Eye in the Sky and the Good Soul…
In light go An Jo’s thoughts on Eye in the Sky I tried to respond elsewhere but then decided to just make a post out of the comment..
I liked both your writeup and the one I’ve referenced here. However I do think the film is ambiguous in a more problematic sense as well or in ways that go beyond the ‘ethical’ stakes raised in the film. The very ‘staging’ of such ethical concerns in a film, the degree to which so many of the principal characters seem tortured by the decision they’re about to make, not just on ‘humanitarian’ grounds but also legal ones (citizenship.. British, US), finally the sense that ‘ordinary’ people in these parts of the world are just going about their daily lives and they too are threatened by ‘fanatics’ all the time (the father chides the girl for playing in front of others who are as he calls them “fanatics”) and who in a sense wouldn’t mind being ‘rescued’ from this hellish existence (not of course at the cost of their children but even those who order the Drone strikes seem to agree on this point, more or less, which makes the decision a somewhat ‘impossible’ one)… this entire framework serves what is precisely the ideological justification for the strikes.
I am here not taking a position on whether these are good or bad choices relative to other alternatives.. all I’m saying is that the film for all its ‘ethical stakes’ comforts us that those who make these decisions and those who carry them out at every level are nice human beings who are constantly haunted by what they’re doing and who are ‘concerned’ about the child in the Kenyan or Nigerian shantytown as much as they would be for their own citizens. Now this too is true in many instances. Many people in this line of work do end up as wrecks of some sorts and many people in power also do not take these decisions easily or lightly. I am not therefore disagreeing necessarily with the ‘literal’ truth of the film. However the ‘image’ presented here (pun intended) is very much in line with the ideological justifications of those who defend the policy. Once more I am not taking a position on the policy here but if you were defending that policy it would seem to me that you would find the film more than acceptable.
Notice what happened the other day. The WH released a list of civilians killed in all these airstrikes. The number was 64-116 (the range provided). There were others who disputed this and found it laughably low. But how ‘low’ is acceptable? This is the question raised even by those who argue with the numbers. I’m not saying here that the number is meaningless. Just that it opens up a very different sort of logic. In any case if you watch the film in the light of such a report I don’t believe there’s any ‘conflict’ between the two. The WH claim has always been that these decisions are always taken most conscientiously. The film completely supports that claim. I don’t disbelieve this but that is already framing the question in a certain self-serving way.
But there is also the question of the audience’s ethics here. Sherman said ‘war is cruelty and you cannot refine it’. True. The film begins with the Aeschylus quote about truth being the first casualty of war. Sure. But those who argue against the ‘cruelty’ of drone strikes, aren’t they too in a way ‘satisfied’ by the film? But even if they don’t like this ‘cruelty’ what other kind would they prefer? I could extend this a bit more but the film at any rate seems to justify a policy and also reassure the viewers that the existential angst of the ‘actors’ keeps these decisions honest and makes these events rare. Don’t think that the WH has argued anything different here. All of this is not to take away from a film that is narratively excellent or well-shot. But in a work so much about these stakes one cannot ignore the ‘debate’.