Ada Abroad: Living and Working in Germany

An online journal recording two years spent as a Fulbright/Pedagogical Exchange Service Teaching Assistant at secondary schools in Germany. (2003-2004 I was in a village near Bautzen; 2004-2005 I will be in Nordrhein-Westfalen.)

Location: Münster, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

I'm an American living in Germany, working as a foreign language assistant at a secondary school. Future plans: getting my Ph.D. (probably in Germanic Linguistics), becoming a professor, living an ethical and meaningful life.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Textual Analysis of a Rather Bad Movie

I just got back from going to the movies with my parents. My mom picked the film, based on previews she'd seen and probably reviews she'd read. She likes suspense films, so she picked something called "Red Eye."

It's about a young woman who works in a hotel. She's trying to fly home to Miami from her grandmother's funeral in Texas. A passably attractive guy strikes up a conversation with her in the check-in line, and then they go to an airport bar together (where he makes a rather unsettling "joke" about killing his parents). They wind up sitting together on the flight. And... dun dun DUN!... he's a terrorist! He tells her this straight out, of course.

Two hours later (and wiser), my mom agrees that this was not the greatest movie decision. If she'd known what it was going to be like, she'd have picked something else. As my dad put it, "That was a made-for-TV movie."

He has a point. The acting is second-rate, and there are a lot of loose ends that never get tied together. (For example, the lead character's dad is recently retired, but what was his job, anyway? And how did she get so chummy with the director of Homeland Security?)

But "Red Eye" is more than a TV movie mistakenly marketed as a "real" movie; it's a TV movie with propagandistic tendencies. I'll get to that in a minute.

(Note: this post contains plot spoilers. I will assume that you wouldn't want to see this movie, anyway, because it's not very good--- save your money!--- but if you insist on wasting your $6, you should stop reading now.)

Plot summary continues:

Mr. Self-Identified Terrorist has apparently been following Hotel Girl around for months. He knows her favorite drink, her commuting habits, and even that she eats a lot of eggs. Why is he following her? Because he knows that the Director of Homeland Security likes to stay at her hotel. And he wants to kill Mr. Homeland Security. (Why is never fully explained. Presumably he thinks that this will Demoralize the American People. Which strikes me as slightly unrealistic. Sure, nobody likes terrorist attacks, but how many Americans could pick the director of Homeland Security out of a line-up anyway? You want to really demoralize people, take out an A-list Hollywood celebrity.)

Mr. Terrorist will kill Hotel Girl's father unless she calls her hotel (from the airplane) and moves Mr. Homeland Security into another suite in which it will be easier to kill him. She doesn't want to do this, but she doesn't want her father to die, so she weeps a lot and agrees not to alert the flight attendants. She does attempt to tip off her fellow passengers, leading to a scuffle in the bathroom, which 1. reveals a scar above her right breast and 2. catches the attention of a blond 11-year-old named Rebecca.

Hotel Girl places the call to her hotel, putting Mr. Homeland Security in harms way, though she doesn't want to, because she knows Mr. Homeland Security and he's "a really nice guy." (We see a brief clip of Mr. Homeland Security, all-American-handsome, with an attractive blond wife and two attractive blond children-- the archeotype of the American family.)

Then Hotel Girl tells Mr. Terrorist how she got the scar: she was raped in a parking lot. "For years, I've been telling myself one thing..." she begins. "That it was out of your control," Finishes Mr. Terrorist. "No, that I would never let it happen again!" So she stabs him in the neck with a pen. The plane has just landed, so Hotel Girl is able to quickly run off and escape into the airport. Mr. Terrorist, wounded but still frisky, tries to chase her. Luckily, little blond Rebecca is able to trip him with her duffle bag.

Mr. Terrorist chases Hotel Girl through the airport. (She never removes her high-heeled shoes, even though they make her trip and lose valuable time as she exits the moving walkway!) She escapes his clutches, gets into her SUV, and drives home to Daddy. Meanwhile, she calls the hotel again, on her cell phone, and is able to get Mr. Homeland Security and his blond loved ones out of their hotel room just before a some guys on a fishing boat, who look like WASPs but speak what sounds like Arabic, shoot a missile through Mr. Homeland Security's balcony. No one in the hotel is injured.

