Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Nuclear Endgames: Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol

It's a complex word with myriad definitions, extending itself into math and all the sciences; in chaos theory, it refers to the degree of complexity a society can achieve before it inevitably begins breaking down and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol illustrates just that breaking point of collapse: nearly every scene demonstrates how a simple, unknown variable in the plan's calculation throws everything off. From a battery dying, the mask-making machine freezing up, a foreign agent arriving ahead of schedule, phone signals being crossed, a giant sandstorm, a cable being too short, a robot magnet freezing up, people in a doorway, people crossing the street, a servant bringing in a tray of tea, all point towards how out of control our control over the world really is. Like Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows, Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol gives us chaos theory, but it's another face of chaos theory.
Ghost Protocol is the fourth installment in the franchise; since the first Mission Impossible, this is the only other one that I have seen; it hits all the marks for which a thrilling action adventure aims but it does something more than that, it situates itself nicely within the context of all the other films released this year and contributing it's own questions about the direction our society is going. You might say--and correctly--that all the elements which I listed above are merely the techniques of thrilling film making, and you would be right; however, it happens too often and contextualizes itself within the delicate balance of international politics to be anything less than intentional.
One of the most chaotic situations in history: an old fashioned seduction. Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) arrive at a high-fashion party in Mumbai, India; their target? A rich social network business man who owns a satellite that is going to be used to launch a Russian nuclear warhead at San Francisco to start a war. Jane has to hook and seduce the millionaire to get him to tell her the override code to stop the warhead. While Nath, the entrepreneur Carter attempts to hook is initially attracted to her, she looks in the wrong direction for a moment and loses his attention; Hunt goes over to her and, acting on a hunch, kisses her which regains Nath's interest in her. Nath doesn't pursue this in a typical, sexual-predatory manner, however, he sends her a tray of cell phones and makes her find him; this uses up precious time to get the code implemented so they can stop the launch, but after Carter finds Nath, he then wants to show her his art collection, then he moves on her but a servant comes in with tea; this causes another delay; when Carter has him alone, she finally pulls a gun, forces him to tell her the code and they get it to the computer team. All of these elements are unknown variables in the initial conditions of the plan, working to bring failure to their designs.
The reason I was not particularly interested in this film is that it involved the bombing of the Kremlin in Moscow, and I just couldn't see how that would be relevant or important today; it's like the last twenty years of history was completely missed by the screenwriters (any bombing of a country's government/historical landmarks is an act of terrorism/war, but I am speaking strictly in the vein of Cold War films and novels). Yet it is relevant because of the reason the Kremlin was bombed: one professor code named "Cobalt" decides that the world would be a better, stronger place if there was a nuclear war from which the world had to recover. What is not explicitly discussed by either Cobalt or the film is, "Why would the world need to become stronger?"
The answer is, because it is becoming weak.
Benji (Simon Pegg) the computer guy. The film opens with Ethan Hunt in a Russian prison and Benji and Agent Jane Carter have to extract him. Hunt realizes he's being extracted, yet, despite the plan, decides to bring a "passenger" a long, i.e., another inmate for them to save as well.
Let's take a very simple example: the battery on your cell phone goes out, you forgot to charge it or you thought it had more energy than it really had; you know the situation. How dependent are you on that phone, and what are the consequences when you don't have it anymore? Here's another example: the electricity goes out and the fridge defrosts. How much money in spoiled food do you lose? What about the washing machine or dryer going out? What about your car breaking down? What about your computer freezing, or getting a virus and needing to be repaired? What would you lose if you lost your computer? What would happen to your life if that happened?
This is the character bringing chaos into everyone's life. Sabine Moreau (Lea Seydoux) intervenes in a courier pick up to steal nuclear launch codes; while she's doing it, she murders Agent Jane Carter's boyfriend. Later, she arrives ahead of schedule at the Dubai hotel and causes a panic because she's early and the team isn't ready. Agent Brandt (Jeremy Renner) looks at her and Moreau sees the "computerized contact lenses he wears" and realizes she's been set up and starts firing, getting in a fight with Carter and getting pushed out a window of the world's tallest building.
These are the questions that entropy asks.
How much, or how little, would it takes to begin the collapsing of all society?
What Mission Impossible successfully achieves is the overall illustrating of that situation on every level when a Russian professor decides to become a Darwinisticwatch the whole begin to unravel, and that's the point of the film: the maze of satellites plus the plethora of non-monitored nuclear weapons from the Cold War Era adds up to it being pretty easy for anyone to do what was done in the film and we have less control over the whole situation than we might have had twenty years ago because we are a far more complex society today.
This poor guy, really has a chaotic situation going against him. He has stolen Russian nuclear launch codes but didn't realize there would be "armed hostiles" tracking him down, or the female assassin also wanting the codes. From his escape in the train station to his escape here, on top of a roof, he manages to get away until he sees a blond.
Here's an example: Hunt and his team have very sophisticated technology to bring down "the bad guys," but what happens when that technology fails? Hunt's GPS device loses its tracking capability in a sandstorm, and the mask making machine goes kaput. A film that seeks to keep you on the edge of your seat is one thing, it's another when, for example, Navy Seals are in the field and their equipment breaks and they have naught but their wits. This is the basis for the Russian understanding that society has become weak: society can't keep up with the pace that society has set. The forces willing to destroy civilization are very few in number, but they are nearly as well armed as the forces trying to protect it, and there are more places than ever to hide.
This is in Dubai, where the tallest building in the world is. Benji realizes that he can't gain access to the hotel's computer mainframe where he is, so Hunt has to climb outside the building up to the floor with the computer; as he climbs, one of the gloves helping him dies and he only has one. When he fixes the computer, he has no way of getting down, so he employs some cable to use as a rope, but it's too short to reach all the way back into their room. He swings himself to get back into the room, and nearly falls out (pictured above) but Brandt manages to grab his leg, and Jane Carter manages to grab Brandt's leg.
There's a lot of faces to chaos, and more and more of them are showing up in films.
This is probably a good reason why some films are going back to the "dark ages," i.e., the 1980s, when there really were no personal computers. The collapse of society is pretty scary, maybe even scarier than a nuclear war; that's one for discussion at your New Year's Party, but intimately intertwined with how convenient life is and how connected we are all, is the inherent dilemma of how weak it is making us and what the consequences of that will be.
Oh, those massive sand storms that turn up just as you need a satellite signal.
One last item: I am most grateful that more and more big budget films are avoiding foul language and nudity; there is none of that in this film, and it seems to be a trend which is catching on and I appreciate that deeply.
Agent Brandt wears a magnet suit; he has to jump 25 feet into a computer with a fan going (that would chop him to bits) and the only thing that will save him is Benji saying, "I'll catch you," with a little magnetized robot that will keep Brandt from hitting the fan. Would you jump, knowing those odds and the probability of the unknown variables? This is, literally, the "leap of faith" which none of us want to take, ever. It's valuable that Brandt takes it because in the story about Hunt's wife dying because of him, that's actually an apt parable for the way in which socialism got into America (the wife, as usual, symbolizing the "motherland")  but it's the satellite and warhead that, while seemingly so old and arcane, is just as much a threat symbolically today as in the Cold War because of the economic and political system that created it: socialism.