Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Man Who Wasn't There

SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.

The Coen brothers made this 2001 movie in the tradition of other film noir movies. It is set in 1949 to point to a time when Hollywood produced stories in this genre. It contains certain elements that fit these types of stories, including a seedy view of humanity with people caught in a web of deceit and criminal activity, filmed in atmospheric black and white. But this motion picture also contains elements of existential philosophy which allows it to reflect on the human predicament.

The main character is Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton). As he readily admits, he is “the barber,” (which would have been another good title for this film). The first shot in the movie is that of a barber pole, spinning its red and white stripes repeatedly, with no final purpose achieved.  In a way, that Sisyphus activity mirrors the lives of the characters. In existential philosophy, a person is in “bad faith” if he or she defines oneself as something external, because it denies the subjective, self-reflecting complexity of the human individual. In the film, for the most part, people don’t remember Ed’s name. If they remember him at all they only know him as “the barber.” That is why to others, as an individual, he is the man who wasn’t there.

The storytelling irony here is that Ed hardly ever speaks outwardly, but the whole tale is told by him, solely from his point of view, in a voice-over (we later find out that a magazine paid him to tell his story), which actually reveals through his observations that he is more than just his job. But his lack of engagement with others, his lack of surface emotion, makes him look like a sleepwalker, which emphasizes Ed’s alienation, his outsider status in society. Since we are restricted to identify with Ed through his narration, the audience, feels set apart from the rest of Ed’s world, too. His taciturn personality is highlighted by the fact that the other men he associates with, co-worker, Frank (Michael Badalucco), Big Dave Brewster (James Gandolfini), Creighton Tolliver (Jon Polito), and lawyer Freddy Riedenschneider (Tony Shalhoub) seem to never shut up. (Even the replacement barber Ed hires later in the movie talks all day long). Ed’s blank, glum appearance is indicative of the pessimistic, negative world in which he lives.
That doomed, helpless outlook shows up in various ways. Frank, reading the news, says the Russians exploded an atomic bomb, and “we can’t do a thing about it.” Ed, talking about where he lives, says his home is a bungalow, which has basic appliances, like a garbage disposal. After the description, he comments, “Guess you could say I had it made.” It is a sad assessment of what the working class is supposed to be satisfied with. The first shot of Ed’s wife, Doris (Frances McDormand), shows her checking out how she looks in her undergarments. Her make-up is important to her. In an interview, McDormand said that Doris, who is from a peasant Italian background, wanted to have glamour in her life, but with time, that hope faded. She finds solace in her appearance and her job as an accountant at the Nirdlinger department store, the place which sells glamorous things. She also relishes in the attention paid to her by Big Dave, her boss. He likes to tell stories about his heroic actions in the war, which contrasts with Doris’ boring life, and which makes Big Dave an appealing character to her. Ed says that he and Doris go to church each week, which sounds like maybe they at least have religion to provide an uplifting feeling. But he quickly follows up by saying that they attend the weekly bingo game. He says Doris didn’t believe in life-everlasting, and that bingo was the height of existence. Life here is cynical and uninspired.

Ed doesn’t even find bingo enjoyable. He doesn’t feel the need to “entertain” guests, though Doris still invites Big Dave and his wide-eyed wife, Ann (Katherine Borowitz) to dinner. (Despite Big Dave’s big talk, he runs the store because it is owned by his wife’s family, so he hasn’t really achieved his position on his own). The way that Doris pays attention to Big Dave, the way she laughs at his jokes, makes Ed suspect that the two are having an affair. But Ed is so detached from life that the infidelity doesn’t phase him, as he says, “It’s a free country.” Ed is a passive individual. He became a barber by “marrying” into the job. Frank is Doris’ brother and owns the barbershop. However, when Tolliver walks in as a customer, and talks about looking for an investor (after someone locally pulled out of the deal) in a new invention, “dry cleaning,” Ed’s first response is that the man is probably running a scam, but this time he questions that maybe his negative attitude toward life has relegated him to just being “the barber.” He contemplates changing from being passive to becoming proactive.
We then have a scene where Doris sits in a tub, self-absorbed in reading a magazine. She doesn’t even look at Ed, but asks him to shave her legs. He dutifully does so, and this grooming act is as close to intimacy that occurs between these two, with Ed having to do the barber job even in his own home. While still reading, Doris says without feeling, “love you,” as if uttering an obligatory afterthought of thanks. Perhaps Ed then goes to Tolliver after realizing how unrewarding life is for him after this episode. Tolliver doesn’t even recognize Ed without his smock, which again shows Ed’s sole identification is that of being a barber. Ed at first doesn’t trust Tolliver because in his world one is suspicious of anything being positive. Ed initially sees the wig-wearing, salesman personality of Tolliver as a possible swindler. But Tollier is legitimate, and offers a fifty/fifty split of the profits with Ed, who needs to get $10,000 dollars to invest. Tolliver in contrast to Ed and Doris, is an optimist, and says when one door closes (the man who declined the investment) another door opens, in the person of Ed. As we see later, this positive attitude is punished, not rewarded in this environment. It is appropriate that Ed will be a “silent partner,” given his quiet nature. Ed’s plan is to monetarily exploit his own wife’s affair by anonymously blackmailing Big Dave and getting him to pay the ten grand.

We then get a scene with Ed and Frank in the barbershop, and Ed seemingly talking nonsense about hair. Ed observes how the hair just keeps growing and they have to keep cutting it. His statement reminds us of the barber pole’s repetitive movement with no end purpose. He is voicing an existential view of the absurdity of life, which he finds unsavory. That is why he says he wants to mix the cut hair with dirt, showing his disgust with his perception of his life as being part of the pointless cyclical nature of existence.
Doris drags Ed to an after-hours party at the store where she works. Big Dave takes him aside and confesses his plight to Ed. Big Dave was the one who pulled out of Tolliver’s deal, and he believes that the dry cleaning entrepreneur is the blackmailer, since the blackmail note asks for the same amount that Tolliver wanted for the investment. Big Dave figures Tolliver saw him with the woman he was carrying on with at the hotel where Tolliver was staying. Of course, Big Dave doesn’t admit that it is Doris he was with. Supposed war hero Big Dave shows he is not really the courageous guy to look up to, and his pathetic crying in this scene adds to the negative outlook presented in the film. The scene also demonstrates that Ed’s deceitful action has negative domino-like repercussions, since Big Dave won’t be able to open up the new store with Doris in charge, and Big Dave’s wife, Ann, will be hurt if her husband’s cheating is exposed. He will lose everything, since it is his wife’s store that employs him.
The next scene is a fitting contrast to what has just happened. Ed comes across a teenage girl, whose nickname is Birdie (Scarlett Johansson), playing classical music on a store piano. Ed is drawn to her talent. She, unlike others, remembers his name, seeing him as an individual. For Ed, she represents the hope for the future that innocent youth might be capable of, and which contrasts with the adult sordid, depressing existence in which Ed finds himself inhabiting. Her name implies that she could soar above those hopeless individuals that populate Ed’s world, including Ed himself. It’s possible that her nickname could awaken Ed’s own ability to fly, represented by his last name, Crane, so that he could rise above everyday dreariness.

