THREE STARS – Thought-provoking
In a terrorist war, the most committed win. The killing of civilians, torture of combatants, suicide missions and the suspending of freedoms are the tactics and defenses of such a war, with the result dehumanizing to us all.
Although disturbing in its implication, “The Siege” is a film which forces us to consider the probability of such a war. Using actual footage of President Clinton promising reprisals against the terrorists who bombed our embassies, the film overlays the sophisticated capture of a fictional Muslim cleric who had masterminded the attack. His capture sets the stage for his followers, who have illegally immigrated to New York, to use their terrorist tactics to orchestrate his release.
But what is so haunting about the film, is that the followers seem more motivated to kill innocent civilians than they are to negotiate his release. The reason given is the Muslim teaching of being rewarded with access to Heaven for dying in the performance of such a “holy war.”
It is understandable that the Muslim people here in the United States are protesting such a presentation of their beliefs. The fanatical reactions of the few are always a distortion of the whole. This is seen in both the betrayal of the prolife movement by the murder of physicians who perform abortions as well as the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans by our government in an attempt to protect our freedom during World War II.
In all such situations, evil itself becomes the victor. As its name implies, e-v-i-l is the opposite of l-i-v-e, thus evil is present when lives are taken. Evil cares not on which side the loss of life occurs, or whether the lives are innocent or combative.
The loss of innocent life due to terrorist attacks is so overwhelming that we don’t know how to respond. The danger is for our response to be equally evil and equally life-taking.
Terrorism, by definition and as clearly shown within this film, is the taking of innocent life. And, as this film also convincingly argues, the stopping of such terrorism can seduce us into an equally terrifying response.
The three central characters of this film are representative of the three responses we can choose to make to the threat of terrorism: that of good against evil; that of evil against evil; and that of attempting to manipulate the evil.
Agent Anthony “Hub” Hubbard (Denzel Washington) is the FBI agent in charge of the Brooklyn office. He is a good man. When he discovers that a terrorist cell is operating in his city, he attempts to fight it with lawful policing.
This is the first response: good against evil. When a terrorist cell holds a group of innocent people captive in a bus, Hubbard offers himself in exchange for the lives of the hostages. This sacrificial substitution of his own life for theirs is ultimate act of faith that good will overcome evil.
Believing in a higher good, which in his character is incarnated in the laws of our constitution, Hubbard believes that terrorism can be surgically removed by applying the sword of justice through law.
Although his initial sacrifice is not accepted, the film eventually chooses this as the only path a moral and free people can choose.
The opposite solution which presents using evil to fight evil is characterized by General William Devereaux (Bruce Willis). A decorated soldier who is not afraid to step outside the law in order to “protect his country,” General Devereaux is given power by the President to declare martial law in Brooklyn.
Though undoubtedly filmed for dramatic effect, it is nevertheless unnerving to see our own army vehicles and soldiers being deployed across the Brooklyn bridge. Scenes which we have come to expect on our nightly news shows of far away lands are now disturbingly seen on the streets of our largest city.
Under the general’s guidance, the soldiers imprison, torture and kill those fitting the racial and religious profile. The blatant disregard of human rights and religious freedoms is evil’s response to the threat of evil.
The third, and most disturbing because of its chameleon nature, is the attempt to manipulate the evil by “getting in bed with it.” Represented both visually and literally by the amoral former CIA agent Elise Kraft/Sharon Bridger (Annette Bening), she attempts to manipulate the terrorists from within. The result is an immorality which costs not only her life but others as well as evil only outmaneuvers the deception.
“The Siege” is a disturbing film primarily because of its ability to touch our deep-seated fears of modern life. The fact that it supports the hope that good will win is a belief we share and for which we pray.