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HindustanTimes Fri,29 Aug 2014

Inspiration or propaganda?

Lena Saha, Hindustan Times   November 20, 2012
First Published: 10:23 IST(20/11/2012) | Last Updated: 10:29 IST(20/11/2012)

Ever since I watched Skyfall, the mismatched, unconvincing real-life connect of the villain in the 23rd film of the James Bond franchise has left me disturbed.

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While Javier Bardem’s silken sly portrayal of an MI6 agent-turned-cyber terrorist Raoul Silva aka Tiago Rodrigues should rank him among the meanest Bond antagonists, what I detested is that the makers of Skyfall based this character on WikiLeaks’ editor Julian Assange, conveniently eliminating context and perspective. Although they have not acknowledged that Silva is inspired by Assange, film reviewers and audiences worldwide have wondered whether that is not so, almost confirming that that is indeed so.

Assange is perhaps the “politically correct” inspiration for the villain in a blockbuster British film that is doing well in the US too: for Britain has been trying to extradite Assange to Sweden where he faces questioning over sex crime allegations while he has been evading that by taking political asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy. He fears that if he gives himself up, he would be sent to the US and perhaps held without trial over incriminating military and diplomatic cables of that country leaked by WikiLeaks.

And yet is Assange a cyber terrorist like Silva? Hardly. He rose to fame by exposing shocking misdeeds of governments and won support worldwide for advocating the freedom of the internet and the media. This was marred by allegations of sex crimes and his reportedly turning into a man drunk on power after starting out as a crusader.

None of these surfaces in the characterisation of Silva. His only motive for disclosing the identities of undercover NATO operatives online is to take revenge on MI6 boss M. Silva’s justification for doing so is revealed by M herself in one scene. And that’s that: swift and simplistic. It’s as if the villain is the villain, no questions asked.

Bond movies have seldom been strong on characterisation, relying instead on the fictional spy’s charisma, the oomph factor of Bond girls, sleek cars and gadgets — an unrealistic combination. And yet when they borrow from reality — as Skyfall does in drawing Silva from Assange — the canvas is not utilised well; rather it seems to wilfully distort reality.

Before you take a break from hollow, twisted realism, rewind to The Dark Knight Rises from earlier this year. Director Christopher Nolan baffles in the finale of his superhero Batman trilogy by turning the Occupy movement of mass protests against social and economic inequality into the fictional Gotham City’s mob army led by a megalomaniac Bane. Soon there is anarchy and violence, requiring multimillionaire industrialist Bruce Wayne to suit up as Batman to defeat Bane and his band of anarchists and restore peace. Should we not interpret Nolan’s take of the movement as anarchic and disapproving of the protests against concentration of wealth in the hands of a few?

Early in the movie, Catwoman says: “There’s a storm coming, Mr Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” The last part of the quote has the ring of the “We are the 99%” slogan of the Occupy movement, referring to the concentration of wealth among the top 1% of income earners depriving the rest.

Instead of projecting this memorable quote as representative of people power, Nolan proceeds to reject it as misguided mob fury and leads us to believe that capitalists like Batman are our saviour. This, like Skyfall, reeks of propaganda.

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