Saturday, June 12, 2010

A-Team & Gandhi

I saw the A-Team movie today. I needed some flat-out escapism after Synod and the summer season offered plenty of choices, but this movie was at the best time for me so I grabbed my ticket and sat down. For the most part it delivered what I wanted. It was fun. It was ridiculous. I actually chuckled aloud in boyish glee at the parachuting tank scene. So I got my money's worth.

But one thing in the film begs to be called out for sheer idiocy. B.A. Baracus experiences a vague conversion while he is in prison and talks about being unwilling (unable?) to kill. This sets up his character's shallow character arc in which he goes from badass Army Ranger to whiny pacifist to badass mercenary outlaw. The entire thing is set up as a foregone conclusion that he will remember that he is a meathead whose purpose in life is killing badguys at the dramatic climax. His transformation is symbolized by his mohawk, which he shuns for the 2nd act of the movie in his pacifist stage, but is back for the thrilling reveal when he murders the villain. Like Samson his mojo is in his hair.

The worst moment in this bad idea of a subplot is when he trades Gandhi quotes with Colonel Hannibal. Baracus asks Hannibal if he knows who said, "Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary." Hannibal does of course and shoots back, but Gandhi also said, "It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence." He then uses that quote to urge Baracus to get back to killing people, because that is what Gandhi would do. Obviously.

It's depressingly ironic that Gandhi would be so badly misused. Hannibal's quote was cut off. It continues, "Violence is any day preferable to impotence. There is hope for a violent man to become non-violent. There is no such hope for the impotent." Gandhi then of course went about demonstrating in his life the conclusive superiority of non-violence to violence, which is the opposite of impotence and cowardice which is what is implied about Baracus during his pacifist phase in the movie.

The movie thoroughly fails to grasp Satya-Graha, Gandhi, or non-violence, which I suppose is fine for a summer blockbuster. I went in there looking for explosions and I found them. I just wish they hadn't thrust this clumsy, ugly sub-plot in the middle.

The completion of the ironic reversal is in the ending of the movie. The A-Team fails to get their name cleared and their elaborate scheme is completely undone in a matter of moments by corrupt government agents. They find themselves once more fugitives, arguably worse off than they were before, yet the movie shows no hint of awareness that the quote Baracus pulled from Gandhi had actually been prophecy. "Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary." Everything Baracus gained by going back to his violent ways was actually a loss in disguise, and it will continue that way until he realizes that violence is nothing more than a slightly higher form of impotence. Like the movie, violence is all flash and no substance.

33 comments:

John Shuck said...

I did want to see this. Glad it delivers on one level. I had my hunches it wouldn't on the other!

Doug Hagler said...

I think this is an excellent treatment of the irony there, which was both deep and wide.

Ultimately, the movie does give a good example of the meaninglessness of violence and the correctness of Gandhi, Hannibal's misquote notwithstanding. I recognized it from Gandhi's "If there is a sword in your heart, take it out and use it" talk, which just connects back to his preference for courageous violent people, who can become far more courageous nonviolent people, compared to cowards, who eschew violence out of fear rather than love.

Josh said...

Aric--

Another insightful movie review. You are an astute observer of culture.

Anonymous said...

Yet, you went to see the film and paid money for that awful violence. Then you complain about it? I guess the world would be more peaceful if people sat around quoting a guy in an orange dress, but our movies would suck.

Doug Hagler said...

@ Anonymous

Another brilliant comment, many thanks!

Yet, you read the awful pacifist blog post, then complain about it? Do you see the irony here? I love irony.

I also love action movies. I just can't seem to turn my brain off when I watch them. What a drag!

Aric Clark said...

Anon -

Hey. I think you misunderstand, or you didn't read the article. I enjoyed the movie. I did indeed pay for it, as I pay to see movies all the time and I love a good action flick.

My critique here isn't that the movie was violent it is that they so badly botched their interpretation of Ghandi and his nonviolent movement Satya-Graha, but then ironically prove him right, unintentionally, with the ending in which their violent victory turns to defeat.

