This is my personal thoughts, opinions and musings place. I will also rant about things, especially politically-correct things that irritate me. And sci-fi. Did I mention sci-fi? There'll be lots of sci-fi stuff here. And movies, too. Mmmmm... Movies

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Of bad movies, and making silly political points thereof

There was an odd movie on TV yesterday, called Strip Search. It ran for only an hour, and from what I've read on the web, it was originally 2 hours, but was cut to shreds by HBO. Anyway, on to the discussion at hand.

At it's core, the movie is about questioning the supposed loss of freedoms in the post-9/11 world. It tries to accomplish this presenting two parallel and identical plots, one involving an American woman studying in China, and the second an Arab man in the US. A few things struck me as odd about this. The first was that the woman was studying political science in China and the second was that the writer of the piece didn't apparently understand totalitarian regimes. There were a few others that I'll get to later.

For all intents and purposes, there's just the one plot, being carried out in parallel by two different groups of people. A person is accused of some unspecified terrorist activity, brought in for interrogation(read, questioning) and then systematically broken down. One of the odd things is that this is all being done with the fully knowledge and support of that person's own government.

So, it begins. Everything they say is twisted around and questioned, which I suppose is standard in interrogation. How else do you trip up the opponent? What was odd, however, was that both sides, the US and China, used the exact same language and had the exact same belief. This is where I came to believe that the writers didn't really understand anything but their own prejudices. The attempt, I think, was to show that the US has gone too far, that it uses the same tactics as China.

But there are problems with all that. I cannot, for one moment, make myself believe that an American woman studying political science in China, would be unaware of the fact that unlike the US, a totalitarian regime such as China does, in fact, consider dissent the same as disloyalty. That, after all, is why we have Tiannamen Square. Nor do I understand why an American would even want to study political science in China. After all, if one merely wants to learn how bad and evil America is, one need not go to China, American universities do a good job of that themselves.

There was something else interesting that came out of all that. The male Chinese interrogator complains that he doesn't believe political science is really science, because it is too imprecise. Hence we are shown the writers' ignorance. It is only imprecise in the West, where dissent is allowed, and you therefore never know exactly what people's reactions are going to be. In totalitarian regimes, people's reactions are, in general, known, precisely because dissent is disallowed. The only way this can work is if he's saying that only to get under her skin.

So, the two interrogators, woman for the Arab man, man for the American woman, do basically the same things to their victims. Humiliation, revelation of secrets, questions about strange people in photographs, that sort of thing. Then comes the strip search, full body cavity. Full frontal nudity, from both of them, same type of questions of "Are you ashamed of your body?" and "Is something smaller than it should be?", followed by attempts at humiliation by touching and commenting, "Oh, you've got a good body". That sort of thing.

Before the full body cavity search begins, each is given one final opportunity to... confess, I guess. "Do you know this man?", pointing at a photograph. The woman finally breaks down and admits that yes she does know him. Her interrogator leaves at that point and nothing else happens to her on screen other than her wrecking the interrogation room. The man refuses to confess and his interrogator leaves at that point, too, only to be replaced by the Full Cavity Search Guy® who promptly puts on a glove, but all you get then is yelling from a distance.

Now, I'm not entirely sure what the point of all that was. Maybe it was to illustrate that both Americans and Chinese use the same techniques. Now, even if true it ignores the fact that communist regimes have been using those tactics, and worse, since the beginning of time. Maybe it was to demonstrate that in today's world George Washington would've been considered a terrorist. That's what people say these days, though I'm not sure I buy it. All it demonstrates is that people badly misuse the word “terrorist”.

Or, maybe it was to demonstrate that modern American society considers disagreement with the government to be the same as disloyalty or treason. If true, Michael Moore would've been arrested and had his cavities explorered long ago. Another of those odd aspects of the movie that I found aggravating was the denial speech modes used by the two detainees. When their girlfriends(yes, the American studying in China was a lesbian - go figure) were going to testify against them, the response from the both of them was, “No! She wouldn't do that!” I found this odd because it suggests that the pair was, in fact, guilty. If they weren't guilty, the response should've been something like, “No! You're making them lie!” or “How can they? There's nothing to testify against” or “No! She wouldn't lie!”.

Apart from showcasing the fact that Maggie Gyllenhaal, the actress playing the American student, is really hot naked, I don't really understand what the point of this whole exercise in futility was.

Update: March 30th, 2005

I guess I also should've added that it's possible the movie was trying to showcase forced confessions. “Confess, or you'll get a full body cavity search every day until you come to enjoy it and want it”. That's what the two interrogators, the Chinese and the American, said to their respective detainees. See, the Chinese and the Americans both do it. Except that I somehow doubt it is the official policy of the American government to do that sort of thing on a regular basis, or even the occasional basis, since it is hardly conducive to leading a proper investigation. Communist governments, on the other hand, have been doing it as a matter of course since 1917. Forced confessions are nothing new, historically speaking, and hardly ever lead to justice when used regularly by governments(or other powerful political institutions) as a matter of policy.

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