Sunday, April 29, 2018

Training Day

SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.
This 2001 film, from African American director Antoine Fuqua and writer David Ayer, presents us with two world views: one, the right-side-up version, represented by LA police officer Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke); and the other, the upside-down one, embodied by narcotics detective Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington in a Best Actor Oscar-winning performance). In a way, Jake is the before picture of an uncompromised rookie cop who wants to “protect the streets” by getting rid of dangerous drugs, and Alonzo is the after photo of a man who lost his idealism and has crossed the legal line, going from by-the-book methods to illegal ones to put away criminals. While doing so, Alonzo serves himself as much as the community, maybe more so. (You can find this theme of crossing the line in David Mamet scripts. Think of The Verdict, House of Games, and The Untouchables, among others). Actually, as we get to know these two characters, and others, it’s not really that black and white. There may not he fifty shades of gray, but there are a number of them in this story.
The first shot is of the sun rising on this “training day.” We have the classical “unity of time” in this movie, everything taking place within one twenty-four hour period. The movement of the sun at the start of the film is like the curtain rising on a stage play. We see subsequent shots of the sun as it marks the movement of the story until it sets at the end of the tale. The fact that Jake must prove himself, and Alonzo must solve his problem in the same compressed span of hours escalates the plot’s tension. Jake is already awake when his alarm goes off at five in the morning. He is nervous because today he must demonstrate that he is worthy of joining Alonzo’s special narcotics undercover unit. His wife, after nursing their baby daughter, adds to the pressure when she tells him not to screw up this opportunity. Although wanting to be a good cop, Jake is selfishly interested in getting promoted and making more money. He is envious of the nice homes of his superiors. Later when Alonzo pushes him to state why he really wants to join his team, Jake reveals his ambition when he says, “I wanna make detective.”

Jake receives a phone call from Alonzo. In this brief exchange we start to see what kind of person Alonzo is. He tells Jake that his men “don’t go to roll call,” saying that is for “patrol ferries.” (Alonzo several times belittles other policemen, such as one changing a person’s tire, by not acknowledging their contributions), and when Jake starts to thank him for the opportunity to serve with him, Alonzo hangs up on him. Alonzo believes the rules do not apply to him, whether they involve his job or even manners. When Jake arrives at the cafe to meet Alonzo, the latter practically ignores him as he reads the newspaper. Jake is uncomfortable, not knowing what to do, and when he talks, Alonzo chastises him for interrupting his morning ritual. Alonzo is a jaded man, calling the printed news mostly “bullshit,” and reads it only for entertainment purposes. Since Jake interrupted his fun, he bullies Jake, making him perform for Alonzo, having him tell a personal police story, which Alonzo then criticizes as being boring. Jake, however, sees his story as an example of having saved someone from getting killed by a heavily armed guy, which is a cop’s job. (In this conversation, Alonzo uses the word “boom,” as he does often in the movie, which not only sounds like a gun going off, and which points to him being dangerous, but it also signifies how Jake, and us, never know “what’s going to happen,” as there are surprises in the plot. As he tells Jake later, “This shit’s chess, it ain’t checkers”).

Alonzo also drags the conversation into the sexual gutter, saying he has five boys, and if “You ever need a son, you let me know. I’ll hook your old lady up. I can’t miss.” Jake asks him to leave his family out of the conversation. Alonzo says, “I respect that.” But, he doesn’t, and then starts asking Jake about his sex life with his wife. Alonzo also insults Jake’s virility for not making a sexual move on his female training officer. Alonzo is crude and demeaning, asking Jake if he has a penis, and if so, he should reach into one of the pockets on either side of his male organ, and find some money. So, Alonzo even makes Jake pay for Alonzo’s breakfast. Maybe Alonzo humiliates Jake because he regards Jake’s Boy Scout attitude as naive and dangerous, or maybe he resents Jake for holding onto the values he has lost along his crooked way.
Alonzo’s rogue ways are evident in the way he crosses the street, defying the traffic signals. He wears his two guns openly, as if he’s a sheriff in the Wild West. His car is a 1979 Chevy Monte Carlo with hydraulics that jack the vehicle up, mirroring Alonzo’s arrogance. And, his ride is his “office,” showing how he doesn’t even have to report to division headquarters, like other policemen. He looks more like a hoodlum than a cop, but then again, he is supposed to be undercover, (even though the whole neighborhood knows who he is), and his impressive arrest record allows him to indulge his posturing. Alonzo doesn’t have to walk the straight and narrow ethical path, and, instead can be the “zig-zag man,” because, as he says, they build prisons because of him. His cynical attitude is reflected when he advises Jake to forget about what he learned at the police academy, because abiding by the rules will get him killed in the real world.

