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An Action Movie That Will Never Get Made

August 10th, 2011 · 10 Comments

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.

Tags: Art & Culture · General Philosophy



10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Adrian Ratnapala // Aug 10, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    Damn, that was a spoiler dude!

    I’d like to see the movie.

  • 2 syskill // Aug 10, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    I was really getting into the plot, but unfortunately WordPress seems to have cut off the end of the post.

  • 3 Professor Coldheart // Aug 10, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    Why have B crack? Why not just leave it on a “Lady or the Tiger” ending? It’s morally ambiguous enough already.

    Hell, you wouldn’t even need aliens. Just buff the serial numbers off of The Departed / Infernal Affairs.

    On one hand you have the dodgy but devoted military intelligence officer, who’s cut a few corners in his day but all in pursuit of justice. On the other you have an undercover MP, an arrogant go-getter who’s on the side of law and order.

    The MP is sent to Afghanistan undercover, as a transfer, and deployed with the intel officer in the field. A convoy truck has been ambushed the day before by an IED, so tempers are high when the MP arrives. It’s cleaned up by the time he arrives, so he doesn’t see the brutal injuries. All he sees is the intel officer on a warpath, kicking in the doors of farmers’ huts and putting guns in their mouths to get names.

    What the MP doesn’t know is that his commanding officer back in the States is a traitor, collecting the damning reports the MP sends home and leaking them to (say) China, who’ll use them to discredit the U.S. The intel officer finds this out, though. Believing the MP to be a traitor as well, the intel officer knocks him out on an assignment in the field.

    The intel officer locks him up in an abandoned hut, miles from the nearest base, and goes to town on him. Stress positions. Waterboarding. Breaking his fingers. The intel officer has solid proof that the MP is reporting to a traitor. The MP knows that the intel officer is a loose cannon.

    Haven’t figured out the ending yet.

  • 4 Julian Sanchez // Aug 10, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    That would work if you wanted to keep a uniformly realistic tone throughout—and might, as a “moral dilemma” movie, be more effective for it. I liked loading on the genre ambiguity as a kind of correlate of the two characters’ different worldviews: Are you watching a “realistic” (by Hollywood) standards thriller chronicling a hunt for delusional cultists, or a sci-fi conspiracy flick? Deciding which character’s version of events is correct, then, requires the audience to decide what kind of movie they have been watching—and what kind of world they’ve been inhabiting—for the preceding 90 minutes.

  • 5 Ben // Aug 10, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    So, how do you pitch it? Saw meets Inception?

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  • 7 TehShrike // Aug 11, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Was this inspired by Unthinkable? There are a lot of parallels between protagonist A and the plot of that movie.


    Also, I think your movie plot sounds excellent, and I would love to watch it (if Hollywood let a director do it justice).

  • 8 Tybalt // Aug 16, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Sorry to break from the tone of the comments, but this sounds terrible – corny and silly all at once.

    (It actually sounds like a rather recherche moral philosophy exam question)

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