Reading Jeremy Waldron’s new paper on torture and “moral absolutes”, the following setup for an action movie that will probably never get made sprang more or less full-formed into my head.
The film follows two protagonists: One is a recent recruit to an elite antiterrorism unit (think 24), the other has just stumbled upon (and effectively, if grudgingly, joined) an underground resistance movement that is fighting against what they believe to be an alien invasion conspiracy (think V or They Live). The alternating scenes are shot in different styles, and genuinely hew to the different conventions of gritty-realistic-thriller and mindbender-scifi.
As the story progresses, it becomes clear that the terrorist group sought by protagonist A is the resistance group joined by protagonist B. While A is given to understand that the group is planning to release a lethal biological weapon that will kill millions, B believes that it will be harmless to humans, but render the environment toxic to the aliens, who are on the verge of implementing their genocidal takeover plan.
As the story moves back and forth between the two protagonists, evidence that seems to confirm one character’s view (spectacular alien technology, and even a real-live alien) is debunked in a later scene (cinema-grade special effects with a dose of psychedelics employed by a sinister cult to gull its members, the antiterror chief explains), and then de-debunked again (a clever hoax by the aliens to ensure none who discover their plan will be believed). By the time of the grand denouement, the audience should be thoroughly confused as to who is the dupe—though it should be clear that each believes himself to be the hero.
At the climax, protagonist B agrees to act as a decoy while he sends off another member of the resistance group/cult to activate the dispersal device that will release the biological agent. He is, of course, apprehended by protagonist A, who attempts to extract the location of the device by a series of increasingly desperate threats and physical assaults. (But couldn’t he lie? Well, fine: He needs to speak the code phrase to remotely deactivate the device, which makes confirmation instantaneous.) Though horrified at each step, A insists he will not let millions die because he was too squeamish. Protagonist B is, of course, in terrible agony at this point, but “knows” everyone on earth will face a still grimmer fate if the aliens aren’t stopped.
Realizing he can’t do much to step up the physical pain without causing B to lose consciousness (which makes it less likely the information will be obtained in time), A finally has B’s young children brought in and—though clearly nauseated by what he’s been forced to resort to—begins threatening them in B’s presence. Because they are too young to be persuaded to act convincingly, he ultimately has to begin harming them. Unfortunately, because B at this point knows A to be somewhat honorable, ruses will not be effective: B must see some kind of non-trivial harm really inflicted in order to believe that A is truly capable of it.
As it seems that A is on the verge of dealing a horrific, fatal injury to one of the children, a clearly broken B finally agrees to cough up the information. Fade to black.