The law according to Alonzo allows small time drug dealers to operate so that they will inform on the big time criminals, and Alonzo can make the big busts that allow him so much legal latitude. He takes Jake to where one of his confidential informants does business. This young Latino man can be lethal according to Alonzo, but he allows him to stay on the streets just so Alonzo can extract information from the youth. That is why Alonzo calls the dealer his “teammate,” because Alonzo has blurred the line between cop and criminal. He bends the law, doing favors for crooks, like getting this fellow’s mom out of INS detention, thus putting them in his debt. Alonzo also says that he allows the young man to sell illegal substances to make some money for his family. In his twisted way, Alonzo has rationalized his actions by accepting the pessimistic premise that dealing drugs is the only way the boy can earn a living.
The dealer sells marijuana to some white youths in a car. Alonzo chases them and scares them, saying if they show up again in this neighborhood he will have the local hoodlums sexually assault the girlfriend, who is in the back seat. He confiscates their purchase, but doesn’t arrest them. He isn’t going to bring them in for a small purchase, so why does he stop these kids? In a strange way he is protecting white youths by making them afraid to enter this territory, as if he doesn’t want to rock the “white privilege” boat, which may bring him grief. He also appears to want to use their “product” to show Jake that he must be willing to take drugs in order to go undercover. Jake at first declines, sticking by his ethical standards, but Alonzo is brutal in his admonishment of Jake’s refusal. He puts a gun to Jake’s head, saying Jake would blow his cover, and would be a dead man. Alonzo tells him, “You turn shit down on the streets, and the chief brings your wife a crisply folded flag.” He then stops the car (in the middle of traffic, again defying the rules) and tells Jake to get out of the Monte Carlo because he doesn’t want him on his team. Knowing that he may blow his chances for promotion and putting drug dealers away, Jake smokes the pot. Jake admits to smoking weed in school, and Alonzo says that fact wasn’t in his records, making the point that everyone has “secrets,” and even the supposedly clean Jake has some dirty laundry in his past.
Jake starts to feel very mentally altered, and Alonzo admits that he gave him pot laced with the much stronger PCP. Jake is alarmed because he thinks he will fail a urine test and will be fired. But, Alonzo assures him he’s safe, because their lieutenant always gives his team a week’s notice when a drug test will be performed. Here again we see how Alonzo operates outside of the law. He tells Jake he smoked the stuff of his own free will. He says nobody put a gun to Jake’s head, which is exactly what Alonzo did, as he makes a dark joke about how he has manipulated Jake.
Their next stop is at the home of Roger (Scott Glenn), who we know must have made a great deal of illegal money since he is talking about “retiring” soon and going to the Philippine Islands. He and Alonzo behave like they are old friends, and we learn for the first time from Roger that Alonzo has recently incurred the wrath of some Russian gangsters while he was in Las Vegas. (Alonzo seems to associate more with outlaws than policemen). Alonzo tells Roger he is working out his problem, which turns out to be a foreshadowing of how Alonzo will double-cross Roger. Roger tells a cryptic joke that he says will tell Jake everything he needs to know about life on the streets. Jake, in his altered state, says he already knows what it’s all about, “Smiles and cries,” which a surprised Roger agrees with. Jake says, “You gotta control your smiles and cries, because that’s all you have and nobody can take that away from you.” It’s as if Jake is saying that you can’t count on anything else, so living the hard life in the inner city, you can only rely on what moves you to laugh and cry. Alonzo scoffed at the line, but maybe Jake understands more about the people living in Alonzo’s community than what one would expect. Roger reinforces the idea that Alonzo was once like Jake, wanting to clean up the streets when he was a rookie.
As they drive, Jake sees two men trying to rape a young Latino girl. He tells Alonzo to stop the car, which the jaded cop does reluctantly. Jake takes on two tough guys who don’t seem to care that he is a policeman, yelling obscenities at him. Alonzo just watches, acting like a detached judge, assessing Jake’s performance. Jake overcomes the men, one with a choke hold, while sustaining a bit of a beating. Alonzo again doesn’t want to bother himself with arrests here. He threatens one of the men, beats him with the pistols he’s carrying, and takes their drugs and money. Alonzo just tells the girl to go home. Jake is angry because he wants do his job by taking her statement and getting the the two men off of the street. He also finds the girl’s wallet that she left behind. After hearing from the girl where she came from when she yells at her attackers, Alonzo says that the girl’s family will exact revenge. Jake says that is “street justice.” Alonzo, who no longer believes in the effectiveness of  working within the legal system, has no problems with, as he puts it, “the garbage men taking out the garbage.” When an upset Jake says, “so just let the animals wipe themselves out, right?” Alonzo’s reply is, “God willing.” His invoking the deity here seems ironic given the barbarity of what he is advocating. Alonzo has accepted the idea that the ends justify the means, and basically says you have to use the enemy’s tactics to defeat him. So his motto is, “it takes a wolf to catch a wolf.” Alonzo points out that Jake using the choke hold was not playing by the rules, but he did it because “you did what you had to do.” For a moment Jake looks like he might join Alonzo’s pack. He howls like a wolf and drinks a beer, as does Alonzo while driving, which again, is illegal.
Alonzo wants information out of a man named Blue (Snoop Dogg), who is a paraplegic ex-con in a wheelchair. After Alonzo makes Jake run after Blue in a comic-sad chase sequence given Blue’s disability, Alonzo threatens Blue with breaking parole because he is carrying a gun. He also takes a pen off of Jake and, in a act of police brutality, sticks it down the paraplegic’s throat, making him vomit up some crack he had swallowed. Jake is again upset by Alonzo’s actions, but Alonzo, true to character, doesn’t see the problem. We later learn that it was Alonzo who shot Blue and put him in the chair. This scene shows that there are felons out there, but the police are even more of a threat to the legal system because they act with impunity as they pretend to uphold the law.
Blue gives Alonzo the name of a connected drug dealer known as the Sandman. Alonzo and Jake go to this man’s house. There is more disregard for procedure and individual rights, as Alonzo pretends to have a warrant (which turns out to be an Asian restaurant menu), and forces his way into the Sandman’s home. He is not there, but his wife (Macy Gray) and child are. Jake is awkward keeping the wife and the boy on the sofa because he is not really sure why he is there (in more ways than one), after having urged Alonzo to get a real warrant, and then seeing that Alonzo grabbed money from a bedroom. Alonzo appears to be searching for drugs, but he really just wants the Sandman’s stash of cash to help him with his problem with the Russians. When the wife demands the warrant and sees that it is a fake, she yells at the two cops, “You ain’t the police.” She is figuratively correct, since Alonzo isn’t acting like a law abiding cop, doing an illegal search and seizure. She yells to the neighborhood men to stop Alonzo and Jake, and the men open fire on the cops. Alonzo participates in the gunplay, and his car sustains rear windshield damage, as the scene looks more like crooks fighting crooks, instead of the police battling lawbreakers.
Alonzo next takes Jake to one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city. He warns Jake never to enter this part of town alone. Alonzo talks to one of the locals, Bone (Cle Sloan), who thanks Alonzo for helping a relative (probably by skirting the law). But, after Alonzo walks away, Bone says he’s sick of Alonzo and can’t stand him, probably because he does these favors and expects all of the residents to treat him like royalty. Alonzo is here to have sex with a woman, Sara (Eva Mendes), who is hospitable to Jake, and is almost reluctant to abandon him to babysit Alonzo’s young son in the living room. When Alonzo comes out later, Jake and his boy are napping. The look on Alonzo’s face is sinister as he wakes Jake in an ominous manner, pressing his gun to his leg. Alonzo speaks gently to his son, who appears sad, maybe because his father is leaving, or maybe because, even at that young age, he knows how scary his world is. Alonzo exploits those who live in dire circumstances. Otherwise, if he cared about Sara and the boy, he would remove them from their dangerous surroundings.
In contrast to where they were, Alonzo drives Jake and himself to a fancy restaurant where he will meet with the “Three Wise Men.” We again have an upside-down reference here, comparing the biblical travelers who brought gifts at the birth of Christ to three high level corrupt cops who must be given a share of the illegal funds acquired by their minions as payment for approving the carrying out of illegal acts. (Although one could argue that there are too many people of color depicted as criminals in the film, one should also remember that the notorious big shots on either side of the legal divide are white men). Alonzo introduces the men to Jake as some of LAPD’s “finest,” which really means that they are the “finest” at being crooked. Alonzo then exiles Jake to another part of the restaurant. One of the men, Doug Roselli (Harris Yulin) tells a story about how a burglar he caught fooled a judge into thinking he was mentally unbalanced, thus escaping imprisonment in a penitentiary. Alonzo’s first reaction is that you have to give the man credit for working the system (which shows Alonzo’s moral flexibility). When Doug doesn’t share this view, this “Wise” man says he’ll take the burglar out. It isn’t a matter of justice for Doug. He just didn’t like his arrest record being tarnished.