As far as me "complaining" (I would prefer criticizing), part of my enjoyment of going to see movies is analyzing them and what they say about our culture. If that's not your thing, no sweat. Don't let my tiny blog ruin your enjoyment of a film.

Doug Hagler said...

Aric is the nice one.

Eric said...

I really appreciated B.A.'s struggles and the quotes from Gandhi. I needed to hear them and didn't know of them before this movie. Some of us suppress violence... I've always been one of them, and love to learn from sources like this. Loved the movie.

Daniel said...

Very much enjoy your discussion of the irony here. Would love to link to this entry on my blog - I recently wrote about the word "tantamount" and thought I might do an A-Team-inspired update to that. Let me know if linking's a problem.

Thanks!

Doug Hagler said...

Linking is the opposite of a problem. Go for it, and I'm glad you're enjoying it!

D. Cheng said...

Insightful review! Very sad that Ghandi's thought has been distorted to fit such belligerent perspective and that many movie-goers will continue to believe that.

Anonymous said...

Well, being that he was so easily swayed back into violence, that most likely means he was simply hiding behind a cloak of non-violence and his heart was not set in it. If that was indeed the case then that quote would apply, cause if he didn't fight it would simply be impotence.

Aric Clark said...

I think its a grave misunderstanding of Ghandi and this admittedly perplexing speech of his to suggest that just because someone has a violent thought or feeling means they should act violently, and that the only legitimate form of nonviolence is one that comes from total inner-peace. Surely Ghandi had no use for cowards, but it takes a lot more courage to set aside your propensity for violence and risk your life non-violently than to pick up a gun and shoot someone.

I'm with Hauerwas on this subject - I tell people I am a pacifist partly so that I will be restrained by others if I ever try to kill some sonofabitch. Deep down I know I am violent and that makes the call to nonviolence that much more urgent.

So to understand Ghandi here I would have to assume he means that taking violent action is better than hiding or running away from a problem, but restraining violent impulses and taking direct non-violent action to solve a problem is always noble.

Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis, but what you fail to mention is that in the end, they escape again and survive as soldiers of fortune...having fun adventures and helping people, etc. All through violence.

Doug Hagler said...

Heh. I'm pretty sure the fun part is fiction.

Anonymous said...

well the whole thing is fiction, it's a movie...
but they enjoy helping people in need, which sometimes requires violence.
and throughout the movie you can plainly see they're having fun.

Aric Clark said...

Anon,

I am guessing I'm being trolled here. If not you're welcome to identify yourself and try to explain what you mean. We'll give you the most hospitable reading we can.

That said... you're going to have to come with something better than - "look at the A-Team, they're helping people (read: killing them) AND having fun while they're at it!" if you want to discuss the merits of violence/pacifism with me.

I enjoyed the movie, but I stand by exactly what I wrote above. The writers did a horrible job exploring concepts of nonviolence and only through unintended irony did they make a quasi-interesting point on the subject. You're not going to find many just-war theorists or others who support the occasional use of violence to redress wrongs who would think the A-Team is a strong argument in their favor either.

Durgesh said...

Excuse me people, its Gandhi, and not Ghandi.

Yeah Yeah i know whats in a name. But its like saying the president of America is Bearuck Owbalma...

So please spell the great man;s name correctly.

V. Igra said...

I think its a grave misunderstanding of Ghandi and this admittedly perplexing speech of his to suggest that just because someone has a violent thought or feeling means they should act violently, and that the only legitimate form of nonviolence is one that comes from total inner-peace. Surely Ghandi had no use for cowards, but it takes a lot more courage to set aside your propensity for violence and risk your life non-violently than to pick up a gun and shoot someone.

Doug Hagler said...

@ Durgesh:

Sorry about that - that's pretty embarrassing. I think I changed all instances of his name to the correct spelling.

@ V. Igra

I agree entirely and that is also how I interpret this passage and Gandhi's thought overall. It is a common excuse made by people who want to behave violently that they do not have perfect inner peace.

No one has perfect inner peace. If we did, then nonviolence would be useless as a teaching or discipline. To paraphrase something else Gandhi said - nonviolence is for the violent, not the peaceful.

GHLL said...