When Hotel Girl gets to Daddy's, the hitman is just moving through the door, so she runs him down with her tank-like vehicle. But (shocking!) Mr. Terrorist has followed her home and is already in the house! He chases her through it, and she tries to fight him off with various objects, while taking time to taunt him about his failed plans to kill the Teutonic-looking Homeland Security family. Eventually she finds a conveniently-placed gun, Daddy recovers consciousness, and the two of them kill Mr. Terrorist together. And everybody lives happily ever after (except the audience, most of whom now want their $6 back).

---Now, let's take a look at what this movie's REALLY saying, shall we?

1. Mr. Terrorist has been following Hotel Girl for months and knows her habits. Implication: That this is a normal terrorist tactic. The terrorists may be after YOU, too. A move to increase the audience's anxiety. Analysis: This is not very likely. In real life, terrorists seem to target generic "people," rather than specific individuals-- unless, maybe, those individuals have a heck of a lot of public visibility. They wouldn't waste their time shadowing Hotel Girl. But, you know who MIGHT want to shadow Hotel Girl, especially if she was involved in anti-war protesting or other "suspicious" activity? Our own government! It's all provided for in the Patriot Act.

2. Little blond Rebecca; the blond Homeland Security family. Only three children play a role in this film. All are blond. Mrs. Homeland Security, another "innocent intended-victim," is also blond. Analysis: Blondness is used to convey innocence, wholesomeness, and the typical "All-American family." Maybe I've spent too long in the wilds of East Germany, but I can't help see parallels with the Nazi use of blondness here.

3. Hotel Girl explains that she was raped. Mr. Terrorist says it was "beyond her control." She says that she cannot let it happen again. Analysis: This is a metaphor for 9-11. Hotel Girl is the innocent victim--America-- who was "raped." According to the movie, what is the correct response to the situation? Not to assume that it was "beyond her control," but that she "can't let it happen again." To prevent it from happening again, she must use pro-active violence: she stabs the terrorist in the neck. Ergo, to prevent "national rape" (terrorist attacks), we must commit violence against THEM first. (And of course we know who the terrorists are, since they oh-so-conveniently tell us! Just like Mr. Terrorist, who makes who he is and what he's up to explicitly clear.) I read this as a veiled attempt to justify the Iraq War-- which was started, ostensibly, for "Homeland Security reasons." Saddam (supposedly) "said" he was a terrorist, and to prevent another "national rape," we had to "stab him in the neck."

4. Hotel Girl takes out the hitman with her sport utility vehicle. Implication: Since the hitman is a terrorist, she is (by extension) using her SUV for "homeland security purposes." Drive your SUV to win the War on Terror! Never mind that all the gasoline you put into it will serve to enrich the Saudi royal family, some members of which appear to have been funneling money to terrorist organizations for decades!

5. Mr. Terrorist quite literally shows up in Hotel Girl's living room. Implication: They're everywhere; you can't get away. Not even your living room is safe! Analysis: This is intended to make the audience feel violated: perhaps to reawaken the feeling of violation experienced after 9-11.

6. The terrorists in this movie are easy to identify-- after all, they tell you exactly who they are-- and relatively easy to thwart. You can outrun them even without taking off your high heels! Implication: Real terrorists are easy to identify and to thwart, too. (So why haven't we found Osama yet?)

Some thoughts

I already shared most of this analysis with my parents, and they thought I was reading way too much into things. To quote my dad, "Sometimes a bad movie is a just a bad movie."

True. But sometimes it's a bad movie with a coded message. In this case, I think the key to the movie's real message is in the scene in which Hotel Girl discusses her rape with the terrorist (and stabs him): that, in order to prevent terrorism, we must use violence. That the proper way to keep 9-11 from happening again is to strike first. The problem is that real-life terrorists are not as easy to identify as the ones in this film. They don't tell you they're terrorists. And that this "striking first" philosophy can easily be used to justify aggression against just about any target-- all you have to do is convince the public that the intended target is a threat to "Homeland Security" first. Sort of like insisting that Iraq had, and was planning to use, weapons of mass destruction, and/or that there was a "direct link" between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

Pay attention to the content of non-serious movies, the kind that people go to see when they just want to be "entertained" without having to think. In particular, pay attention to suspense films and other movies that play to viewers' emotions and use fear to disengage them from their critical thinking skills. These are great vehicles for propaganda-- because the writers bank on the idea that you will just sit back and allow yourself to be entertained, and never consider what ideas their product is really pushing.


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