One of the men, Lou Jacobs (Raymond J. Barry) says he doesn’t know why he’s talking to Alonzo, because, “I don’t talk to dead men.” They know about Alonzo’s trouble with the Russian mob. Alonzo says he can solve his problem if they will allow him to “cash in on an account,” his oldest one. This statement is code for killing a drug dealer and taking his money so he can pay off the Russians. Alonzo says the guy has to be taken out or else he will be a “high security risk,” and would expose the police involvement in the drug business. But, he has to ask permission from these three men, who instead of respecting the law, give him the green light to rob and commit murder. They realize that they will no longer get a cut of the criminal’s business, but they are willing to let that go because they want to keep Alonzo working for them. Alonzo must pay them to get a genuine search warrant to make the the police activity against the drug dealer appear to be legal. Alonzo puts the money he took from the Sandman’s home in the trunk of one of the men’s cars. It’s a Mercedes, which shows how well these men have profited by using their power to perpetuate criminal activity to enrich themselves. Stan Gursky warns Alonzo to make sure he makes the hit look legitimate, so he says to him “I don’t want to see you on the front page,” because that would damage their outward appearance of legitimacy.
Alonzo calls his team and tells them to bring picks and shovels. It turns out that Roger is Alonzo’s target. Alonzo tells him that he has to dig up the four million dollars buried underneath Roger’s kitchen floor because the Three Wise Men said “You gotta render unto Caesar.” We have another instance here where Alonzo, engaged in criminal acts, ironically makes a religious reference, in this case a quote from Jesus, which has the effect of sharpening the contrast between what is the right and the wrong thing to do. Alonzo wants to turn in three million and keep a million for themselves. Jake does not want a cut, which makes the others apprehensive about Jake since now he can turn them in without incriminating himself. One of the men says, “Someone didn’t sleep through ethics class,” because school is a dream world that should not be confused with the real one. It fits in with what Alonzo said earlier that Jake had to forget what he learned at the police academy to survive outside of it. Alonzo tells Jake that he will kill Roger because he is “a virgin shooter beyond suspicion,” and the death will appear legitimate (again, there is irony in that Jake’s uncorrupted past would be used to hide a murder). When Jake refuses to do the deed, Alonzo shoots Roger, and uses the victim’s gun to fire two shots at one of the men, Jeff (Peter Greene), to make it look like Roger’s death was an act of self-defense. Alonzo says they will still say Jake did it, for which Alonzo says Jake will receive the Medal of Valor. In this upside-down world, a murder can be passed off as an act of heroism. Another irony is that one of the bullets Alonzo shoots at his bullet-proof vest wearing “teammate,” Jeff, actually gets through, which points to how Alonzo’s “chess” games can prove dangerous to the players. Alonzo first threatens to kill Jake, too, whose death he will pin on Roger. However, Jake grabs the gun from Alonzo, but Alonzo says if Jake doesn’t play along, he’ll have him tested for drugs and the PCP in his blood will end his career.

After the police and ambulance arrive, Alonzo drives off with the money he skimmed off the top, and he and Jake drive to a Latino area. In the car, Jake is angry about the killing of Roger, and wonders how Alonzo could murder his friend. Alonzo says he wasn’t a friend; he was a man who sold drugs to kids for ten years. Alonzo makes it sound as if he exacted justice without bothering the overburdened legal system. He says, “the world is a better place without him. The man was the biggest major violator in Los Angeles.” Of course, Alonzo doesn’t say that he took Roger out now, not because he was corrupting young people with illegal drugs, but because he needed his money. Alonzo wants Jake to take his cut, because the others won’t feel comfortable if he doesn’t. He says, “Sometimes you gotta have a little dirt on you for anybody to trust you,” and Alonzo and his unit are “comfortable” living in, and contributing to, a dirty, corrupted world. Jake still refuses. We don’t know it yet, but Jake’s desire to play by the rules convinces Alonzo that he has to have him eliminated. He is already on the phone in the car to a Latino gang leader, Smiley (Cliff Curtis), and tells him, “Make sure that bathtub is clean, homey.”

Alonzo makes a stop under the pretense of delivering packages to Smiley’s house. He says, “I do try to do some good in the community.” But whatever “good” Alonzo does, he wants major payback. There is money in one of the items Smiley opens. Alonzo pretends to have to use the bathroom, but actually leaves. The money is payment for Smiley and his companions to kill Jake. Smiley decides to tell Jake about Alonzo’s problem. He says that Alonzo is a “hot head.” There was a Russian in Las Vegas who was nasty toward Alonzo, and Alonzo beat the man to death. It turns out that the Russian was connected to the Russian mob, and they gave Alonzo until midnight of this “training day” to come up with a million dollars, or else he would be killed. Smiley and his men beat Jake up and drag him to that “clean” bathtub in order to shoot him. Smiley says to Jake, “You got the right to be bitch-slapped,” parodying what the police are supposed to say when reading a suspect his Miranda rights. Probably for Smiley and his crew, killing Jake must feel like payback for the times they have been brutalized by the cops and what they endured in prison (being raped is alluded to earlier by Sniper, played by Raymond Cruz). Before shooting Jake, they go through his pockets for money and find the wallet of the young girl Jake rescued from being raped. The girl turns out to be Smiley’s cousin, and he is incensed that Jake has this item. Jake gets out the story of how he helped her. Smiley calls his cousin and she confirms the story. Smiley thanks Jake and sets him free. So, as opposed to what Alonzo was saying, Jake’s putting himself in harm’s way, not for a big drug bust, but just to do the right thing, pays off and saves his life.
Night has now come toward the end of this long day. Jake, looking battered but hardened and focused, rides the bus, and loads his gun. He goes to the neighborhood where Sara lives, the one Alonzo said Jake shouldn’t enter without him. Jake has not complied with his training, since he bothered to save the young girl, wouldn’t shoot Roger or take a cut from the cash they took from him, and now dares to go to the neighborhood called “a jungle.” Bone ask why Jake is there. He can see he means business, and Jake says, “I’m here for Alonzo.” They let him go, because they hate Alonzo, and figure, in a variation of what Alonzo said earlier, “let the garbage men take out the garbage.”

Jake sneaks into the house and gets Alonzo’s son to hide in a closet. Jake gets the drop on Alonzo who is with Sara in the bedroom. Jake wants to arrest Alonzo and confiscate the money. Alonzo flicks a cigarette at Jake, distracts him, and a gunfight ensues. Sara tells Jake that Alonzo went out the window, so she obviously is also not thrilled about being under Alonzo’s thumb. The two cops fight, but Jake gets the worst of it. Interestingly, Alonzo doesn’t finish Jake off, underestimating him. Jake is able to jump down from a balcony and cause Alonzo to crash his car. Alonzo thinks he can bribe the men in the area to shoot Jake. But, they have had enough, and Bone puts a gun on the ground, telling Alonzo he has to do his own dirty work. They don’t mind Alonzo being brought down as long as they don’t get blamed for it. Alonzo’s thinks he can take advantage of Jake’s reluctance to shoot someone, especially a fellow officer. But his arrogance causes him to belittle Jake, who shoots him in the butt before Alonzo can reach the gun on the ground. Jake says he has acquired knowledge on this training day. He says, “You wanna know what I learned today? I’m not like you.” He yanks off Alonzo’s badge, sort of court martialing him, stripping him of his ability to continue to hide his crimes behind his policeman’s facade, and says, “You don’t deserve this.” Alonzo has been so corrupted by the abuse of his power as a cop that he can’t face defeat. He continues to threaten the community, saying, “I’m the police. I run shit around here. You just live here.” His total embracing of his arrogance is seen when he says, “King Kong ain’t got shit on me.” Not only is he delusional about his strength, he also is ignorant of how much more noble Kong was then he is.

The community allows Jake to leave with the bag of money. Alonzo drives to the airport, maybe hoping he can get out of town. But, the Russians have been following him. They use vans to cut him off. They open fire on Alonzo’s car. He staggers out, still in egotistical denial about his fate, trying to reach his trunk for a weapon. They finish him off with a gangster’s version of a twenty-one gun salute. He ironically becomes an example of the street justice he advocated, since he crossed the line and became a criminal who was wiped out by his own kind.
The film ends with Jake going home after a day at work, but what a day it was. We hear a radio voice-over saying, “A Los Angeles Police Department narcotics officer was killed today serving a high-risk warrant near LAX.” A cover-up, most likely concocted by the Three Wise Men. Will Jake, a lone, honest cop fighting corruption, be able to bring them down and put an end to the corruption? What do you think?

After a week off, the next film is North Country.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Fahrenheit 451

SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.
Since a new version of this story will be appearing on HBO next month, I thought that now would be an appropriate time for an analysis of this 1966 movie. Let’s start with the problems surrounding this film directed by Francois Truffaut, his only English language movie, based on the Ray Bradbury novel. The work comes off rather stiff, with no fluid transitions. Truffaut cast his Jules and Jim star, Oskar Werner, after actor Terence Stamp dropped out, not wanting to be on the set with his ex-girlfriend, Julie Christie. Werner’s thick Austrian accent bogs down the dialogue because he delivers the lines quickly and in a low tone. (If you want to see a terrific performance by Werner, check out The Spy Who Came in from the Cold). IMDb notes that Werner and Truffaut were at odds as to how the character of Montag should behave, and Werner felt he should appear robotic in this futuristic programmed world, which accounts for some of the stiffness of the performance. Added to that problem, we have the English-challenged Truffaut working on the screenplay. Also, the crew was not French, which added another barrier to making things mesh well in this production. There are occasions when we know some time has passed, since Werner’s Montag goes from acquiring one book, David Copperfield, to having a whole library stored in his house, but it feels like nothing has happened in the interim.
Of course there were dystopian science fiction stories before this one, and certainly many since. They work if they have an interesting focus, as we do here. In this futuristic upside-down scenario firemen don’t put out fires, they start them. Their jobs are to burn books. (The film’s title supposedly refers to the temperature at which paper burns). The logo on the firehouse wall is a dragon, a monster that burns its victims, an appropriate symbol to generate fear. Totalitarian rulers always seize control of a nation’s communication systems so they can dispense their world view and dictate who is to blame for society’s ills. They maintain power by propping themselves up as the ones who can keep the citizens safe by eliminating the so-called enemies of the state (usually nonconformists and certain ethnic groups). Dictators set forth the proper way to think and act to prevent any deviation from the mandated norms of behavior. Books foster discussion and personal opinions, which can lead to questioning the rules in place.
The movie opens with shots of TV antennas, and instead of being presented in written form, the credits are read aloud. This technique is consistent with the world we encounter here, since writing associated with artistic expression has been banned. The verbalization of normally written words also predicts the end of the film. The close-ups of the antennas emphasize how a modern government can spew out its propaganda quickly and widely. It’s not called “mass”media for nothing. There is the sound of the firemen crunching the stones as they march up the driveway of the house they are targeting. It has the feel of storm troopers trampling on the security of individual freedom. They find books hidden behind a false TV screen, in a light fixture, and under a radiator cover. As Montag says later, as does his boss, Captain Beatty (Cyril Cusack), “to learn how to find, one must first learn how to hide.” Of course that is a flaw in the system since a fireman can evade capture if he wishes to do some reading himself. The owner of the house receives a warning phone call, which shows that there is an underground resistance movement in existence. A crowd assembles to watch the torching of the reading material. A child holds one of the books, and an adult reluctantly takes it from the boy and throws it on the pile. The shot stresses how the destruction of the printed works also undermines the imagination and curiosity of the young. The deliberate way the adult takes the book shows his fear for himself and his child, which also shows  acknowledgement of the harm the firemen are inflicting. (We later see firemen invading a playground, doing a literary shakedown, searching baby strollers, and frisking a pregnant lady, again emphasizing the assault on innocence and privacy). Montag puts on protective clothing and napalms the books. The Captain mentions that Montag may be up for a promotion, which pleases the fireman. He asks Montag what he does when he is off duty. Montag says he mows the lawn. The Captain then says, “And what if the law forbids that?” Montag’s response is, “Just watch it grow, sir.” This brief exchange shows the degree to which the state imposes its will upon its citizens.

Montag encounters Clarisse (Christie, sporting short hair) on the monorail train. She says she recognizes him because he is a neighbor. She seems like an outsider in this environment, since she loves to talk, says she is a “well of words,” and is social. She is a school teacher. She is probably more interested in learning that indoctrination because she was called into an interview and fears she may have said something “wrong.” That means she is afraid she did something that does not comply with the rules. Montag is hesitant to communicate with her, warning her that she shouldn’t talk to strangers, echoing the atmosphere of fear present. She says he smells of something that burned, and he says it is the kerosene from the burning of the books. Montag calls it his “perfume,” that he acquires from his job. Again, in this upside-down world, the harsh odor of kerosene takes the place of something that would normally be a pleasing scent. Clarisse says that she heard that long ago firemen put out fires. Montag says that can’t be because houses have always been fireproof. His statement shows how the government has rewritten history, which can occur when one entity controls the access to information. Clarisse asks Montag if he is interested in reading, and he says it is “rubbish.” He says that books make people “anti-social” (probably because they require people to withdraw away from others in order to read them, and what is expressed in  books may not be consistent with dictated policies). Reading also may bring about unhappiness (most likely because literature can evoke emotions that are not always consistent with contentment, and they could suggest what’s wrong with the reader’s current life). Montag says he is not interested in reading, has better things to do with his life, and, besides, reading books is forbidden. When asked if he is happy, Montag says that he is, but his demeanor is sad.

When Montag arrives at his house, we can see that he is not content with his home life. His wife, Linda (Christie again, now with long hair), is mesmerized by a large “wall screen” TV (sort of like most of us today, although our hypnosis is also mobile as we can also stare into our cell phones). That Christie plays a dual role suggests that there are two ways that people can act, one which is emancipated, and one that is subservient. He is annoyed because she barely listens to what he says. If promoted, Montag says that he would like a second wall screen, and the analogy is made to a family growing, entertaining objects being the substitute in their relationship for children. The news on the TV provides a report of the number of books burned, sort of like body counts in a war, but here the enemy is truth, beauty, and knowledge. Linda is thrilled because she says that she has been chosen to participate in a show on the TV. However, it is a sham, as Montag points out, as the actors stop, turn to the screen, and ask “Linda,” which can be any of multiple women named Linda tuning in, what she thinks about some domestic questions. When Linda doesn’t respond quickly enough, the appropriate answer is provided anyway. Linda is upset with Montag for spoiling the illusion that she has been welcomed into the TV “family,” and would rather be in denial of the truth.

At work, Captain Beatty berates two trainees for sitting next to each other despite orders not to do so. Montag sees Beatty yelling at the two. Could this anger be directed at the possibility that these two men might give the impression that they may be gay? Beatty tells Montag to foster participation in sports, not only because being on teams makes individuality secondary to group activity, but also because it keeps men “busy,” which translates to not giving them time to think. The Captain also likes it that Montag doesn’t speak much, which also implies a lack of a desire to express personal thoughts.

On the TV, we see a policeman stopping a youth who has long hair. Since his appearance does not conform to a standardized look, the cop cuts the hair, because it shows individual expression. Again, when almost every aspect of one’s life is predetermined, there is no need to engage the thought processes, and no need to question anything. The female TV narrator notes the laugh track accompanying the boy’s shearing, and says that law enforcement can be “fun.” The attempt here is to turn something brutal into a an entertaining event by altering the context.
The state also dispenses pills to pharmaceutically control the populace. Montag comes home and finds Linda has passed out because of the combinations and doses of her medication. Montag calls the emergency number, and the medical team basically pumps out old blood and transfuses new fluid. Linda sort of gets a circulatory reboot. The emergency medical men say that Linda will now have a strong appetite for food, and also for sex. She is very amorous with Montag, but he later looks let down because he knows the passion wasn’t genuine.
We’re not sure how much later, but after Linda goes to sleep, Montag leaves their bedroom and starts to read a copy of David Copperfield, using the TV screen without selecting a channel as a night light, thus allowing Truffaut a visual rebuke of the preference for watching television. He reads slowly, pointing to every word, which shows how he has not been trained in reading thoughtful material. The next scene shows Montag going to work, and he is followed by Clarisse and an older woman, so we know that they have targeted Montag as someone they believe will help them in the resistance. Clarisse catches up to Montag and appears distressed. They go for a cup of coffee and she informs him that she was dismissed from her teaching job because she did not stick to the class timetable. Since she did not conform to the rules, she is a threat to the regimentation of the society because her actions show resistance to established guidelines. While they have their coffee, they observe a man near a red box with a flashing light. It is where people can inform on acquaintances and relatives by dropping off names and addresses. The man seems to be agonizing as to whether to deposit the information, but eventually inserts the paperwork. Montag says that sometimes people just want to get rid of individuals in their lives. One can consider this “naming” of people as similar to what occurred in the McCarthy era, when, out of a fear or a warped sense of patriotism, people accused other citizens of being disloyal just because of their ideas.
Using Christie in dual roles to show alternative ways an individual can behave is illustrated here because Clarisse pretends to be Linda, and calls Montag’s office to say he is sick and can’t come in. She wants him to go with her to her school because he is outraged that she was not properly told why she was let go. When they go to the school, her students run away from her, a teacher locks her door so Clarisse can’t confront her, and her belongings are slid down the hallway so that her nonconformity will not infect others through personal contact. Montag sees how badly Clarisse is treated and sympathizes with her, promising to confront the principal after he is promoted. She asks why did he become a fireman since he seems different from those in that job. He says that she previously asked if he wanted to read books, and he now confesses that he read one the night before. We are not told why he began reading. Perhaps it was because of disillusionment with his family life, or his meeting Clarisse, but we know that he was already questioning the TV programming, and the informant system that exposed book readers.

Montag becomes more reckless as he continues to read at night and has several books out in the open. Linda wakes up and is distressed to find her husband reading. She says she doesn’t want them in her house, like they are some kind of vermin. She says that the books frighten her, because that is what she has been brainwashed to believe. Montag says, “You’ve spent your whole life in front of that family wall,” referring to the people she watches on TV. He says, “these books are my family.” It is noteworthy that they do not consider themselves as making up their own family. Montag now feels the need to consume the books, in a nonflammable way, because he has been deprived of their intellectual and imaginative nourishment. He realizes that the state has banished knowledge of the past, so he must read, “to catch up with the remembrance of the past.”
The firemen get a call to go to the home of the woman who was with Clarisse when they followed Montag. The house is filled with books. The Captain even discovers a hidden room that is like a small library, and he almost sounds orgasmic in his delight at the find, mirroring the psychology of some pyromaniacs. He spouts the party line about how books make people unhappy by suggesting the possibilities of invented lives that are alternatives to their own, and which can’t be obtained. The captain criticizes differing philosophers because each one thinks he has the right way of thinking and thus the others are wrong. He likens their beliefs to changing fashions. What he and the authorities are against are an exchange of ideas, and discussions, which allow people to make up their own minds about what to believe and how to act. What democracies call freedom of thought, the totalitarian societies label chaos. The Captain preaches that happiness only occurs when everybody thinks the same way, with all beliefs shared and all questions answered. He acknowledges that all firemen get the itch to read, to taste the forbidden fruit (and we wonder if he has done just that because he seems to know a great deal about the various books discovered). However, he continues his rant against reading, but the satire is evident when he says that they had to burn books that warned that smoking caused cancer because they upset smokers, thus making people unhappy. The thrust here is better to promote the “ignorance is bliss” belief, rather than divulge to the public disturbing truth that may also alert them to dangers to their health.

Captain Beatty’s words fall on deaf ears as Montag grabs and hides a book from the pile. The firemen pour flammable liquid all over the house and they have received word that the house as well as the books must be burned. This order seems to perplex The Captain, as he says, “Burning the books is one thing, burning the house is another altogether.” His attitude shows the prevailing priority of valuing material things over intellectual pursuits. The woman will not be arrested, takes control over her own fate, and drops a match, wishing to die with her “family” of books, whose words make them alive to her. The camera focuses on books featuring the work of Salvador Dali, a surrealist who definitely would be a criminal in this country for his nontraditional art.

Montag returns home to find his wife with her friends engaged in watching a TV program that deals with fashion and other superficial topics. A now animated Montag calls them “zombies,” going about in an unthinking existence, denying the truth of their world. He tells one of them that her husband is a soldier in a real war, where people are killed, but the “fake news” dispensed by the government is that there have been no casualties. Montag begins to read from a book, and the words are moving because the emotions elicited are genuine. But, real feelings can be disturbing, and as one of the women cries, the others blame Montag for upsetting them.

Clarisse is awakened by her uncle with whom she is living, and is told to get out because the firemen are coming. She is able to escape as the uncle buys her time by dealing with the firemen. When Montag sees the house boarded up, he asks a neighbor if she knows what happened. The neighbor points out that Clarisse and her uncle were different, implying dangerous, because they did not have a TV antenna on their house. Thus, they were suspect because they would not allow the altered truth to enter their home. Montag breaks into the captain’s office to see what happened to Clarisse. He is surprised by The Captain, who has the arrest reports with him, and he informs Montag that Clarisse is still at large. The Captain assumes that Montag is interested in obtaining Clarisse’s house. However, he does wonder how Montag broke into his office, which he did by picking the lock.
Meanwhile, Linda says that she can’t live with the books, and says she will leave Montag if he doesn’t get rid of them. We see her jumping when a book falls from behind a picture, acting as if a giant spider surprised her. She goes to the red box and informs on her own husband. In the meantime, Clarisse approaches Montag at the train stop and asks for his help. They go to her boarded up house to retrieve a hidden piece of paper that lists members of the resistance. Montag says he can find it, because, “It was my job.” The use of the past tense is important here, since Montag no longer sees himself as a fireman who burns books. He finds the list hidden in a vase. Clarisse tells him to burn the paper. Now he sets a fire to protect those who love books. Clarisse confesses that her meeting Montag was not an accident. The resistance had been observing him, and thought he might be someone who could help them. Montag says he suspected as such, because of Clarisse’s connection to the lady who set fire to herself. He did not want to confirm Clarisse’s connection to the resistance because he did not want to compromise her if he was made to talk. Clarisse tells Montag that her uncle told her of a place in the woods where there were “Book People.” They break no laws, except that they memorize books so they won’t be lost. Clarisse wants Montag to go with her to live among these people, but Montag says they must part. He says he will plant a book in each fireman’s house, expose the “pyromaniacs,” which will cause the system to collapse.

Montag informs The Captain that he is quitting, but his superior begs him to stay on for just one more day. It is a ploy, as the fire truck pulls up to Montag’s house. Linda has packed and is on her way out. She tells Montag she just couldn’t bare living anymore with Montag and his books. The Captain sarcastically tells the firemen to let Montag find the books, since he knows his job. He complies in a feverish manner, throwing books out onto the floor of the house. However, The Captain’s arrogance causes him to make a mistake by giving the flamethrower to Montag to destroy the books. First, he burns his bed, which shows how he feels betrayed by his wife. He then torches the TV wall screen, demonstrating his rejection of the banality and false information that it was used to dispense. He does then set fire to the books. We watch the destruction of admired works by Melville, Kafka, and Dostoevsky, among others. We feel anger toward The Captain as he opens his hands near the blaze, as if warming himself at the cremation of beloved friends or family members, and talks about being drawn to the destructive fire, instead of warming to the creative powers that produced the books.
One of the fireman, who has been spying on Montag, informs The Captain that Montag took one of the books and hid it on his person. The Captain grabs it, asks if it is Montag’s favorite book, and says it must burn with the others, after which Montag will be arrested. Montag takes the book back. The Captain points a gun at Montag, and cocks the weapon. Montag then fires the napalm at The Captain, and as he burns, we remember the woman who ignited herself and her house in defiance of tyranny,  and we experience a sense of poetic justice. Montag becomes a fugitive. The rulers use the TV’s to command the public to come out of their homes and alert the authorities if Montag is spotted. The houses of the citizens are identical, attached to each other, in this scene. The people exit their homes looking like programmed robots. There is no individuality here, only subservience to what is dictated.
Based on Clarisse’s information, Montag is able to reach the location of the Book People. The Book Person (Alex Scott) who greets Montag introduces himself as the title of a book, The Life of Henry Brulard. He shows Montag how the ex-fireman was supposedly hunted down and “killed” on TV. There is no close up of the face of the person used to impersonate Montag. Brulard says the state couldn’t have the people believe that anyone can escape their rule. He tells Montag that the audience must have a satisfying “climax” to the story. There is a sexual connotation here, as if the citizenry must be given a “happy ending,” that is pleasurable, with no unsatisfied loose ends. Brulard introduces others there by the names of the books that they have memorized. The residents have “become” the books. To show the extent of the resistance, Montag learns that one member was once the wife of a chief of police. Another person ate his book before he could be caught (a sort of “reader’s digest”?). There is some humor here in this serious tale, as twin brothers are referred to as “Pride” and “Prejudice” since they have committed to memory parts one and two of the Jane Austen novel. There is even a nod to the author of this story, as one Book Person has become Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.
Ironically, Brulard says that they must burn the books once they are committed to memory, so that they will not be arrested, and the literature can live on. These people are like the ancient poets who passed on their stories orally. He tells Montag that there will be a day when the current regime will no longer be in power, and they will be summoned to recite what they have held inside of them. The books will again be published, until next “dark age,” and the process will be repeated. Brulard sees history as a repetitive process of repression and enlightenment, pessimism and optimism. There is an old man who is dying. He must recite his book to a young boy who must remember it before the man expires. The scene shows how knowledge and art can be enjoyed by many generations.
The book that Montag rescued contains the tales of Edgar Allan Poe. He reunites with Clarisse here, who has memorized her book. The young boy finished his task as the old man dies. The last line he says refers to the snows of winter. There is a nice segue to the snow falling on this library of people. The ending is very moving as the residents walk about, reciting their books. The image tells us that the written words come alive when we read them, and literature lives on in us.

The next film is Training Day.

Sunday, April 15, 2018


SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.
Here’s another movie from my favorite American director, Alfred Hitchcock. This 1944 film, based on a story by John Steinbeck, presents complex characters brought together on a lifeboat after the freighter they were on was sunk by a German submarine. The attitudes of these people and how they clash and also work together serve as a microcosm for America’s citizens and those with whom they are at war.
The opening of the film establishes the circumstances. There is a ship sinking, its smokestack spewing thick, dark smoke. We know right away the situation is perilous. There are numerous objects floating in the water, including a Red Cross crate (something meant to help others but which has been rendered useless because of war), an issue of the New Yorker magazine, playing cards, and eating utensils. These adrift items point to how objects which are part of a civilization have been torn away from their users by the violence of war.