After Big Dave leaves the money at a drop, Ed seals the deal by signing Tolliver’s business papers. After Ed and Doris attend an Italian wedding on a farm, Doris is reminded of how little she has distanced herself from her unglamorous upbringing and gets drunk. Her negativity about life is expressed when she is sarcastic to the young married couple, saying, “Life is so goddamn wonderful you almost won’t believe it. It’s a bowl of goddamn cherries.” After returning home, Ed, watching his wife sleep it off, recounts how the two met on a blind double date. Even then she drank too much, probably trying to find escape from a unfulfilling life. She liked it that Ed didn’t talk much, and said after only two weeks that they get married. Ed suggested that maybe they might want to get to know more about each other first. Doris’ response was, “Why? Does it get better?” Her answer reinforces the unhappiness and lack of hope in her world.

In the middle of this story, Ed gets a call from Big Dave to meet him at his office in the store. It is late and they are the only two there. After Big Dave paid the blackmail money, he then decided to confront Tolliver when he started to suspect he was the person extorting him. He beat him until Tolliver told Big Dave that he got his money from Ed and wasn’t a blackmailer. Now Big Dave realizes that Ed knows about the affair with Doris and that Ed is ruining their lives for the dry cleaning opportunity. Big Dave attacks Ed, who is able to grab a letter opener in the struggle. He stabs Big Dave in the neck and Big Dave bleeds to death. Ed leaves and returns home, and unemotionally, finishes his story about how he and Doris met and were married. His lack of feelings even after causing the death of another person show how removed he is from life,.

Policemen come to the barbershop and Ed assumes they are there to arrest him, and he seems, again, to be passive and ready to meet his fate. However, the cops tell him that it is his wife who has been arrested for murder. She was cooking the books for Big Dave so he could embezzle funds and the authorities believe she killed him to cover up her complicity. Ed goes to Birdie’s father, the local lawyer, Walter Abundas (Richard Jenkins), for help. Walter admits to his incompetence and recommends another lawyer. Walter, like Doris, drinks too much, and spends hours doing genealogy research, his two forms of escape from the dreariness of his life. For Ed, his escape into a sense of peace occurs when he listens to Birdie’s music.
Ed visits Doris in jail. She has a black eye which shows the damage the incarceration is inflicting on her. He brings her makeup, which shows how Ed understands her need to hang onto her desire for “glamour,” which is almost impossible, given the circumstances. Because Ed does not admit his guilt in the death of Big Dave, he stops Doris from admitting her infidelity. In his mind maybe he thinks they’re even. After Frank mortgages the barbershop to pay for legal costs (another example of negative results resulting from wrong choices), Ed hires the accomplished lawyer that Walter recommends, Freddy Riedenschneider (a name that appears in The Asphalt Jungle, a Coen Brothers tip to the film noir genre). The movie presents a rather negative view of attorneys with this character. Freddy eats like a glutton at the best restaurant in town (symbolizing how he drains his clients), and stays in the most expensive room at the best hotel. He tells Ed he will be charging him tons of fees, including the cost of a private investigator. Freddy, as was said earlier, does all of the talking, and is condescending. He says to Ed, “I do the talking. You keep your trap shut. I’m an attorney. You’re a barber. You don’t know anything.” Ed once more is defined by his job, what the external world reduces him to.
Ed now finds himself even more alienated from life as he says, while watching people on the streets walking, that the recent events make him feel like he has “made it to the outside.” Big Dave’s wife, Ann, visits him, her eyes wider than ever, and tells Ed that she knows that Doris didn’t kill her husband. She relates this wild story about how, during a camping trip, Big Dave was abducted by aliens. She thinks his death is part of some type of government-extraterrestrial conspiracy. Life has become so absurd that people look for some type of explanation to bring meaning to existence, no matter how far-fetched, so as not to face the possibility that life may not have any absolute purpose.
Riedenschneider is not interested in truth. He just is concerned with strategy. He doesn’t care if Doris killed Big Dave, only that she didn’t confess to anything. In a meeting with the lawyer and Doris, Ed finally confesses to save Doris. But, the lawyer says that doesn’t work because there are no witnesses to back up his story of killing Big Dave, and it just looks like Ed is sacrificing himself for his wife. Ed tries to find Tolliver to back up his claims, but the man is missing. Riedenschneider, in another meeting, has a different plan, and it is an existential one. He references the scientific “Uncertainty Principle” (proposed by Werner Heisenberg) which says that just by observing something, you change it’s reality. He says, “the more you look, the less you really know. It’s a fact, a true fact. In a way, it’s the only fact there is.” The lawyer’s private detective found out that Big Dave was an office clerk during the war, so he was a phony when holding himself out to the community as a war hero. The argument here is, the more you look at something, more doubt presents itself. For Riedenschneider, that translates to “reasonable doubt.” He argues that someone who knew of Big Dave’s service record may have been blackmailing him. Who that person may be can’t be known, because nothing that is scrutinized can ever reveal the whole truth. He presents a world that is without understanding, which is as noir as film can get. The trial never takes place, because Doris takes her own life. Ed later finds out from a cop that Doris was pregnant with Big Dave’s child. Perhaps that fact and how far her life had turned for the worse brought her to suicide (like I said - not a happy world we have here.)
Ed says he was now “like a ghost,” the man who isn’t there. His reality as a person is vanishing, and that is why he says of himself that his only existence was tied to the fact that he “was the barber.” He, like Ann, looks for answers somewhere.  He reads about UFO’s, and goes to a medium, who he realizes is a phony, which just reinforces his pessimism about living. After a music competition, he sees Birdie with a young boy, and Ed is intimidating toward the youth. It’s as if he wants to keep Birdie pure, untainted by growing up, which would include sexual experiences, so that he could save her from another life “going down the drain.” He takes Birdie to a musical expert, but this man dashes Ed’s hopes, saying that Birdie is a nice girl, but ordinary, and might make a good “typist.” On the drive home, Ed can’t face more mediocrity, and says the music teacher is wrong. But, he has projected onto Birdie his own hope. The girl admits that she really has no ambition to become a pianist. She is very grateful to Ed, and proceeds to try to thank him by performing oral sex on him. Her fall from grace in Ed’s eyes surprises and literally damages him as he gets into a car accident.
Birdie sustains a broken collar bone. While unconscious in the hospital, Ed remembers an episode with Doris dismissing a salesman and looking at Ed with disappointment because Ed didn’t get rid of the man. They sit on their couch and say nothing. Even Ed’s memories are disappointing. Ed wakes up to discover he is being arrested for killing Tolliver. The submerged car with Tolliver inside was discovered by a young boy who was swimming. The business documents that Ed signed were with Tolliver. The police think that Tolliver found out that Doris stole money for the deal, and Ed killed him to silence the man. Ed knows from Big Dave’s confession that he beat Tolliver, and so he was the one who killed Tolliver and dumped the body.

