Well… I’ve actually been sick (as they say in Canada) with the flu for the last couple of days. As part of my recovery I watched, in my bed of sickness, Body of Lies (a movie which I know that Ruth wouldn’t really like).
It’s directed by Ridley Scott and is fairly typical of his movies - following in the tradition of Gladiator, American Gangster etc. It’s fairly violent, with hard to watch scenes of torture, and is rated 18 (in Canada).
It opens with some lines of poem by W.H. Auden – September 1, 1939, written at the outbreak of the second World War.
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
Auden’s poem was widely circulated after Sept 11th and you can read the whole poem here with a couple of short essays on how the poem links to a post-Sept 11th world.
The movie itself is about CIA counter-terrorism operations in the Middle-East and follows the story of a CIA operative Roger Ferris (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) with his boss Hoffman (played by Russell Crowe). Although Ferris does a fair amount of killing he nevertheless has compassion for others – particularly those innocently caught up in the “war on terror”.
It’s hard to know how the initial poetry quotation relates to the what follows in the movie. And what’s interesting is that very few reviews of the movie do. Does it mean that evil is simply the result of other evil being perpetuated and that human history is simply a vicious circle of evil and violence?
What gives me a sense of hope after watching this movie is that Ferris decides to turn his back on his “trust no-one” CIA life and stay in Jordan. The movie ends with him carrying out the simple every-day act of buying pastries in a market. His compassion, plus his involvement with the real lives of people (including speaking their language), is what makes the difference. Okay… perhaps it’s just the romantic connection he forms with an Iranian-born nurse, but in the end Hoffman (his boss) is shocked that Ferris actually wants to stay in the middle-east even after his “retirement”.
I guess that we can see in the actions of Ferris the kind of actions that might just make a real difference in our world of violence and evil - entering into the lives of others (even our enemies) rather than simply standing at a distance. Kinda makes me think of The Incarnation… again.