Connie Porter (Tallulah Bankhead) is a vain journalist who tries to maintain the appearance of someone whose personal appearance and lifestyle have not been tarnished by the catastrophic ordeal surrounding her. Her hair looks stylish, and she wears a fur coat. She is more concerned about the run in her stocking than in the vessel that has sunk. Her priority is getting news footage on her camera before helping a survivor get onboard the lifeboat on which she has taken refuge. The man who joins her on the escape craft is John Kovac (John Kodiak), and in contrast to Porter, he is filthy, smeared all over with oil because he worked in the engine room. He is very aware of the differences between them as he points out that she doesn’t look like she has been in a shipwreck. We note her cold detachment to the horror of the situation as she is excited by her recording of how the Germans had even shelled the lifeboats. She also recorded people getting sucked down into the water, and tells Kovac that the German U-boat was also sunk. Kovac quickly sees that Porter is self-involved with sensationalist journalism, and when a baby’s milk bottle drifts pass them, and she wants to get a shot of it, he says to her, “Why don’t you wait for the baby to float by.” He sums her up when he tells her that her observations of events show that she only describes them in terms of how they relate to her. He later tells her that she basically views the war as if it were a stage show for her amusement, and that if enough people die, she might give it a rating of “four stars.” Kovac accidentally knocks Porter’s camera into the sea when he lunges for an oar to try and rescue another survivor. Porter again is only worried about her story and her things as she is incensed about losing her recordings as opposed to saving another human being. Kovac’s sarcastic comment about her complaints is, “Maybe we can arrange another shipwreck for you sometime.”

More people find safety on the lifeboat. Stanley Garrett (Hume Cronyn), nicknamed “Sparks,” was the radioman. Charles J. Rittenhouse (Henry Hull), known as “Ritt,” is a rich industrialist, and he has had prior dealings with Porter. Gus Smith (William Bendix), has an injured leg which is especially worrisome to him since he is a man who loves to dance the jitterbug, and has a girl named Rosie who is also a dancer. Joe Spencer (Canada Lee) was trying to rescue a woman, Mrs. Higley (Heather Angel) and her baby, but he says that she fought him, as if wanting to drown. Another woman, Alice MacKenzie (Mary Anderson) is a military nurse, and she quietly lets the others know that the baby did not survive. Apparently the mother was traveling to show the father the baby for the first time, which shows the heartbreak that war inflicts as it separates and destroys families. Porter shows more to her personality than selfishness as she offers her mink coat to Mrs. Higley, who is at first in denial about the baby’s death, but then later becomes unhinged by the loss of her child.
One last person climbs up onto the lifeboat and he is not recognized by the others because, as we find out, he speaks German and is a survivor from the German U-boat. His name is Willi (Walter Slezak). Porter speaks German and questions the sailor. He says that he is not the captain. He helped fire on the lifeboats even though they posed no military threat because he was “just following orders.” Of course this is the now maligned excuse offered by ex-Nazis to justify their horrific actions during WWII. The way each person responds to the enemy soldier epitomizes a diversity of human reactions. Kovac immediately wants the man thrown overboard for his participation in the deplorable sinking of their ship’s survivors. At first Gus says that Willi is a German and can’t help his being of the same heritage as the country whose leaders chose to fight the war. Kovac counters by saying, “Neither can a snake help being a rattlesnake if he’s born a rattlesnake. That don’t make him a nightingale!” Of course the argument is simplistic, since animals are more instintual than humans, who can exercise more free will. Gus then sides with Kovac, noting that he changed his name from Schmidt to Smith, and is ashamed that he has a German background, since what the Nazis did desecrated his heritage. Here we find that although America is a nation of immigrants, the importance of being an American who is defending the belief in liberty in a time of war outweighs ethnic considerations. Sparks and Porter say that Willi is their P.O.W, and should be turned over to the authorities once they are rescued. When others say it is against the law to basically murder the German, Kovac says of their situation, “there is no law.” Ritt tells Kovac that if they treat Willi like the Nazis treat others, then they are just as bad as their enemies. This argument brings up the question of whether people should, and need to, maintain the laws enacted by society even when there is a breakdown of the social status quo, and it is more expedient and practical to enact immediate measures. MacKenzie voices a higher moral, compassionate perspective as she says that she doesn’t understand why people go to war at all and hurt each other. She joined the military not to fight, but to patch up the wounded.

However, patriotism can become exaggerated to the point of paranoia in a wartime situation, as is seen in the character of Kovac. He becomes suspicious of Porter’s fluency in German. He says she seems to have been well prepared for the attack on the freighter, since she brought all of her belongings, including her suitcase. He says that she may have known the Germans were coming. Porter says she just responded to having to be in a lifeboat. Ritt now makes the connection between them and the outside world when he says, “we’re all sort of fellow travelers in a mighty small boat, in a mighty big ocean. And the more we quarrel, criticize and misunderstand each other, the bigger the ocean gets and the smaller the boat.” Sometimes a change in perspective, as happens here, by shrinking the world down, makes more clear how the actions of individuals do have a direct impact on the population as a whole, and working together is necessary to keep all of us out of harm’s way.
Joe, the African American steward, is perhaps the most praiseworthy one of this bunch. He risked his own life while trying to save Mrs. Higley and her baby. He shows defiance against racism when he says he does not like being called “George,” and wants to be addressed by his given name. (As IMDb points out, that nickname derives from the many black servants who served on George Pullman passenger trains). When the survivors vote on who will lead them, Joe is asked how he wishes to vote. He is surprised that he would get a chance to give his opinion. His response illustrates the effect on African Americans for being deprived of their civil rights for so long. He says, “I’d rather stay out of this.” He has seen how some of the people on the boat have acted in a selfish and vengeful manner, and his reaction implies that he would rather not be part of the white world that has caused so much pain. He is also the most spiritual one as he knows by heart the “The valley of the shadow of death” lines from the 23rd Psalm of the bible when they perform a burial at sea for the dead baby. At the end of the story, he is the one who has pictures of his family, showing him to be someone who has been able to commit to others.

That quality can’t be applied to Kovac who has tattoos with the initials of all his female conquests. Porter, who has used men for her own monetary gain, shows scorn for them, while at the same time, admiring the canvas on which they are painted. When she asks how many skin illustrations of these kind does he have, Kovac’s sexually charged response is, “Remind me to show you the rest of them some time.” Even the humanitarian MacKenzie is in love with a married man in England, and is afraid to go back to England because of the temptation to transgress. However, her feelings of guilt do not resonate with the self-centered Porter. She, in reference to the man being married, says, “You call that a problem?”