Ed mortgages his house and hires Riedenschneider to defend him, at least until the money runs out, and then so does the lawyer. But while being Ed’s attorney, he offers more existential arguments about the unknowability of life. Ed says his attorney told the jurors, “to look not at the facts, but at the meaning of the facts. The he said the facts had no meaning.” He argues that Ed was no murderer, because he was too “ordinary” to commit such an act. He was just a barber. And being ordinary, he was “modern man,” like the jurists, and they would, in a sense, be finding themselves guilty. He paints a bleak picture of existence. But Frank interrupts the proceedings with an impassioned anger against Ed for bringing about the death of his sister. There is a mistrial, and with Riedenschneider now gone, a judge, who has no compassion for Ed’s situation, sentences him to death. The legal system obviously is a failure here: Doris kills herself and her unborn child after being imprisoned for a crime she did not commit; Ed is sentenced to death for killing the wrong man.
Just before his execution, Ed is now in the chair instead of a customer, and someone is shaving him instead, to inject lethal drugs. It appears that he can’t escape the barber scenario while in this world. Knowing that he is about to die, Ed now feels completely free in a way from the ties that bind people to everyday life. He lives up to his name as a “crane” flying above it all, gaining a larger perspective. He says, “It’s like pulling away from the maze. While you’re in the maze, you go through willy nilly, turning where you think you have to turn, banging into the dead ends.” But seeing it whole gives him some peace.” He also says that in death, “Maybe the things I don’t understand will be clearer there, like when a fog blows away.” For some of those who try to find ultimate meaning while alive in this world, life may only offer a limited view of the road ahead.

The next film is The Natural.

Sunday, December 3, 2017


SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.

Given the current revelations about sexual assault and harassment occurring in the world of show business and politics, I decided to analyze this 1987 film which explores warped male actions toward a woman and by doing so reveals a great deal about how many men perceive females.
Martin Ritt was a good choice to direct this motion picture since he explored female empowerment in Norma Rae. This story opens with women herded like cattle in jail cells awaiting arraignment. They are literally incarcerated, but they are also symbolically imprisoned by men for not playing the female roles that men have delineated for them. That digressing from the outwardly appropriate norms of behavior particularly fits the main character, Claudia Draper (Barbra Streisand). She is a high-priced call girl who has been arrested for the first degree manslaughter of one of her clients. As she is led to the courtroom, the male prisoners yell out suggestive remarks, and we see Claudia recalling how she had a visual sexual assessment when she walked through a classy restaurant. The two views show how men, no matter the social situation, universally treat women in a sexually demeaning fashion.
We get a hint of Claudia’s problems with her parents when she demands that the court address her by using her married name, Draper. She is aggressive vocally and argumentative, interrupting preliminary court proceedings and questioning the actions of the expensive lawyer hired by her mother, Rose (Maureen Stapleton) and her stepfather, Arthur Kirk (Karl Malden). The judge and the lawyers ignore her as if she is not to speak unless spoken to. The prosecutor says that the psychiatrist gave the opinion that Claudia is incompetent to stand trial because she doesn’t understand the charges against her and can’t participate in her own defense. What the male-dominated system is doing is preventing her from having her day in court. She does not behave in the proper demure and submissive fashion dictated by the men in charge. Thus, they must remove her from society. She could have continued to perform as a prostitute as long as it wasn’t brought to the attention of polite society. But, as soon as she attacked a male, who was abusive toward her, the situation is brought into the light of day, and the ruling males must then punish her for revealing harmful male tendencies.
Because Claudia would not agree to a charge of criminally negligent homicide, her lawyer argues that she should be considered incompetent. The irony here is that the family and the lawyers appear to want to protect Claudia from having to go to prison. In their minds they are acting in her best interests, but they do so by presupposing that she is not innocent of the crime of which she is accused, but instead proposing that she is mentally unstable. They assume that her lifestyle and nonconformist behavior requires the need to separate her from other “normal” people. Claudia’s response is to punch out her defense attorney.
A public defender by the name of Aaron Levinsky (Richard Dreyfuss) happens to be in court during Claudia’s arraignment. He doesn’t want to have anything initially to do with the case after the assaulted defense lawyer quits. But the judge assigns him to Claudia’s case. After a quick review of the records, and because the judge bullied him into taking the job, he decides to challenge the motion to designate Claudia as incompetent to be tried. On his way to question Claudia at the jail, we see colored lines painted on the floor informing people where to get to different locations. It may appear helpful, but it also shows the linear, regimented thinking of how the established authority enforces control over others. Levinsky runs into the state appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Morrison (Eli Wallach), and verifies that Morrison said in his report that Claudia acted “flagrantly sexual.” This phrase condemns Claudia for breaking the rules that men have established about how a woman should act publicly when it comes to sex. This attitude is affirmed by the Latino psychiatrist who says that Claudia is passionate, which is okay in the bedroom, but not outside of it.
In Levinsky’s first meeting with Claudia, she shows contempt for psychiatrists (although Streisand plays an admirable one in The Prince of Tides). She is initially quiet, but when Levinsky asks if she can talk, she says what role does she want her to play. Should she juggle, dance, do card tricks? She says, “What kind of show do I have to put on for you?” Her statement points to the way men force women to play the roles they dictate for them, as opposed to trying to understand the person behind these fronts. She is basically saying that the traditional expectation of men is to have women amuse and entertain them, which denies who they are as complete persons, with their own personalities and aspirations. Claudia immediately delves into Levinsky’s personal life, asking about being married and if his wife is good in bed. She puts her legs up on the table in front of him and spreads them. In a way, she is exaggerating what men expect of women sexually, and is testing Levinsky to see how he will react. He admits to his sexual inclinations and is not like Morrison, who Claudia sees as sexually inauthentic. Levinsky is honest in his responses about how his marriage has had its problems. Claudia wants to expose how the upright appearances of men are deceiving, because under the veneer of respectability lies the selfish need to objectify and possess women to satisfy lustful urges no matter the damage done to the females they desire. Her argumentative ways and in-your-face- sexual references make the audience uncomfortable, which in a way, indicts the viewer for having accepted the male prescribed norms of how women should behave.
When Levinsky mentions that her mother cares about what happens to her, Claudia curses her mother. We again get an indication that there was something in Claudia’s upbringing that points to Claudia not believing Rose is the motherly protector she seems to be. Despite Claudia’s wanting to put everything out in the open, she is not ready to reveal the secrets about the harm done to her in her childhood. She does win Levinsky over as he concedes the possibility that the psychiatric impression that she is incompetent is wrong. She is then willing to go over her case with him. In a subsequent conversation with the prosecuting attorney, MacMillan (Robert Webber), Levinsky says that he has an aunt who is crazier than Claudia, and she is the president of her PTA. Levinsky is acknowledging Claudia’s argument that supposedly proper behavior can be deceiving. A later scene in the psychiatric ward makes this point as Levinsky is fooled by a woman who is a patient, but who pretends to be a visiting psychoanalyst, and who is more insightful than the “legitimate” psychiatrists. Levinsky says the woman seemed so “normal.” Like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and The Shawshank Redemption, here again we have the inmates making more sense than those in charge. Thus the title of the film may be asking who are the people who are really “nuts.”

We get a scene which reveals Dr. Morrison’s phony pretense of wanting to help Claudia. In a session with her he says that she needs treatment because everyone has impulses, but that society requires that the individual control them. “Control” is the operative word here. His putting her in restraints at various times and sedating her is symbolic of the male urge for domination over the female. At no time does he really try to understand Claudia as an individual with a problematic history. He just wants her to comply with what he sees as the proper female pattern of behavior. She is flirtatious with him in order to try to get him to admit his repression of carnal impulses which surfaces as vindictiveness toward an overtly sexual woman. He says he wants to put “order” in her life, but she says that there is no order in life. She essentially believes that disorder is the norm and people try to impose order on the world. Some overcompensate out of a fear of chaos with that urge to control others (like the character of Beth in Ordinary People?). Claudia suggests that Dr. Morrison is one of those zealous control freaks, and may be why he works in a prison, the idea of putting people in cells being particularly appealing to him.

Levinsky’s visit to Claudia’s apartment is revealing. He sees pictures of her mother, which shows she has not totally written her parent off. She has many books, which indicates her intellectual side. There is also a stuffed animal, implying that she retains a childlike quality, and maybe the wish to recreate a better childhood. There is also a Jack-in-a-box toy, which suggests Claudia’s penchant to surprise others with her blunt nature to upset the status quo, but which shows that there may be a vulnerable, youthful side to her inside. Levinsky goes through her clothing to pick out an outfit for Claudia’s court appearance. He has not asked her permission to go through her things, especially her underwear, and in this way, he is acting like a controlling male. She is angry at him for his transgression. He realizes his mistake, and has the decency to apologize.

Levinsky’s impropriety triggers the memory of the man she killed, Allen Green (Leslie Nielsen), and we get the story of why Claudia was arrested. Allen, who appeared to be upstanding, goes through her clothes, acting as if he owns Claudia because he has purchased her sexual services. He wants to stay after having sex and becomes angry and possessive when she has another appointment. He then is verbally abusive, and says she is acting like his wife. He displays the dual attitudes many men have toward women. On the one hand they want females to act socially respectable in public, as a wife is supposed to appear, but they secretly want them to surrender to masculine sexual manipulation. However, they then condemn them for acting slutty. Allen, like many other men, have created the prostitution business to indulge their sexual fantasies, but are ashamed of their unholy drives, and then project their guilt on the women they sought to indulge them. When Claudia resists Allen, he becomes violent, trying to exert his controlling power, and is angry at being rejected. He tries to strangle Claudia, and in the struggle, the bathroom mirror is broken. Claudia is able to grab a shard, and stabs Allen in the carotid area, killing him (possibly an act of vengeful reverse penetration?).

Claudia’s mother testifies that her husband left them and she married Arthur Kirk around the time that Claudia was five years old. Claudia began to exhibit rebellious behavior, including cutting her hair off (to make herself appear less attractive?), but also being promiscuous. Claudia also stopped wanting to kiss or touch her mother. So, she showed conflicting feelings about wanting affection. Claudia, trying to protect her mother despite her anger toward her, denies Levinsky the chance to question her. When her stepfather takes the stand, he acts like he tried to help the young Claudia get over her fear and vulnerability after being abandoned by her father. He says he tried to reward good behavior by giving her money. Thus we see how little girls are trained to get rewards by acting the way the male role model expects. While Kirk is on the stand, Levinsky sees Claudia making illustrations of people who have no mouths. He quietly says the words “speak no evil.” He knows that despite Claudia’s frankness, she and her family are hiding something. He asks Kirk that if he was what he called himself, Claudia’s “champion,” why did she exhibit what Kirk would consider to be abnormal behavior. Kirk can’t explain it, since he always doted on her, including giving Claudia baths. Levinsky now sees what is going on and presses Kirk on this behavior, and the stepfather becomes very defensive when Levinsky wants to know at what age did the bathing stop. Claudia finally blurts out that it went on until she was sixteen years old. We get flashbacks of young Claudia in the tub showing anxiety as the bathroom door handle turns. Kirk would slip money under the door to let him in. We now see how she was abused as a youth and that the money for sexual favors primed Claudia for a career as a prostitute. Rose says she didn’t know, but Claudia says, “No, you didn’t want to know.” Her mother’s self-denial allowed the abuse because she would not face the ugliness of her husband’s aberration.
Claudia, when she takes the stand, says that women legally prostitute themselves all the time. She knows women who married rich men they disliked so they could drive Mercedes cars. Even though she doesn’t admit it, her mother, Rose, may have married the well-to-do Kirk for financial security. At least Claudia is honest about what she does, and she lists how much she is paid for her sexual acts, making the prosecutor embarrassed, but also intrigued as he does not interrupt her. Claudia thus reveals the hypocrisy of male behavior. Claudia later tells Levinsky that she didn’t stop her stepfather because as a girl she just wanted to be loved. Levinsky tells Claudia not to blame herself. The implication is that all children are vulnerable because they want to be loved.

Levinsky angrily confronts Dr. Morrison who has drugged Claudia because he says, falsely, that it is to calm her. In reality he is trying to undermine Claudia’s testimony by impairing her ability to show that she is competent to stand trial. However, Claudia is able to quote the law and argue that if she is not declared competent to have a trial then the authorities could keep her medically institutionalized indefinitely without her ever being allowed to be acquitted of the charges brought against her. The male condescension of the prosecutor is evident as he assumes he can call her Claudia, but she will have none of that, and insists that he address her as Mrs. Draper (she is divorced, her personality and her upbringing not being conducive to a successful marriage and family life. For example, she says she once had an abortion because “she didn’t believe in childhood.”). MacMillan tries to paint her as a paranoid by trying to get her to admit that there is a conspiracy against her. But Claudia is quite lucid as she says of Dr. Morrison, “I’m sure he believes what he believes. He thinks whores are girls who hang out on 8th Avenue and stick needles in their arms. He knows whores aren’t nice white girls from nice white families.” But women go off and have affairs all the time, while pretending to comply with their proper status as faithful wives in society. Her argument is that because she doesn’t fit into the prejudicial pattern of preconceived notions of which women are relegated to unacceptable female behavior that she must, of course, be a mentally deranged.

While the judge goes out to deliberate, Claudia’s mother shows true emotion and says that she hopes her daughter wins the case. Now when Rose says she loves her daughter, Claudia can see that it is not just a phrase that people say for appearance sake. They are able to hug and show genuine feelings for each other.

The judge, Stanley Murdoch (James Whitmore), is convinced that Claudia understands the charges against her and can participate in her own defense. She is set free until the trial. The last shot is of her walking freely in the streets among the other citizens. She sees one man who has obvious mental problems as he looks up into the sky, talking to himself. The shot stresses the unfairness of a society that would let obviously mentally ill people on the street, but would question a woman’s sanity because she does not conform to the imposed male rules about sexual behavior.

The next film is The Man Who Wasn’t There.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Good Night, And Good Luck

SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.

One aspect of this 2005 film, directed, co-written, and starring George Clooney (he’s not just a pretty face), is that it is a historical piece focusing on the United States in the 1950’s when a political witch hunt, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, went beyond its original purpose to root out communist infiltrators, and targeted innocent people. But, there are aspects of this movie which are very relevant to the present concerning abuse of power by politicians and the role of the media.
Clooney shot the movie in black and white, and that choice brings authenticity to the production since during the time period in which the story takes place, television shows were primarily colorless. Viewing it now makes the audience feel as if it is witnessing something historical. And the battle between renowned CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and McCarthy was definitely one for the history books. Also, real footage of McCarthy was used, which not only adds realism to the film, but also makes sense, since it was the senator’s public self, which the population viewed on their TV screens, that Murrow was targeting.
It almost seems difficult to believe, especially for younger people, that at this time, there were only three major network news sources that provided stories, for the most part, during only a small portion of the day and in the early evening. The nation relied a great deal on finding out about events by reading the daily newspapers. The television reporters came from journalism schools, and had to be of the highest caliber in their field to make it to broadcast news. And, because there were so few information choices, unlike the deafening onslaught of amateur news outlets today, the impact that one TV news personality could make was substantial. At the time, journalists were supposed to present the news objectively without personal interpretation or subjective observations. A newspaper would offer the management position only on the editorial page, and not in the writing of the news stories, and similarly, local news stations and national networks would wait to the end of their broadcasts to present commentary (Eric Sevareid was the go-to man for this job at CBS). Even though all of this neutrality has been replaced by personal viewpoints on most of the news programs, and even outright propaganda espousing, it was a big deal in the early 1950’s for Murrow to attack a United States senator.
The story is bookended by the dinner tribute to Murrow on Oct. 25, 1958, years after the confrontation with McCarthy, and it allows Clooney to present the journalist's respected reputation in the introduction to his appearance at the event. We are told Murrow was in the middle of World War II, broadcasting from Britain during Hitler’s bombardment of that island. He also did groundbreaking stories on segregation and the exploitation of migrant workers, which shows his concern for the underdog, and investigative work on then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. But, Murrow does not present a speech of gratitude. Instead, he sort of bites the hand that feeds him, criticizing, prophetically, television’s problems. He says that the mass media, and in particular television, “is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us” from the realities of the world.
Because a soundtrack played throughout the film would be distracting, Clooney effectively uses soft jazz interludes with vocals, which work not only as chapter divisions and relief from a very talkative script, but which also comment on the narrative. After the 1958 opening, the time shifts to October of 1953, and we hear the song with the line, “TV is the thing this year.” Indeed, the hearings of Congress’ committee investigating communist activity inside the U. S. Government were shown on television, giving McCarthy that loud microphone to broadcast his agenda based on fear. Another example of musical commentary occurs when the CBS workers are paranoid about being under surveillance, and we hear Dianne Reeves sing, “I’ve got my eyes on you … sent my spies on you.”
There is a subplot story concerning news department workers Shirley Wershba (Patricia Clarkson) and her husband, Joe Wershba (Robert Downey, Jr.) which comments on the main narrative thread. The network has its own oppressive rule which prohibits co-workers from marrying each other. So these two try to keep their marriage secret, although we learn everyone seems to know the truth about them. The sanctions concerning their relationship seem to be part of a general state of control over individual freedom, as is illustrated by the fact the two talk about having to sign a loyalty oath mandated by CBS. If it is not signed, jobs will be lost. Even Murrow and his producer, Fred Friendly (Clooney) have signed it. This requirement shows how far the politics of fear has already spread.
Murrow first wants to investigate an officer released by the Air Force because his father read a Serbian newspaper, and who was thus considered to have ties to the Communist Party. There was a regulation which stated a person was a security risk if he or she associated with someone with communist connections. The Air Force required that the airman renounce not only his father, but also his sister. Friendly asks Murrow why he is taking on this story since it doesn’t have to do with McCarthy. Murrow emphasizes the reach of the witch hunt when he says, “Isn’t it?” The “evidence” against the officer is sealed, so the man hasn’t even had the opportunity to examine it, and try to refute it. Two colonels show up at CBS to demand that the network not air its piece without prior authorization. Friendly makes it clear that censorship is not an option. The military’s self-righteous stand is that only they can determine whether or not a person is a security risk, and the press has no say in the matter. This attitude of course is the argument that national security matters outweigh the freedom of the press. Many would agree that under certain circumstances the government must keep information secret for security purposes. But, here evidence against someone who they are accusing of being an enemy sympathizer is not classified information, and is only a smokescreen to prejudicially separate a man from his family because of assumed beliefs.
Murrow’s immediate boss, Sig Mickelson (Jeff Daniels), argues against Murrow and Friendly doing a piece on the officer, for fear of retribution by McCarthy. Mickelson points out that Murrow’s sponsor, Alcoa, has defense contracts with the government that could be pulled as punishment for bucking the Air Force over a story with communist overtones. The intimidation is palpable. Murrow makes the argument against always presenting balance to a story because he says that “there are not always two equal and logical sides.” For example, can we really argue the positive side of Nazism? The dedication of these men is seen when Murrow and Friendly must put up their own money to air the show. In the midst of this drama, these men still show a sense of humor. When Murrow says Friendly won’t have any funds for presents for his kids on Christmas, Mickelson says of Friendly, “He’s a Jew.” Murrow responds, “Well, don’t tell him that. He loves Christmas.” Also, just before airing the piece, Freindly jokes that he told the military he didn’t want to do the story. Murrow says that Friendly was always “yellow.” Friendly says, “Better than being red,” playing off of the saying at the time of “better to be dead than red.” The Air Force eventually reverses itself after Murrow’s shining the light on its unjust act, which illustrates the power of a free press.

