Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Mission Impossible V: Rogue Nation and The Syndicate

The full first trailer for Mission Impossible V: Rogue Nation has been released and it looks amazing: sure, amazing stunt work (Cruise is actually on the outside of that airplane that flies up to 5,000 feet  in the air, and he only had two straps keeping him on), intriguing characters we know, love and can depend on, and witty dialogue, but the real hook for me is what we learn about The Syndicate and what is happening to the Impossible Missions Force:
"The IMF is uniquely trained and highly motivated." What does that tell you? In America, we like watching films about "the best of the BEST," we don't like watching individuals or teams who are mediocre or get shown up by others, or who just barely manage to do their jobs: why? We not only like identifying with "the best of the best" but we ourselves get motivated to do our best when we see others doing their best; with MI5, it's not just raising the standard of what is going to make a great film, it's raising the standard of what excellence is, and a perpetuation and dedication to simply raising the standards continually.
What does that tell you?
So, Benji opens a door, but it's the loading dock on the back, and Ethan yells, "The other door!" Why does this happen? To drag out Tom Cruise being stuck on the outside of an airplane? Possibly, but even that would serve a larger purpose, I mean, Benji's reputation and aura as a geek-supreme are jeopardized in not being able to open the right door for Ethan, so this is a scene with huge risks on numerous levels,... why take it? Benji symbolizes the audience, us, the viewers; how? We are the ones "opening the wrong door" and going into the "vehicle of the film" (the plane) the wrong way. There will be more to this interpretation when we see the film and the particulars, but this is the film's direct interaction with us the audience to indicate that, there is a wrong way to "open" this scene, and a right way to "open" this scene ("open" as in, "open for interpretation and decoding").  
The Syndicate, on the other hand, appears to not set its own standards, but uses the IMF as its standards; the "anti-IMF," as Benji calls them, has its existence only because the IMF first existed for The Syndicate to steal their identity, in other words, The Syndicate is a leech, a parasite on a host (IMF) that it's trying to kill. Why? Well, to answer that, we have to understand who the IMF symbolizes.
These bikers play a crucial role in understanding who The Syndicate is and why they are so deadly: these bikers are basically Storm Troopers, yea, as in JJ Abrams' Star Wars the Force Awakens and, yes, Abrams just happens to be one of the producers of MI5. This isn't a lack of originality, rather, this is the establishment of a pattern of cinematic vocabulary that the film makers are wanting to use to communicate with their audiences. 
"Specialists without equal, immune to any counter-measures," is a fabulous organization to belong to! "But it is an agency in chaos," and in another voice, "The time has come to dissolve the IMF," and a gavel hits the stand (a symbol of "justice") and that's supposed to be it. What if, and this is based on only 2 minutes of spectacular trailer footage, but what if we took the IMF--being dissolved with a counter-agency trying to destroy it in the shadows--as a symbol of the United States?
This scene, is a work of art! We know that eyes generally symbolize sight, but not the sense of being able to see, rather, our instincts, our "third eye" and intuition, that which we have to use our heart and mind to see, and interpret or discern. A "courier" (looking a lot like Ethan himself) delivers this message to Benji, like Mercury/Apollo who was the messenger of the gods, but also the god of prophecy (and prophecy means "deep wisdom," being able to recognize patterns of human behavior and apply it to what hasn't happened yet but probably will based on what has all ready happened). As Ethan tells Benji what he has learned, Ethan "opens Benji's eyes" to the wider picture. We saw something similar to this in Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows when Watson tells Holmes that what he has been drinking "Is meant for eye surgery," but that's exactly what Holmes has drunk it: to widen his gaze, to expand his sight and ability to "understand" through seeing what it is that Moriarty is getting ready to do. Ethan reveals to Benji what is happening, and so too, reveals to us the viewer what is happening. Benji, then, become the "eye piece" (or medium, if you will) for Ethan to communicate to the audience with. like with the "seat belt" comment discussed below).
This is a good exercise for us because there is no rule that "shadowy, secretive, elite operations departments symbolize the government of the home country" or anything like that; in this instance, the IMF is an "organic" symbol that is going to evolve and take on whatever information baggage and encoding the film makers want, so we will only be able to deal with this in its totality (of the film). But let's look at it this way, "Desperate times, desperate measures"; isn't that what the US is dealing with right now?
What is The Syndicate in reality?