Flexibility.

Protecting the weak and routing evil, is an overriding good. The evil-doer had to be stopped.

Saving lives/(a life) is an overriding good too. Hannibal saved Baracus when he refused to throw a punch. The indecision also nearly cost both their lives in the tower showdown.

Please do not be so quick as to judge the movie as misappropriating Gandhi.

I got the message as the courage to stand by your convictions.

In such a case, the A-Team are warriors and their goal is to stop the evil-doer.

Gandhi's ideal was not to use violence. This should be tempered with reason and circumstances.

Above all, to understand that we struggle, and we must fight the good fight inside us, and to help society, is what Hannibal was alluding to. To give up, sometimes, is not a good option. Gandhi wishes to see courage and bravery used to good ends like the A-team. Satya-agraha.

Also, you may like to understand the warrior's dilemma, when Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, felt compassion and did not want to continue with his vocation of the battlefield. But in so doing, he was violating his dharma (his life's path). Ultimately, others may fall based on that choice. This is illustrated in the book, called The Difficulty of Being Good.

In your criticism, you may like to take into account the procurement of weapons, the production of weapons, the Blackwater mercenaries, the use of fiat money for terrorist purposes, and the corruption in the rank and file. These are violations of Gandhi's ideal. That is the abuse of violence.

Remember to account for the larger forces at stake. Not wanting to support violence for violence's sake, i.e. being against the military industrial complex, is probably what you were trying to say. In principle, the search for options continues.

The A-Team, on the other hand, is quite a different kettle of fish.

Dale said...

@Aric

"I tell people I am a pacifist partly so that I will be restrained by others if I ever try to kill some sonofabitch."

That's not their responsibility, and not very likely. I think you need to drop the hypocrisy.

Anonymous said...

I can't help but compare this to when when Karl Marx read what people distorted his beliefs to mean, he said, "I am not a Marxist". I wonder if Gandhi would have enjoyed the movie himself.

mybrandnewlife said...

I just wanted to say thanks for the analysis of the Gandhi quotes in the film. I knew when I heard it that Hannibal was misappropriating Gandhi somehow. Your elaboration of the whole quote has shown me how. An excellent summation.

mybrandnewlife said...

As you said earlier it's ok to re-blog I have taken the liberty, with many thanks.

http://mybrandnewlife.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/good-karma-bad-karma/

Cheers. :o)

Braun said...

So i watched the movie and the quotes surprised me so i decided to look into them and I came across your blog here about it.

While I think your interpretation of Gandhi's Ideas and these particular quotes is fairly spot on. You have grossly misinterpreted the movie and in particular the Dilemma of the Character B.A. Baracus. HIs Dilemma about peace is not about the use of violence vs. non-violence but about inner peace and guilt. Particularly about forgiveness as that is emphasized with the filming technique to focus in on the words on the cover of the book he is reading. His Dilemma embodies the broader one the whole group as well to a certain extent. And as such it shows the perceptiveness of the character Hannibal when he sees through Baracus's Gandhi quote and that he is just hiding behind it rather than facing real issues of coming to terms with who he is. And yes he does manipulate another Gandhi quote to his advantage but only because 1. He is the perceptive father figure in the movie who is always 3 steps ahead of everyone 2. His goal is to help Baracus with his true problem 3. He understands the power of using common ground when getting a point across so he stuck to Gandhi 4. Ideologies such as Gandhi's only have true power and meaning in personal application.

In your interpretation of the ending shows again your lack of incite particular for one who claims to be a student of culture and objective observation. Yes they didn't get their names cleared etc. but their conscious is and they find peace in doing the right thing. So those other losses become trivial. Not to mention that Hannibal's trust in Face's plan is affirmed at the end with the exchange of the Key from Sosa to Face further cementing his character as perceptive and calculating. As well as show they expected those losses you mention and that they were steps ahead of everyone and apparently you too.

"You gotta love it when a plan comes together" or hate it when you weren't in on it or couldn't catch on quick enough.

Doug Hagler said...

@ Braun: Oh, wow, hey, someone disagreed with our blog post on the Internet - and was condescending about it. What a surprise!

