Sunday, 10 April 2016

Eye in the Sky.

A friend recommended, and I went to watch it this weekend. Eye in the Sky was the movie. It is about a drone, a girl and a few suicide bombers. I will spare you the details, but it was a clever movie. Suspenseful. Exciting. Stimulating. It made me think. I made me wonder.

No spoilers here, but the plot is simple. You control a drone capable of firing a missile from the sky. You have been surveying a house in Nairobi of suspected terrorists. You confirm in real time that they are arming two suicide bombers in the house. You have only minutes to react, that is, to pull the trigger. You need to “prosecute the target” before the suicide bombers disperse in two cars to detonate the explosives in a crowded area, killing an estimate of 80 innocent people. That much is expected of a Hollywood plot.

But here’s the catch, here’s what makes for a good 1-hour-and-40-minutes drama: there’s a 9-year-old girl. She is thrown into the factual matrix. She is innocent. She is the daughter of the house owner. She is selling bread nearby. She is collateral damage. She is the casualty that stands between the trigger-drone and the target-bombers.

What do you do? Do you fire at the target and hope for a miracle? Do you save the girl by not firing and risk the suicide bombers killing many? Is one life worth more than 80? Or should you wait…wait for a more felicitous situation to emerge within the actionable window of opportunity so that the result after pulling the trigger would give some assurance that the girl's fatality will be kept the lowest - say less than 50%? So what do you do?

If there is a common theme running through the movie, it is really about being able to sleep with a mediated conscience at night. And the conscience varies between different people played in the movie, that is, there’s a colonel (Helen Mirren) who had followed the suicide terrorists for 5 long years and she is going for blood, the General (the late Alan Rickman) who had to deal with the ministers on both sides of the Atlantic right up to the British prime minister, and the ground crew pilot (Aaron Paul) who was tasked to fire the missile from a drone hovering in the sky and just can't do it.

For this movie, the scriptwriter and the director did a commendable job keeping the audience on the edge of their seats with this simple plot: the little girl’s life for possibly 80 other civilians. And to give them credit, throughout the movie, you never felt that the plot was exaggerated, contrived or pretentious. Every moment leading to the next was intense, authentic and believable. Some parts literally captured your imagination as a humanitarian, as a parent with a young child, as a soldier who bears the scars of war, as an idealist who has a certain fixed mindset about what the world should be or ought to be, and as a pragmatist who just want to get the job done, go home and get ready for next mission.

You see, everyone wants to do right in their own eyes. The military wants to eliminate the threat immediately and regardless – girl or no girl. The politicians want to limit the bad publicity and preserve their image. The activists want to stick to their fuzzy ideals and principles at all costs. And the men on the ground just want to keep their sanity as they are the ones doing the killing.

The chain of orders and authority saw much hesitation, reservation, indecision, vacillation, cowardice, filibustering, and pretending. No one wants blood in their hands and the chain of command went all the way up to the Prime Minister. Even the latter was at a lost for words and direction. He too fumbled. Do we just kill all, including the girl, and blame it on the terrorists? Do we allow the terrorists to kill 80 in a, say, shopping mall and then use that as a propaganda springboard for more political funds and support to wipe out the terrorists' groundswell to kingdom come? Or do we just sit by the fence, push the responsibility higher up the chain of command, and wash our hands like Pontius Pilate did?

Well, you will just have to watch the movie till the end for the final unraveling. And trust me, you’ll not be disappointed. It’s going to start you thinking, churning deep. At the same time, you will not be harboring any delusion about how darn hard it is to play god when you have the power for that faintest of moments to experience a foretaste of omnipotence, that is, when an innocent life hangs precariously on the effortless articulation of one’s lips. Kill or no kill.

For me, I left the cinema wondering: What would Jesus do? And I am not being specious, pretentious or flippant here. Honestly, in a fallen, imperfect world, how would God deal with a situation like the one portrayed in the movie and the millions of situations that avail themselves on a daily basis that are no different from the drone attack, if not worse?

Would God pull the trigger and wipe out all and sundry, and submit a casualty report later with a Job-like explanatory note that reads, “Because I am God”? Is He even required to file a report? Who is He accountable to in the first place, except Himself? I mean, who is more qualified than Him to do what is best for all, for all eternity? Isn’t it only us the mere mortals who are implicated and struggling here?

And whether we like it or not, there is just no simple answer to the exasperating perplexity of what we call the human drama that plays out everyday in this world. It’s the Gordian knot of human dilemma that we either accept and move on with a touch of amnesia, or allow it to torment us indefinitely to our grave.

Let me end with another movie a few years ago. It’s about a homosexual genius who killed himself because the world he had served wholeheartedly was more interested in his morality than his sacrifice. His name is Alan Turing and the movie? The Imitation Game. Alan was an cryptanalyst extraordinaire and one of the founding fathers of modern day computing.

With a dedicated team, he managed to crack the so-called unbreakable codes of the German’s WWII Enigma machine. By cracking it, the Allied forces would know every battlefield moves of the Nazi enemy. Finally, they would have the upper hand, the vantage point.

In the movie, one intense dialogue captured the moment of flawed human omnipotence for me (very similar to the drone attack in Eye in the Sky). It happened when Alan’s team first cracked the code and was mapping out the enemy’s next plan of attack. One of the team noted that the German U-boats were going to ambush a British passenger convoy with at least five hundred civilians on board. The logical thing to do then was to warn the convoy and rally up a counterstrike to save the convoy.

But Alan said, “Let the U-boats sink the convoy.” The other cryptanalysts in the room were stunned, speechless. They could not believe those words.

To add to the human drama, one of the cryptanalyst’s brother was in the convoy heading towards certain destruction. Peter then begged Alan Turing to warn the convoy as there was still time to save his brother, but Alan would not budge, “We can’t do what feels good but we have to do what is logical.”

He explained that they should continue to lie to the Nazi war machine when they expect to be lied to.  In other words, Alan had to perpetuate the deceit and not arouse the enemy’s suspicion by saving the convoy. He said, “Our job is not to save one passenger convoy but to win the war.” Broken and furious, Peter confronted Alan, “Who decides whether a person lives or dies?

Alan whispered, “I guess we do.

It was a painful decision for Alan and the rest of the team but their tactical restraint and the many that followed hastened the end of the war. Some historians estimated that if not for Alan and his team, the war “would have continued for at least another two years, and two million more lives would have been lost.” Mm...the trade-off equation here is 500 for 2 million?

I guess some sacrifices may just be unavoidable and God may have exercised the same tactical restraint not just at Calvary, but with regards to the many natural and man-made atrocities that happened before and after that day when he allowed his son to be sacrificed for a purpose that is beyond what we can ever conceive. I know this is cold comfort to many, but hopefully, someday, it will be comfort enough, even surpassing, when all is revealed. Cheerz.

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