Clooney adds some nice touches to show the power of television. He includes a commercial  for Kent cigarettes. The salesman says he knows that the audience isn’t easily influenced by advertisements, but that manipulation is exactly what he is trying to do. The power to sway was eventually conceded, and cigarette ads are no longer aired. But, the scene stresses that TV can have a strong impact on the citizenry, as does any politician who uses media outlets.
Murrow must do journalistic penance for the network by adding more segments of the popular show at the time, “Person to Person,” where he does remote interviews with celebrities. Strathairn (in an Oscar-nominated performance) gives a telling look to show his disdain after someone tells him that one of these shows was good. Murrow, as we heard in the opening speech, sees the use of TV for purely entertaining distraction as being a waste of the medium. There is a segment where Murrow interviews Liberace, who is the real deal, just like McCarthy, and the pianist says, in response to a question about getting married, that he, like, Princess Margaret, is waiting for a “dream man, too.” Strathairn’s slight chuckle is perfect as it acknowledges Liberace’s slip concerning his closeted homosexuality, which also points to the repressive nature of the 1950’s. Also, the actor’s looks of concern for fellow besieged newsman Don Hollenbeck (Ray Wise) are right on the money. Hollenbeck can’t handle the collapse of his marriage and the onslaught of attacks labeling him a “pinko,” a communist sympathizer. After Murrow tells him he can’t go after Hollenbeck’s enemies and McCarthy, too, Hollenbeck commits suicide. You can see the dejection and guilt in Murrow’s face as he absorbs the loss of his colleague. For him, McCarthy’s abuse of power, which destroyed lives, has hit very close to home. We hear the vocalist singing, “Somewhere there’s music, somewhere there’s heaven,” which underscores what Murrow might feel for Hollenbeck. He gives an on-the-air eulogy for Hollenbeck, emphasizing the man’s honesty, with the implied contrast with the deceptive people who attacked him.

Murrow and Friendly must battle the head of CBS, William Paley (Frank Langella), who sympathizes with what the two men want to do, but who must deal with the government and sponsors. He advises them to let it go, because their stance may hurt their fellow employees if the government goes after them. Of course, it is just this persecution that Friendly and Murrow want to stop. Paley argues that the Senate will investigate McCarthy, and the problem will go away. He says that it isn’t the network’s job to try McCarthy in the press. But, Murrow has already granted that the senator will be given equal time to respond to any allegations made by CBS news. Some may say that his stance is fairer than what occurs today, where attacks in the media come in droves from all sides, and the task to defend oneself can be overwhelming. Paley acquiesces, but requires that all the staff undergo a rigorous background check to make sure there has been no contact with anyone with communist connections. One of the employees says that he didn’t know about it until after his divorce, but his ex-wife attended a Communist Party meeting, and he knows that this fact will be used against CBS. Murrow says which one of them didn’t attend some kind of meeting or knew someone that espoused some anti-establishment sentiment. He says that McCarthy’s “Terror is right here in this room.” In witch hunts, the hunter is scarier than the witches he hunts.
On the March 9, 1954 broadcast, Murrow goes after McCarthy directly. Paley, in a funny phone call, asks Murrow if he’d go with him to see the Knicks play that evening. Murrow says he’s busy bringing down the network that night. Paley, probably wishing his joke about Murrow going to the game turned out to be true, says, “Oh, is that tonight?” In his commentary, Murrow says that “It is necessary to investigate before legislating. But the line between investigating and persecuting is a fine one, and the Junior Senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly.” He argues, as many do now, that “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty,” since without criticism, there is no free speech, and thus, no democracy. As to McCarthy’s tactic of presenting as fact what he pronounces into a microphone, Murrow says, “We must always remember, that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.” These words ring true even today, as each side of the political spectrum paints a picture of guilt involving opponents without fair scrutiny. Another line that reverberates today has to do with playing into people’s fears, instead of their better natures, since acting solely out of fear inhibits being able to evaluate the totality of a situation. Murrow doesn’t blame McCarthy for creating the atmosphere of fear of people who are different from those in the mainstream, “he merely exploited it,” which is what a demagogue does to gain power. The broadcast generally receives positive responses.
Again, the actual footage of the hearings is more powerful than any recreation since there is no artificial interpretation or filter to alter what really happened. We see McCarthy intimidating the African American woman, Annie Lee Moss, who worked in a code room, saying it is accepted that she is a communist, because a FBI undercover agent said so. He states this as a fact, and says what he really wants to know is why she, a known communist, was placed in the code room. It appears that he is going after someone else in the government, but by doing so, he has disgraced this woman. Another senator finally speaks up, saying that Moss has lost her job, and is condemned through hearsay, innuendo, and rumor, without producing an actual witness to give testimony. He says once the character assassination takes place, it can’t be erased from the minds of the public, and “that is the evil of it.” He receives loud applause, and we can feel that the tide is turning away from McCarthy.
McCarthy uses his equal time not to contest any of Murrow’s statements, which would be difficult to do since actual footage of the senator’s words exposed him for his unfair practices, but to attack Murrow. He says that the journalist was a member of a communist related organization, the International Industrial Workers, and belonged to the ACLU, which was on the government’s list of subversive organizations. He also states that a socialist dedicated a book to him. Murrow, in his next broadcast says he never belonged to the IIW, that the ACLU is not on any government list, and the book was dedicated to him because of his work reporting the war in Britain. Murrow points out that anybody who disagrees with McCarthy is automatically labeled a communist. Today, if someone disagrees with a politician, what the opposition has to say is also dismissed without hesitation as “fake news.”
We view the famous speech which puts a nail in McCarthy’s political coffin, as he is asked, “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” The CBS newsroom hears that the Senate has decided to investigate McCarthy, which leads to censuring him. But, Murrow and Friendly have to pay a professional price for their defiant courage. Paley cuts back Murrow’s show from an hour to a half hour, moves it from weekday prime time to Sunday, and he will only be allowed to do five more shows. However, the two seem satisfied with what they have accomplished, and promise to go out with a bang in those last broadcasts.
The film returns to that dinner tribute, and Murrow’s cautionary speech. He finishes his address by saying that if all TV is good for is “to amuse, entertain, and insulate, then the tube is flickering now, and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost. This instrument can teach, it can illuminate.; yes, it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box.”