I would say that you missed the point, but that isn't true - you missed *all* the points.

Aric Clark said...

@Braun: Hi! Meet Doug, our resident pitbull.

Glad you found this old article and took time to reply to it. As I noted right at the beginning of the article, I enjoyed the movie (I've watched it again since with the wife, and enjoyed it again). So I think some of your criticism misses the mark. It's a fine, if overgenerous to the film-makers, interpretation you've come up with there. If they'd wanted to make BA Baracus dilemma about guilt/inner-peace they would have given us, the audience, some reason to think these guys needed to repent, and not just cheer them on the whole way. The movie never questions the morality of their actions at all. It presents them as straightforward white-hats unfortunately caught in a scheme of black-hats, not as mercenaries of dubious character struggling to make tough moral choices.

Regardless, you're welcome to interpret it however you want. I'd appreciate your input in the future with less condescension.

Doug Hagler said...

Arf.

Anonymous said...

Otay.

I too was confused with this movie and came across this site when looking for a better explanation. I've read all the comments on the page and, well, everyone has a legitimate point. No one is wrong except the one that says that violence is good, and I haven't come across that. We all have a different view on life that influences our interpreations on everyting we experience, including even a relatively (morally) shallow action movie, which I loved. It was exciting and intricate and etc., whatever.

What I am trying to say is that some may oppose all violence, and say that BA's double conversion was shallow. Or you can say he was struggling with himself. What it comes down to is what you personally beleive.I personally oppose violence if it is possible. But sometimes, people are plain evil. No matter how morally good one is, the bad guy will hurt you for his plan. For BA, it wasn't whether or not violence is good, especially killing. It's whether or not he can handle it on his conscience afterwards. At first, he can, he is a spec-ops drone. In jail, he says violence is bad, etc. At the end, disregarding the Gandhi quotes, he realizes his PERSONAL self truth. And that is that violence is bad, unneccesary, evil, etc. But at times it may be needed. Those times however should only be in protecting one's morals, those that one cares for, and the good people who lead as good of lives as they can.

Personally, I think that the use of Gandhi's quotes is to say that one (BA) must be brave and courageous and not avert, but work (fight) for what he deems morally right. A person as evil as the people in the movie were determined to hurt good people and the ones BA cared about. So he did what was required, even if it was violent. While Gandhi doesn't advocate violence, he does advocate fighting (not physical) for the greater good, and for oneself, family, etc. That, I think, is what the morality subplot is all about.

Please don't criticize someone's views unless they are obviously wrong. (violence is good, yayay let's kill people kind of views) I hope this is positively adding to this conversation. Thanks for reading this too. :D

Anonymous said...

Hmm. There is one problem with your review. You seem to have left as soon as they were getting arrested at the end. You assume that, the ending is a way of validating that gains with violence are temporary. (Please explain the temporary destruction of the Native Americans and expansion of the United States in this context.)

However, through to the end, it is revealed that this eventuality is in fact a part of the plan, and was a known likely outcome. Unless Sosa carries around a handcuff key in her mouth for other, more interesting reasons? Nonviolence can attain greater results in many cases, but there are times when violence may be the only option left available. This too is an interpretation of the full Ghandi quote. Fear cannot lead you to avoid violence, and to hide behind a cloak of nonviolent resistance. Rather, a violent individual may need courage enough to be violent if it is required, but should be also prepared to put aside violence as soon as it is possible, and remain courageous enough to eschew violence and accept the hardships of nonviolent action; rather than the fight he knew before, a nonviolent fight may be fraught still with personal danger and long suffering. Holding on to conviction, fighting to sway others, and building understanding is a longer process than simple force. The courageous can hold to this process and avoid the quicker violent force; however there are times when a violent man may need to fight to create a window for him to give up violence and move to other means.

RougeShadow said...

How do you know it wasnt the scripts purpose to show the ending as it is..as for the conversation concerning gandhi..hannibal knew they have to use violence to get out of situation..so he quoted it I mean in the middle of war u dont try non-violence,do you???

Doug Hagler said...

During a war is precisely the right time to be nonviolent.