Sunday, March 20, 2016

Foreign Policy Midnight Movie: "Eye In The Sky" and The New Looking Glass War

If you want to look for heroes in this movie, you still need to look on the ground

Eye In The Sky, the new film directed by Gavin Hood, which opened this past weekend in US cinemas, depicts in vivid detail a speculative military action in the East African theater of the War on Terror, and as such might be considered somewhat off topic for this website. Rather than offer a straight review with the usual spoilers, I wanted to share some insights I took away from it.

First, the film depicts a highly hypothetical scenario, and depicts some speculative technology, ranging from insectoid drones to the HD quality of the imagery displayed to the commanders. In this regard, Eye In The Sky almost qualifies as science fiction – but it’s that most modern form of science fiction where the line between the present and future is so blurred as to be nonexistent - a William Gibson sort of not-quite-future, unevenly distributed, and so volatile that we question whether or not it really exists. 

Col. Powell: Hold, Please
A vexing aspect is the all-too-familiar depiction of feckless civilian leadership, albeit with a couple of twists. One is weighing the optics of collateral damage against a quantifiable security objective, and trying to figure out which is more politically sustainable. This point is really only hinted at, and as increasingly important as it is, will likely be dismissed by audiences. The other is that the inevitable buck-passing chain ends in China and Singapore, representing Asia as a sort of Soft Power Supermarket of refuge from the pressures of the conflict at hand. Such assertions are where the film falls short, and they would’ve been best left out.

He's quite good here -
not once did he yell "BITCH!"
Where Eye In The Sky truly succeeds is in its depiction of the most pernicious and rarely spoken about aspects of drone warfare: first, as Alexander Cockburn has pointed out, when made ubiquitous in theater, drone warfare "produces fantastic antagonism among the targeted population,” creating as many new enemies as targets destroyed; and second, because of the unique aspects of drone warfare (you can see the enemy much better than if you were an infantry soldier on the ground, or for that matter, than the close air support pilots of previous wars; plus the fact that the enemy can’t even shoot back at you, further reducing animus), the very experience of the drone operator produces a heightened sense of empathy for the enemy

It is also that empathy that carries the film, along with excellent dramatic performances, from command centre to area of operations. If you haven’t already, go see it.

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