Downey’s character at one point in the movie says to Clarkson’s what if they were wrong, and that by attacking McCarthy they made the country vulnerable to its enemies. He wonders if there have to be some people sacrificed to preserve “the greater good.” She basically says what if there’s nothing "good" left? If we surrender the nation’s decency and human dignity, then we have truly lost our way. Then Murrow’s signature sign off at the end of his broadcasts fits all too well: “Good night, and good luck.”

After a holiday week off, the next film will be Nuts.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Enemy Below

SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.

This 1957 World War II film (whose story may remind one of the original Star Trek series episode “Balance of Terror”) that pits an American destroyer against a German submarine is a noteworthy movie because, while dealing with the pragmatic reality of battle, it also offers a vision of humanity that suggests the possibility of transcending the violence that nations inflict upon each other.
The opening shots of the motion picture show two perspectives that will be elaborated upon as the story unfolds. First we see the American destroyer, the Haynes, cruising in the South Atlantic. We then get a shot from the point of view of a U-boat periscope looking at the sea above. The film presents the two worlds as mirror images of each other, and there are scene shifts back and forth to show the differences and similarities between the the two sides depicted.

The American ship’s doctor, (Russell Collins) and a couple of the sailors talk about how hot the weather is. One sailor says he’s thinking of sleeping topside that evening, but the doctor warns that bad weather is coming. The response from the sailor is that “you can’t plan on anything.” This simple exchange is a foreboding of the rough times to come (the calm before the storm?), not only of the weather but also of the fighting that will occur. And, it implies that in wartime, the individual’s plans are always in jeopardy.

The sailors aboard the Haynes are relaxed, almost bored, as they joke with each other during this period which is absent of military action. From these lower-ranking personnel we hear some feelings of insecurity expressed concerning the leadership of their captain, Murrell (Robert Mitchum). He has been holed up in his cabin since his assignment to the destroyer, and there are reservations about his experience. As one seaman says, he’s hiding because he’s been seasick. We hear the officers voicing the same concerns, questioning if their new leader has any “sea legs.” The doctor gives us some backstory, telling the higher ranking men that Murrell is not physically ready for a new assignment since his previous ship was torpedoed and sunk, and he had to spend twenty-five in a raft and only a short time in the hospital for treatment. Lt. Bonelli (Ralph Manza) says, in what turns out to be an ironic statement, “He’d still get more rest here than he would if he were in a feather bed.”
Then a blip shows up on the sonar, and everything changes in an instant. The men are now alert, and the captain comes out of his cabin cocoon, taking command. But, he is still an unknown to the crew, as one sailor blocking his passage doesn’t recognize him, and he must ask the name of the man working the sonar. But his orders show his seamanship, as he orders that the destroyer follow the unknown vessel, matching its speed so that the Haynes will appear as a ghost echo to the ship pursued.
We now cut to the German submarine viewpoint. (The film employs the use of accents and an occasional authentic German phrase to let us know the submarine men are speaking German). Captain Von Stolberg (Curt Jurgens) suspects Murrell’s ploy, and alters the sub’s course, but Murrell is able to continue the strategy. Murrell wants to be able to track the U-boat until it surfaces in the morning, making it a far easier target. Von Stolberg quickly becomes a character an American audience can sympathize with because we immediately see he is not a supporter of Hitler. He throws a towel over a German sign hanging in the command center which, when translated, says they should follow the Fuhrer's commands. He also is not thrilled with a gung-ho Nazi seaman named Kunz (Arthur La Ral). He tells his old friend, Heinie (Theodore Bickel), that someone should tell the sailor that there is no saluting at sea. This statement is meaningful, because it implies that those sailing on the open waters are less tied to the rigid systems of those mired on land. It implies that Von Stolberg represents those soldiers who are capable of independent thought.

