THREE STARS – Violently Disturbing
In our collective unconscious, Americans seem to have a primal fear of our own special forces. As the best trained and equipped military units in the world, our amazement at their lethal ability has a corresponding fear that one day these same killers may turn against us.
Though unnecessarily bloody, THE ROCK is a masterpiece of this genre of films exploring our fear.
The moral issue on which this fear resides is explored on three levels in the film. The first is the very existence of these special forces.
When a government decides to train soldiers in the art of assassination and behind-enemy-line operations, they soon find those forces involved in actions which would be considered murder in a civilian society.
Though covered with the blanket exception of “war” the corporate conscience is not assuaged. As we have painfully discovered in the past, all is not fair in either love or war. There are some acts which, even in wartime, are atrociously unconscionable.
Perhaps that is why we fear our special forces. Since they perform deeds in our name which are morally reprehensible, we share their guilt. And guilt, by its nature, creates a fear that others will do the same to us as we have done to them.
Perhaps it is such guilt that drives the actions of Gen. Francis X. Hummel (Ed Harris), a special forces commander with leadership experience in Vietnam and Desert Storm.
Hummel is appalled at the injustice of having the existence of his men and their deeds denied by our own government. This denial not only cost his men’s widows and children their loved ones and government compensation, but their dignity and reputation as well.
In a calculated attempt to force the government to confess its sins, the commander continues in the path his training has created. The General and a renegade unit of special forces take San Francisco hostage with the threat of murdering millions by launching a lethal chemical from Alcatraz.
This is the second level at which the moral issue is explored. If a government can use special forces units to accomplish its corporate goals, then can an individual use a special force to accomplish his personal goals? And if not, then what makes that wrong?
Additionally, the film forces us to ask the question: has our government set into action a power it cannot control when it uses special forces?
The General is out of control. Using the skill, men and technology his government gave him, he is now ready to kill a million innocent civilians in order to right the injustice done to his men.
The film directly tells us that this is lunacy.
This evaluation of the general’s actions comes from the mouth of a British special forces soldier named Patrick Mason (Sean Connery). Although his place in the plot is heartening, it is his own actions and very existence which is the third level of this moral issue explored by the film.
Operating on behalf of his own British government inside the boundaries of our nation, his capture causes his very existence to be denied by both Britain and the United States.
Though we won’t tell any more of the plot and spoil the intrigue, just the character of Patrick Mason raises multiple questions of the morality of all clandestine organizations and special forces.
If we have people working on our behalf whose very existence, let alone actions, must be denied when discovered, then what price to our morality are we paying?
Though THE ROCK is unnecessarily bloody and in a cinematographic way uses the same violence our special forces use to succeed, it is nevertheless a film worthy of the mature viewer.
If peace is going to come, then we must confess what we have done and turn from our corporate sins.
Patrick Mason, when looking back over his life as a special forces soldier sums it up when he says, “In hindsight I wish I had become a poet or a farmer.”