Spotlight (2015)

A group of investigative journalists at the Boston Globe uncovers a decades long cover-up of Catholic priests abusing children. Sadly the movie is based on a true story.

The Spotlight team.
The Spotlight team.

Why did the abuses happen?

According to a couple of studies, one of them by a psychotherapist who treated these priests for 20 years, the main causes were insufficient candidate screening and insufficient training to prepare for the challenges of celibacy.

You mix those insufficiencies with the Church’s power and authority and with the morbid shrewdness of those priests targeting vulnerable kids and you get these events.

Trying to think about it in terms of mental models the lesson seems to be: don’t give moral power and authority to too many people (where bad apples are likely to appear) in demanding situations (we are wired for reproduction). Corollary: if you devise such a system and you find issues (in this case children being raped) don’t cover it up and expect the problem to disappear.

What about the journalists?

The Spotlight team are heroes: in my mind they are kind of using the scientific method (make hypotheses, test them, refine them, keep a skeptical mind) to uncover new knowledge about human nature and their findings can have as much impact as many more traditional scientific discoveries like this story or others like Watergate.

Back to the movie: I didn’t find it lurid. The acting was strong and the plot gripping. Recommended.

Brooklyn (2015)

What if an Irish girl emigrates to America, gets in love and has to come back Ireland?

This movie is set in the Ireland and New York of the 1960s and I found the story beautifully told. The main topic is immigration and what is “home” but it also touches on love, career and duty to your family. Given that I’m an immigrant myself I thought this could add another perspective to my experience.

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**SPOILER ALERT**

The main message is clearly spelled at the end of the movie:

[Some day…] you will catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past, someone who’s only yours. And you’ll realize that this is where your life is.

In my experience that is true. Since I graduated from university in 2010 I have been lucky enough to live in three different countries: Ireland, the US and Switzerland, but I met my wife soon after moving to Ireland and she has made me feel home since then. Would I have gone back to Spain or stayed in Ireland had I not met her? I don’t know. Part of my family lives in Spain and the other part in Japan. I look forward to visiting them every single time but whenever I visit them it doesn’t feel that I should have stayed there. It feels a bit like a level you have cleared in a video game. It brings you wonderful memories but now you are simply in a different place.

For me leading this nomadic life, which is a step up from moving back and forth between two countries that Brooklyn talks about, has the significant downside of making it quite hard to form intensive life-long connections and we are starting to feel the need to settle down. But whenever people ask me I recommend them to at least try the immigrant strategy over the “stay at home until you die” one: you get a better understanding of the world and exposes you to more views of life, it makes you stronger and you get more options both in terms of relationships and in terms of career which means more likely to lead a happy life. I wouldn’t have met my wife nor most of my friends had I stayed in Spain, I wouldn’t have the wonderful job I currently have and I wouldn’t have learned a big part of what I’ve learned.

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So yes, I would recommend the movie to most people, specially to those who haven’t left their home country, it may resonate with you and trigger an experience that may change your life :-).

The Fugitive

What if a doctor who has been wrongly accused of killing his wife and sentenced to death escapes from prison?

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What I liked the most of this movie are the main characters: Harrison Ford as Dr Richard Kimble and Tommy Lee Jones as Samuel Gerard, the US Marshal who is tracking him down. Richard is trying to figure out who killed his wife. He doesn’t care going being so close to the police and he cannot help but save lives when the opportunity arises. Meanwhile Samuel is giving all he has to catching Richard. He is rough and he is also the epitome of rationality: although his primary goal is to catch Kimble he doesn’t let that stop his skepticism and the questions that start appearing in his head.

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**Spoiler alert**

The other thing I liked about the movie is its tension: if you empathize with Robert you literally feel that you’re being hunted all the time. The symbolism is also everywhere: Richard is a doctor saving lives who is accused of killing his wife. The murder is actually missing an arm. Richard risks his life and his freedom multiple times trying to save other people like the cop at the beginning and the kid at the hospital.

So, what did this movie tell me about life? Society isn’t always just, sometimes you have to break the law if you want to have justice.

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Saving Private Ryan

What if an experienced squad is sent behind enemy lines to find and bring back a soldier in the middle of World War II?

This movie is graphically brutal: every body part that can be shot, vaporized, burned or mutilated gets such treatment. But behind the surface there is a series of moral dilemmas and statements that will make you think.

"Well, it seems to me, sir, that God gave me a special gift."
“Well, it seems to me, sir, that God gave me a special gift.”

**Warning: spoiler alert**

What does Saving Private Ryan say about life?

The story starts and ends in a cemetery and, near the end of the movie when Capt Miller is dying, he asks Ryan to live a worthy life. So obviously the movie is trying to show us what that a worthy life means.

During the movie Miller faces multiple moral dilemmas, some examples: he has to follow non-sensical rules, he risks his squad’s life going out of their way to kill a dangerous enemy sentry so that they won’t kill fellow American soldiers, he lets a prisoner of war escape when nearly everyone else in the squad wants to kill him and he needs to find a solution to rescuing Ryan when he doesn’t want to be taken away from the battlefield. Living a worthy life seems to mean upholding certain values even when your life is on the line.

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I took all the movie’s chaos, randomness and violence of war to represent life: things happen that make no sense or are unjust or painful. We try to rationalize them (Miller justifies deaths of soldiers under his command by assuming that he saves 10 lives for every soldier he loses) but in the end this is just a way of coping with reality.

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Besides Miller’s dilemmas what does the movie say about specific virtues? Caparzo dies trying to save a little girl that reminded him of his cousin, so mindless compassion isn’t good because it gets you killed. Horvath, Miller’s friend, dies in the final battle. Reiben, self-interested and arrogant, survives. Jackson, the deadly sniper who recites Bible verses before taking every shot, is pulverized by a tank while he’s camping at the top of a church tower. Wade, the medic who throughout the movie desperately tries to save lives, dies after bleeding out from the nastiest wound that the team suffers. Upham survives but the movie shows him as a sensitive person who wants to do the right thing but lacks the courage and moral strength of Miller: he is unable to shoot Germans soldiers that end up killing his teammates and eventually he kills a German soldier that, earlier in the movie, he defended and prevented the rest of the team from killing.

Of the original squad of eight the only two survivors are the coward and the selfish. The movie appears to be saying: those values may prolong your life but that kind of life isn’t worthy.

Ryan, who doesn’t want to abandon the battlefield because he thinks it’s unfair to his team, also survives. At the end of the movie, when he’s in front of Miller’s grave he states, tearfully, “I’ve tried to live a good life”. When he asks his wife if he has been a good man his wife replies affirmatively. Which reinforces the movie’s idea that happiness consists on living a good life.

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Have you watched the movie? Did you get a different message?

Dr. Strangelove

#antimilitary #comedy #kubrick

What if a US general goes insane and orders a nuclear attack in Russia during the Cold War?

That’s the question that Dr. Strangelove, a Stanley Kubrick movie from the 60s, explores. It’s a critic against the military with a lot humor and irony. The character interactions are great and the plot, although surreal and quickly spiraling out of control, will make you think about the dangers of an arms race. The primitive special effects and the sometimes histrionic acting don’t detract from the plot. Overall I found it to be a great comedy on the human condition.

**Warning: spoiler alert**

According to Kubrick, humanity, in particular the military, is full of selfish and irrational people driven by their passions that won’t hesitate sacrificing humanity for their own good. In the movie President Merkin and Mandrake represent rationality and desperately try to prevent the upcoming nuclear winter, but everyone else is essentially lunatic: Ripper reasoned that the communists contaminated water with fluoride to weaken the Americans and destroy them, Gen Turgidson is prejudiced against the Russians and can only think about making war and making love, Major ‘King’ Kong wants to bomb something even if he has to give his life, Dr. Strangelove is cynical and nihilist scientist who tries to convince everyone else that nuclear winter is coming and that they better get a few hundred thousand people with a 10 to 1 female to male ratio into a cave and start rebuilding humanity, the conspicuous Russian Ambassador keeps trying to steal information until the very end of the movie when the Doomsday machine is triggered, the Russian president is drunk and childish. Even Turgidson’s girlfriend is so self-centered that she calls him while he’s at the war room to ask if he will marry her.

From the scene where Jack explains how he came to believe that Russians deserved to be bombed for putting fluoride in US water:

When did you first become--, well, develop this theory?
When did you first become–, well, develop this theory?

— Jack. Listen, tell me–. Tell me, Jack. When did you first become– well, develop this theory?
— Well, I… I first became aware of it, Mandrake, during the physical act of love. Yes, a profound sense of fatigue, a feeling of emptiness followed. Luckily, I was able to interpret these feelings correctly. Loss of essence. I can assure you it has not recurred, Mandrake. Women sense my power and they seek the life essence. I do not avoid women, Mandrake, but I do deny them my essence.

In the end, though, we are all doomed, too little rationality, too much self-interest and too much animal instinct, at least in the military.

Peace is our profession.
Peace is our profession.