Being stranded in the lifeboat affects its occupants differently. Sparks and Gus have been through the predicament before, suggesting that war’s punishments seem to never cease. Sparks and MacKenzie seek comfort from the bleakness of their fate by reaching out to each other affectionately, eventually promising to get married. The survivors replace the lost playing cards with improvise ones out of pieces of paper in order to hold onto some form of entertainment. Mrs. Higley is driven mad by the loss of her child, and stares off into the vastness of the sea which she believes is her child’s infinite resting place. While the others sleep, she joins her baby, going overboard. Porter’s first reaction to the suicide is typical for her, complaining that the woman took her fur coat with her. In addition to Porter’s camera, she also loses her lipstick, and later her typewriter and suitcase in a storm. She must free herself of her worldly possessions so she can participate as a contributing member, working with others.

Before that happens, there are references to class struggle in society. Because of her fur and jewelry, Porter seems high class to Kovac, while he struggled working in the stockyards section of Chicago. Previously, Porter asked Kovac to fix the catch on her bracelet, treating him like a lower class laborer. But during the storm he holds onto her and says they’ll go down together. Afterwards Porter comments on how reaching out for each other while almost losing their lives in the storm was a kind of intimacy. She says, “Dying together’s even more personal than living together.” Her observation is insightful because people draw closer to one another when they must face adversity together. She admits that she is from the same area near the stockyards. She says, “You’re a low person, darling. Obviously, out of the gutter.” But, since she is also “out of the gutter,” they are attracted to each other. But, Kovac doesn’t believe at this point that she is sincere about any long-standing connection to him given her rise above her station. He sees her coming on to him as a form of “slumming.” The wealthy Ritt says to Sparks that he doesn’t have to call him Rittenhouse, but can use his nickname because, “We’re all in the same boat.” This phrase usually applies in a figurative sense, but here that usage is reinforced because it is also literally the case here. And the fact that all of these people are cut off from society at large and the playing field is level should mean that they can leave behind the things that separated them. But, Ritt can’t do that himself, having been a captain of industry. He assumes the role of leader, assigning tasks to the others. They, in turn, are defiant. When Kovac asks what Ritt knows about a ship, Porter says, “Among other things, he just happens to own a shipyard.” Kovac then says sarcastically, “Has he ever been in it?” With the approval of others, Kovac assumes command, illustrating that those at the top of the social chain may not be the ones to rely on to do the dirty work of actually getting the job done.
The German sailor, Willi, one would think would be someone who can leave behind the war and focus on joining the others as equal members of the human race as they try to survive. It seems that way at first, since he appears to know the best way to get to Bermuda. He also was a surgeon in civilian life, and says that Gus’ leg is so bad, he must amputate it or else the man will die. Porter does perform a couple of decent acts here as she gives Gus a large bottle of brandy to drink so that he will pass out during the surgery, and a cigarette to smoke. She also gives him a big kiss as a kind of affectionate good luck gesture before the operation. They all work together to help Willi with the procedure, and Gus survives the amputation. Hitchcock spares us the grisly aspects of the operation, and all we see is Kovac tossing Gus’ boot aside, symbolic of the lost leg. (Hitchcock uses close-ups to great advantage to provide visual variety in such a claustrophobic setting. He also gets in his a trademark cameo of himself in a weight loss ad in a newspaper that depicts before-and-after photos of himself).
Porter suspects that Willi is not just another seaman, and calls out the word for “captain” in German. When Willi responds to the title, they realize he was the one who was issuing, not following orders. They also learn that he can speak English. However, despite his deceptions, and Kovac’s objections, the majority of the survivors put their trust in Willi since he knows about sailing. Willi also gets them through the bad storm, and he uses his strength to row the boat after the mast is destroyed in the strong winds. However, he now appears to waver on which is the right direction they should be heading. We also see him pull out his own compass in secret (the Americans’ compass was broken). As the survivors become more weak through dehydration and hunger, Willi takes more control. Sparks realizes, by noting the positions of Venus and Mars, that they are heading away from Bermuda. Also, MacKenzie saw what she thought was Willi’s watch (but which was really the compass) and yet the man asked the time of day. They discover the compass and now know that he is rowing them toward a German supply ship. They are now his P.O.W’s. But given the low supply of provisions, Willi convinces them that going to a supply ship is their best bet.
But Willi is not able to leave the war behind. Gus has been drinking sea water, and he becomes delusional, thinking Rosie is there. Gus sees Willi drinking from a bottle. Willi, afraid that Gus will expose the fact that he has brought drinking water with him, feels he must get rid of Gus. While the others are sleeping, Willi talks to him, pretending to comfort him, but when Gus comes closer, Willi pushes him overboard. Sparks now realizes he heard Gus speaking, and they suspect Willi of doing him in. They see that Willi is sweating, so he must have water to do so. They find his bottle of water, and he admits that he also brought with him salt and food tablets. In a rage, they beat Willi and throw him overboard. Ritt, exercising poetic justice, but which also has a touch of irony, pummels Willi with Gus’ boot, which is fitting since Willi killed Gus, but it also is a reminder that the German first saved him with the surgery. Porter comments that Willi was like Hitler, because both took advantage of desperate people. Ritt, disillusioned with Willi’s behavior after they rescued the man and trusted him, asks, “What do you do with people like that?”
The survivors show a range of feelings. Porter is angry about losing her things and now feeling hungry and thirsty. She turns on Ritt, blaming him for losing the food in the storm. He says she can write a book about her tribulations, because everything is always about her. Kovac and Ritt play cards, and Ritt accuses Kovac of cheating. Ritt later has regrets that he joined the mob action of tossing Willi overboard, and bemoans never having children. When many of the survivors are ready to give up, Porter rallies them. She gives up her diamond bracelet, the object that Kovac felt symbolized her selfishness, so that it can be used as a lure to catch a fish for food. Porter jokes about her greed when she says about the bracelet, “I can recommend the bait. I know … I bit on it myself.”
Just as they are about to land a fish, the German supply ship appears and sends out a smaller craft to collect them. But then an Allied ship shows up, and fires and sinks the boat and then the German ship. A young German sailor climbs aboard the lifeboat. Again, some are ready to help him. But, he has a gun, which they are able to take away from him. He asks if they are going to kill him. And so, the ending of the story is like the beginning, with a ship and its boats being destroyed, this time by Allied forces. Another German appears, and people can’t forget about being enemies so that they can work together. Despite some altruistic actions, it appears that humans are caught in a vicious cycle of selfishness, mistrust, and violence.
After the encounter with the new German, Sparks repeats Ritt’s question: “What do you do with people like that?” Kovac says, “I dunno. I was thinking of Mrs. Higley and her baby. And Gus.” Porter’s pessimistic comment is, “Maybe they can answer that.” The living can’t say why humans are so self-destructive, and the dead can’t speak. We are left with an unanswered question.

The next film is Fahrenheit 451.