the film comes when Hauser has been sent to Yonica's hotel room to convince her that he doesn't hate her, when she has become convinced that he does.

He finds her sitting on her bed, strumming an acoustic guitar, and softly singing a beautiful song, and he says he feels like he's seeing her for the first time. She immediately resumes her trash-talking bitch persona, and when he asks why she does that, she says "Nobody cares for my beautiful soul. They care for my ass."

She later breaks down and, in a devastating moment, she tells him through her tears that she thinks she is from another world and says "I can not be from this place. I do not belong here." With this, she roundly rejects the world's suffering she cannot bear to feel a part of. On my second viewing, I cried too, recognizing that in my own darkest moments of despair, I have also uttered these very words. (Hilary Duff's performance here is quite wonderful.)

Then, in a sweet fatherly moment, Hauser feeds her to comfort her. Again, two people who initially made each other very uncomfortable finally connect and create a bond.

Lastly, there is the moment where Natalie and Yonica connect after having disliked and judged each other at first. This takes a while to build over several scenes.

They begin the connection over a makeshift meal in an abandoned estate, when Hauser tells them that his wife was murdered and his daughter kidnapped. We can see their shared sympathy for him (as they contemplate his loss of the feminine principle in his life).

Later, in the face of her impending dreaded marriage, Yonica is in despair because she believes she is a whore, but, she says, at least I can be a rich whore. Natalie tells her she doesn’t have to marry some asshole to get what she wants in life. Here, Natalie is offering her liberation, a powerful gift from one woman to another.

Yonica continues with her marriage plans, but eventually tells Natalie she will escape her husband by telling him she is going shopping in America and she will never return. She asks if she can live with Natalie, who cries out "oh, yes!"

I see in these three characters a trinity who unite to redeem each other with their love in what becomes a family by the end of the movie. This is not a trinity coming out of some paternalistic version of religion, however, because the strength of the two female characters ensures that the feminine principle is here restored to the sacred symbol. This is a spiritual union of equals.

Hauser has another interesting line, which seems a cynical joke when he tosses it off to Natalie at their first meeting. When questioned about the suffering that the war is causing, he says:

"But the way I look at it is this: the day we can actually feel and hear all the suffering of mankind, that’s the day when the Christ will come back. So we got that going for us. "

After a quizzical look from Natalie, he adds, "or Buddha, or Allah, whoever floats your boat."

This is deeply messed up when he first says it, but maybe in the context of the whole film, we can look at it another way. When we can really “feel and hear all the suffering of mankind” (feel and hear it, not create it), when we can see that a mother losing her child in Baghdad suffers as much as a mother losing her child in Anytown, USA, or anywhere else in the world, then we will develop compassion. Then we will all become the Christ or the Buddha, or whoever floats your boat. Talk about a paradigm shift!

Perhaps we might find that when we embrace love and accept the "other" the world becomes a place we can all be from. That would represent a true AUMerican Dream Change, as my Gather friend Carolion Grailbear calls it.

Don't be too distracted by the broad and sometimes crude humor. That is only one of the masks. Just as there are hidden depths to Hauser, there are also hidden depths to this film. And it has a beautiful soul.

War, Inc. is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and now on iTunes.

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Blogger L-A said...

What a wonderful review! You've captured so many of the movie's layers.

October 23, 2008


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