This is a great scene in the film, and a fab image. What do we see? Ethan's identity being "dissolved" by the fog, just like the identity-less members of The Syndicate. There is a film reference for this scene, but I am probably making too much of it, and I want you to know it, but perhaps you thought of the same thing, so you be the judge. At this moment in the trailer, Just before the "fog" (poison or whatever) completely overtakes Ethan, he is watching someone shoot someone, and the room they are in is a record room, so it looks like Ethan is in a listening booth. The last time I saw such a thing (and this might be a totally different reference, but let's play with it) was in The Talented Mr. Ripley, when Ripley (Matt Damon) was watching Dickie (Jude Law) listen to jazz records and Ripley was trying to "dissolve" his own identity to become a person that Dickie would like to be friends with. This might not be connected with the actual film at all, however, if it is, it would make for a dramatic commentary on what Ethan goes through during this scene and offer a sub-text about The Syndicate.
Rebecca Ferguson has an interesting role in this film: when we first see her, she flashes a key to Ethan and helps him escape, then later, we see Brandt saying, "Can we trust her?" What does Ferguson do in this initial scene with Ethan, who has never met her? This minority female shows she has the key to releasing a dominant, power-holding white male who is the very best of the best in his field and she releases him. It appears that she continues to help him throughout the film, but the method of her helping is very interesting and we have seen it three other times before this (meaning, a pattern is being established): using the legs to attack the head of an enemy.
See? The white male under arrest, Ethan Hunt (left) and Superman (Man Of Steel, right) under guard as well. Why? Because the government, run by Obama, has turned on white American men. 
Black Widow in Captain America: the Winter Soldier, 47 in Hitman: Agent 47 and Legolas in The Hobbit: Battle Of the Five Armies, have all jumped up around the shoulders of the person they are attacking put the enemy down by damaging the head; at 0:46 and again at 1:43, we see Ferguson's character do this and that's twice in a two-minute video. Just as Brandt asks, "Can we trust her?" we should be saying the same thing because of what this motion could potentially symbolize: revolution.
If she is a member of The Syndicate, not having a name would support and validate the "faceless" and, therefore, identity-less motorcycle riders we see above. This is a rather ambiguous image: is Ferguson's character covering Ethan, or is she holding him at gunpoint? Ethan might be protecting her, or she might be getting ready to shoot someone as a threatening gesture for Ethan to cooperate with her evil scheme. On an entirely different note, when we see her in the second half of the trailer wearing a pea/lime green evening gown (and flashing quite a bit of leg, for symbolic purposes--her standing in society) that dress can either be interpreted as a sign of the hope the team has invested in her to pull off her job, or that she is rotten like the mold growing on last month's leftovers in the fridge. 
The legs, as you probably recall, symbolize "our standing" in society, our reputation, what people think of, that which we "stand upon." The head symbolizes the "governing function," not just of a person, but of an organization, group of individuals, etc. Being a woman, Feguson's character would technically be considered a political minority (that would be her standing) and attacking the "head" of her enemies would be manifestation of her obsession with attacking the "head of government" that is oppressing her as a political minority. Or not. It's interesting, however, that Ferguson's character hasn't been publicly named at the film's official listing; why?
On an entirely different note, a psychoanalyst would look at this moment, not in terms of politics, rather, sexual illumination. Ethan, bound up, half-naked to this pole, is in a "submissive position," and Ferguson "has the key" to knowing what it is that Ethan requires to un-restrain his sexual needs. Ethan working his way free of the pole, a phallic symbol, is going to be met by Ferguson's character using the flute as a gun late in the trailer. So Ethan is in search of a masculine woman (the flute is sexualized as a phallus and a gun) who can free him from the self-imposed sexual limitations he has set for himself (he frees himself from the pole, the phallic symbol, she doesn't do that, she unlocks the handcuffs, which are also, in this Fifty Shades of Grey culture, a sexual symbol).  
Well, the "good guys" have names, stable identities we know and trust. If, for example, she introduces herself to Ethan as Sarah, but The Syndicate knows her as Laura, she would have a double name entry, and that's a sure give-away of a villain because if our identity isn't stable, we can't develop our character in virtue and become good because we haven't committed our selves to good.  On the other hand, the studio could be keeping her identity a secret just to add to the suspense.
Rather like Ethan telling Benji, "The other door!" in the airplane sequence described above, when Ethan asks Benji, "Do you have your seat belt on?" that's a question addressed to us, the viewers. Why? The car goes upside-down, and when we see Benji, he is upside-down and Ethan has all ready taken off. If we don't have our perceptual seat belts on, then we, too, will end up, upside-down, stuck back in the destroyed car, while Ethan has gone onto the chase, and the motorcycle scene--while it's not the climax of the film--will have a lot to teach us about the film's message, so we don't want to stay behind with Benji.
I'm really sorry I haven't gotten posts up: this Lent has been excruciating for me. I wish you all the countless blessings of tomorrow's Annunciation Day! GO SHOX!!!!!!!!! (Beating KU was beyond AWESOME!).
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner