March 3, 2006
Oscars for Osama
WASHINGTON -- Nothing
tells you more about Hollywood than what it chooses to honor.
Nominated for best foreign film is ``Paradise Now,'' a sympathetic
portrayal of two suicide bombers. Nominated for best picture is
``Munich,'' a sympathetic portrayal of yesterday's fashion in
barbarism: homicide terrorism.
But until you see
``Syriana,'' nominated for best screenplay (and George Clooney,
for best supporting actor) you have no idea how self-flagellation
and self-loathing pass for complexity and moral seriousness in
has, of course, the classic liberal tropes such as this stage
direction: ``The Deputy National Security Advisor, MARILYN RICHARDS,
40's, sculpted hair, with the soul of a seventy year-old white,
Republican male, is in charge'' (Page 21). Or this piece of over-the-top,
Gordon Gekko Republican-speak, placed in the mouth of a Texas
oilman: ``Corruption is our protection. Corruption is what keeps
us safe and warm. ... Corruption ... is how we win'' (Page 93).
But that's run-of-the-mill
Hollywood. The true distinction of ``Syriana's'' script is the
near-incomprehensible plot -- a muddled mix of story lines about
a corrupt Kazakhstan oil deal, a succession struggle in an oil-rich
Arab kingdom and a giant Texas oil company that pulls the strings
at the CIA and, naturally, everywhere else -- amid which, only
two things are absolutely clear and coherent: the movie's one
political hero and one pure soul.
The political hero
is the Arab prince who wants to end corruption, inequality and
oppression in his country. As he tells his tribal elders, he intends
to modernize his country by bringing the rule of law, market efficiency,
women's rights and democracy.
What do you think
happens to him? He, his beautiful wife and beautiful children
are murdered, incinerated, by a remote-controlled missile, fired
from CIA headquarters in Langley, no less -- at the very moment
that (this passes for subtle cross-cutting film editing) his evil
younger brother, the corrupt rival to the throne and puppet of
the oil company, is being hailed at a suitably garish ``oilman
of the year'' celebration populated by fat and ugly Americans.
What is grotesque
about this moment of plot clarity is that the overwhelmingly obvious
critique of actual U.S. policy in the real Middle East today is
its excess of Wilsonian idealism in trying to find and promote
-- against a tide of tyranny, intolerance and fanaticism -- local
leaders like the Good Prince. Who in the greater Middle East is
closest to ``Syriana's'' modernizing, democratizing paragon? Without
a doubt, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, a man of exemplary
-- and quite nonfictional -- personal integrity, physical courage
and democratic temperament. Hundreds of brave American (and allied
NATO) soldiers have died protecting him and the democratic system
they established to allow him to govern. On the very night the
Oscars will be honoring ``Syriana,'' American soldiers will be
fighting, some perhaps dying, in defense of precisely the kind
of tolerant, modernizing Muslim leader that ``Syriana'' shows
It gets worse. The
most pernicious element in the movie is the character who is at
the moral heart of the film: the physically beautiful, modest,
caring, generous Pakistani who becomes a beautiful, modest, caring,
generous ... suicide bomber. In his final act, the Pure One, dressed
in the purest white robes, takes his explosives-laden little motorboat
head first into his target. It is a replay of the real-life boat
that plunged into the USS Cole in 2000, killing 17 American sailors,
except that in ``Syriana's'' version, the target is another symbol
of American imperialism in the Persian Gulf -- a newly opened
liquefied natural gas terminal.
The explosion, which
would have the force of a nuclear bomb, constitutes the moral
high point of the movie, the moment of climactic cleansing, as
the Pure One clad in white merges with the great white mass of
the huge terminal wall, at which point the screen goes pure white.
And reverently silent.
In my naivete, I
used to think that Hollywood had achieved its nadir with Oliver
Stone's ``JFK,'' a film that taught a generation of Americans
that President Kennedy was assassinated by the CIA and the FBI
in collaboration with Lyndon Johnson. But at least it was for
domestic consumption, an internal affair of only marginal interest
to other countries. ``Syriana,'' however, is meant for export,
carrying the most vicious and pernicious mendacities about America
to a receptive world.
Most liberalism is
angst- and guilt-ridden, seeing moral equivalence everywhere.
``Syriana'' is of a different species entirely -- a pathological
variety that burns with the certainty of its malign anti-Americanism.
Osama bin Laden could not have scripted this film with more conviction.
2006, Washington Post Writers Group