humans are scum

Instead of the boring, old, flashing, loud lights in the sky that happens everytime this year, I decided to watch some movies for this 4th of July. My selections were Syriana and Munich. Both of them debuted last year, received several Oscar nods, star huge celebrity actors, and involve complex, international workings consisting of multiple murders. But the biggest similarity I noticed between the two films was that each dealt with a version of prisoner’s dilemma.

The theory behind prisoner’s dilemma begins with this premise: two suspects have been arrested for a crime. If one suspect confesses and snitches on the other he goes free, while his partner gets sentenced for 10 years. If neither one snitches, they both only receive 6 months. However, if they both confess, they are each sentenced to two years behind bars. Will the two prisoners cooperate to minimize total loss of liberty or will one of them, trusting the other to cooperate, betray him so as to go free?

Syriana and Munich explore this theme throughout two, differing settings. Syriana introduces a cast of characters from different backgrounds who know nothing of each other, but are ultimately thrown together in a giant version of the prisoner’s dilemma. Here, the game is played between the oil producing country of Kazakhstan and the US oil interests represented by the CIA and a large oil company. Though the main characters believe themselves to be major players, at the end of the movie they realize they’re merely pawns. Don’t be alarmed at the confusing plot … it never really comes together, but I think that’s the point. It’s supposed to be atmosphere plot, as in you feel more in it rather than understanding it.

Munich, on the other hand, is all about plot. Though, many government agencies are featured amidst international backdrops, the focus of the movie is an inner struggle. The main character starts out feeling as if he’s doing a patriotic duty to systematically assassinate the minds behind a ghastly terrorist attack, but slowly this vengence begins to eat at him. He finds himself paranoid and disillusioned. He questions his own motives. The prisoner’s dilemma shows up as the main character questions if his acts of vengence really have a beneficial result as the men who replace his targets turn out to be worse than their predecesors. Palestine and Israel would obviously benefit from cooperation, yet the movie depicts a vicious downward spiral of violence and counter-violence.

Both are excellent examples of beautiful filmmaking … that is, if you can handle the not so pretty subject matter.



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