Von Stolberg expresses his feelings to his confidante, Heinie. Despite the possibility that there is an American ship tailing them, he wants to surface to travel faster, meet up with another German ship to collect a British code book, but, most importantly, he wants to return home. He is war weary. He taught his two sons to be good soldiers, believe in their country and do their duty. They both died in the line of duty, which makes sense to the captain. But, he should have died first. He feels that he has outlived his time. He tells of a past era when war was less exact, less destructive. But, current technology has made armed fighting lethally accurate. Everything is machine-like, automatic, with no human factor present, which makes it easier to kill. He does admit that he thinks too much. Questioning things is not a good idea if you are a soldier who is supposed to just carry out orders. His ruminating has cost him his sleep. He says to Heinie, “Be a good warrior and never think. You pay penalty for thinking. You cannot rest.” But, he can’t help but see that, “It’s a bad war. It’s reason is twisted. It’s purpose is dark.” He believes his country will lose its soul in the current struggle because of its “dark” objectives. He says, “there is no honor in this war. The memories will be ugly, even if we win. And if we die, we die without God.”
The symmetry of the story now brings us back to the American side, where we hear Murrell’s story, as he tells it to the person who becomes his confidante, the doctor. Murrell, too, has suffered personal loss at the hands of war, just as Von Stolberg. He worked on a freighter as a civilian. He had recently married when he lost his bride when she perished in a torpedo attack on his ship. But he assures the doctor that his commanding a destroyer which hunts submarines is not part of a personal vendetta. He says he has a job to do. He then shows empathy, not something usually demonstrated in war movies up to this time. He compares himself to the German commander, saying that his opponent is in a similar position, and neither may like what they have to do, but both feel they must do their duty. But, like Von Stolberg’s saying how thinking too much is contradictory to what makes a soldier, Murrell says he doesn’t want to know too much about the German captain. The American commander also feels the need to suppress his humanity when he says, “I don’t want to know the man I’m trying to destroy.”

Murrell, like his German counterpart, also expresses some philosophical views about war. The doctor seems optimistic when he says that eventually, when the war is over, its impact will fade, and their old lives will resume. Murrell, like Von Stolberg, sees how modern warfare, and the evil perpetuated in this particular conflict, will change things. What he says may resonate with the war against terrorism today. He says, “it won’t be the same as it was … We’ve learned a hard truth … That there’s no end to misery and destruction. You cut the head off of a snake, and it grows another one. You can’t kill it, because it’s something within ourselves. You can call it the enemy if you want to, but it’s part of us.” So here is the major theme of the movie, that “the enemy below” is not an alien “other,” but is really what is inside of us. Or, in Freudian terms, the selfishness of the destructive id buried under our civilized selves wars with our better, magnanimous need to live, and survive, together.

Murrell continues the cat-and-mouse game by ending outgoing communication, and making sure there is no dark smoke coming out of the ship’s stacks to alert the submarine of the destroyer’s presence. When he spots the submarine, he computes the time it will take for the sub to fire and then uses his ship as bait so he can avoid getting hit, so he can attack the U-boat. But, Von Stolberg is just as adept a captain, and dives further down to avoid the depth charges from making a direct hit. The German captain’s desire to stay on course to get home is a weakness because Murrell can predict his eventual actions.
An American sailor loses some fingers when he doesn’t remove his hand quick enough during the speedy deployment of depth charges. Murrell shows his concern for the wounded man. Even though the young man tries to stay positive, the fact that he no longer can work at his profession of watchmaker shows how war can alter one’s entire life in a split second. There is a cut to the U-boat, and we have the German commander offering moral support to the ship’s cook who receives a great deal of criticism concerning his meals. We again see Von Stolberg shoot a disdainful look concerning Kunz’s mentioning of the Fuhrer, which shows that the captain knows what behavior to, and what not to, encourage. Later, he must confront a sailor breaking under the pressure of the attacks, reassuring him that he, the captain, will not let him die. The movie makes the point that both captains are capable of human compassion.
When Von Stolberg rests the submarine on the ocean bottom to make it appear as if the sub has escaped, we have a quiet period where we see how the two sides indulge in heavy reading (an American sailor holds The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and Kunz opens up Mein Kampf), and a crewman on each side looks at comic strips. These shots attempt to humanize and universalize the experiences of soldiers, no matter which side they fight on. Onboard the destroyer, waiting for the U-boat to make a move, the doctor says to Murrell that it’s too hot out. The captain says during wartime, it’s always too hot or too cold. It implies that there is too much action or none at all. But, it also suggests that nobody is comfortable when in a state of war.
Once Von Stolberg takes a chance that the destroyer may have left and decides to resume the journey home, Murrell decides to wear the submarine crew down by firing intermittent barrages of explosives to slow the German sub down and demoralize its sailors. However, Von Stolberg plays rousing German celebratory music to show their spirit. (It is ironic that the supposedly overly patriotic Kunz is the only one who wants to surrender, which shows that his nationalism is not based on solid ground). Murrell admits his admiration for his foes by saying that he almost wishes his tactics wouldn’t work.
Von Stolberg realizes a pattern to Murrell’s maneuvers, and is able to predict where the ship might be so he can fire off four torpedoes while not at periscope depth, hoping one will hit the destroyer. His plan is successful. But, Murrell has one more move. He makes it look as if his ship is failing quicker than it is by lighting fires ondeck. After having most of the crew abandon ship, he has gunners take out the surfaced submarine’s primary weaponry and rudder, and then rams the U-boat with the destroyer. What happens next illustrates how this film goes beyond the usual good guy versus bad guy ending. The American sailors help rescue the Germans who abandoned the submarine. Murrell sees Von Stolberg with the severely wounded Heinie, who he stayed to rescue, and they exchange salutes. Murrell then helps rescue the two men, and the German and American sailors, together, climb back up the destroyer to retrieve their commanding officers. Both ships are totally destroyed as the self-destruct bomb on the submarine explodes. It’s as if these two sides, who were enemies, ended their conflict with each other after eliminating the machines of war which left them as individuals, not soldiers of countries, needing the help of each other to survive.

They are all rescued by an American ship. The Germans conduct a respectful funeral at sea for their fallen comrade, Heinie. The doctor tells Murrell that he found reasons for hope in the strangest of places, a war, for the future of the world based on how these soldiers acted. The movie ends with Murrell offering a cigarette to Von Stolberg, who says that he should have died many times before. He says his survival this time was Murrell’s fault.The American captain jokingly says that he didn’t know, and says, “Next time I won’t throw you the rope.” But, the German commander sees in Murrell a man like himself, who is a caring human being underneath the military exterior. That is why he knowingly says, “I think you will.” Maybe some day we will realize that we will all survive by being each other's lifeline.
The next film is Good Night and Good Luck.