LIMITLESS (2011) – IN SEARCH OF A REAL LIFE NZT – 48

Limitless review | Den of Geek

Limitless was released in 2011 and stars Bradley Cooper as Eddie Morra. Eddie Morra is a struggling writer, whose girlfriend Lindy left him because of his lack of ambition, focus and desire for success. He is later introduced to NZT-48, a nootropic drug which gives him the ability to fully utilize his brain instead of the 10% of the brain theory (a typical myth as modern brain scans show activity coursing through the entire organ, even when we’re resting. If minor brain damage can have devastating effects, that pours cold water on the theory that we had 90 percent spare capacity). NZT-48, allows him to have a perfect recollection of data stored in his brain, organize it properly and use it to his advantage. 

So, NZT-48 – let’s break down what it allowed Eddie Morra to do:

1. He gains the ability to quickly learn new languages

2. Through his reading ability, he begins to impress people in a newly developed social circle

3. He finishes his book in record time 

4. He improves his daily lifestyle – organizing his house, grooming himself well and getting fit

5. He begins playing the stock markets and make huge returns on the same

6. His communication skills and confidence boom so he sleeps with attractive women and impresses strangers

Now, all these seemingly “superhuman” traits really got us all interested. All these abilities are actually available to us all but they require hard work, focus and commitment, stuff we hate to do and would rather believe some myth about not using our brains and needing a special magic pill to build us into something better. That is why the market for Nootropic drugs is around $1 billion and rising. Research proves that most of these Nootropic drugs either don’t help at all or help so marginally. Caffeine has offered better results than most of these, and even that we don’t really use properly. 

Limitless: Can a drug enable access to 100% of the brain ...

Why are we so easily fooled? 

So, let us have another thought experiment – Eddie’s girlfriend dumps and that finally shocks him into getting his life together. Instead of wasting time humping his landlord’s wife, he goes to his apartment, takes the trash out, organizes his apartment so that new thoughts and ideas flow in better (it has been proven that getting rid of unnecessary clutter decreases stress in our bodies). He could have always joined the gym and gotten a hair cut. With thousands of online resources to teach about stock trading, he could have just as easily, using a simple Excel spreadsheet timetable organized his life such that, he could have written the book as well as gotten into stock picking. 

Agreed – learning a language takes time but mostly because we are so distracted by useless things that we aren’t committing ourselves to it. Do we really need to reach the XYZ level on Candy Crush? Do we really need to see Picture number 203 on our ex’s facebook albums and like it at 2 am in the morning? Do we need waste time on checking out morons on Jersey Shore or which idiot loves whom on Love Island? 

The answer is a big, resounding HELL NO!

We have let ourselves lose focus – we want to coast through life and yet try and justify that we deserve the best in life. We see flashy cars and exotic locations and say hey I deserve that even though based on our work ethic we don’t. 

Some say, hey I work hard but still it doesn’t happen. Um, no. For most of us we commute hard and we do our daily tasks hard but we don’t really work hard. Just because we spend four hours commuting to our work place doesn’t mean we are working hard – no one is paying us for it, it is time lost out of our limited 24 hours stock. We come home, fueled by a diet heavy with sugar and fat all day long and then we get home and crash in front of the TV. 

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Do you think a drug could help that? Even Eddie began to see NZT-48 hit him with side-effects unless he kept his diet clean and organized his lifestyle better. Thus, there is no magic pill. All the billionaires we see enjoying the rewards of their wealth, did they become that through a magic pill or through organized lifestyles, diligently working daily through incremental progression towards improving their skills and their abilities and having a strict commitment to health, lifestyle and time allocation.

To discover NZT-48 in real life, model yourself on the truly wealthy – not the Instagram millionaires or the morons who get rich on reality television. These people are adding zero value – they are rich because other idiots pay to see them to basically the same stuff all of us do daily. Using excellent photo and video editing, they portray an image of themselves as perfect when all of us know they are anything but. The truly wealthy, the ones for whom the wealth lasts for generations, they do splurge on toys but they don’t make their wealth all about the toys unlike the Instagram rich – whose position at the peak is only temporary. 

Every man and woman out there is capable of truly reinventing themselves – no magic pill to help gain focus, commit to your plans or organize your life – you know why? There is no need. You just need to refocus that organ inside your skull, that allows you to focus on Candy Crush so well, towards your actual goals. 

Quotes and Movies: I was blind but now I see

THE DEPARTED (2006) – THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE RAT

The Departed, though a remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film ‘Infernal Affairs’, stands on its own through the brilliant direction of Martin Scorsese and the acting talents of Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, and Mark Wahlberg. Released in 2006, The Departed is still considered to be one of Martin Scorsese’s greatest films. 

The plot of the movie can be briefly described as Irish-American gangster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) planting a mole – Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) in the Massachusetts State Police; the police at the same time plant their undercover police trooper William Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Costello’s mob. The rest of the plot covers betrayal and a cat/mouse game played by both Sullivan and Costigan, to try and sniff each other out. 

The Departed engages the viewer right until the end and develops each character in such a manner that we feel connected to these. Some don’t view William Costigan too favourably for starting an affair with Colin Sullivan’s fiancee; others hate Colin Sullivan for being a traitor to his fellow police officers and being responsible for the death of Captain Queenan. Mark Wahlberg’s character as Staff Sergeant Dignam, was appreciated for his blunt honesty and lack of tact. Jack Nicholson as Frank Costello was reviled and applauded for his acts during the movie. 

But in this post, we are not going to review the movie – it’s been 14 years. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, then you probably aren’t a huge fan of the genre. We are going to investigate the psychology of a rat – a traitor or a search for one which is a major theme in this movie. When we look at a rat, our first reaction is revulsion – atleast for the most part. We identify it as an indicator of something being wrong in our house or neighborhood – a lack of cleanliness or something dirty somewhere. 

The Departed Fans Have Launched a Kickstarter Campaign to Fix The ...

A traitor invokes the same feelings within us – he is a rat – dirty, unclean and spreading diseases (now a traitor isn’t literally spreading diseases but if diseases kill or harm us, the traitor’s actions do the same and he becomes the equivalent of a disease carrying rat). Rat and a traitor have become synonymous even though, I am sure most rats wouldn’t really betray their fellow rats for an extra piece of cheese. 

So why does someone become a rat – deliberately betray their fellow man? Most of the time the answer is simple – GAIN.

Mark Sullivan in the movie became a rat as he saw himself progressing faster than his troopers, by aiding Frank Costello. Financially as well, Costello’s cash for information, helped Sullivan succeed. He justified it as if I get rich and do no great harm to the society, what’s the harm in aiding Costello. Everyone is looking out for themselves, why shouldn’t I?

William Costigan became a mole to differentiate himself from his criminal family – to take down a mob boss like Costello. He was convinced by Queenan and Dignam that he would do more damage from the inside than he would from the outside. He justified betraying Frank as Frank is a criminal. He murders and robs people – betraying him is helping society at large, so why shouldn’t I?

Another reason for become a “rat”, is because you are deeply unhappy. Both Sullivan and Costigan, did not really have happy childhoods. Sullivan’s guilt, though deep inside, gnawed at him during his time as a rat and then to live in constant fear of being discovered. Costigan was threatened by death at the hands of Costello’s crew, the fear of having his records erased and no one knowing he was a cop once he left undercover work. Both men were disillusioned and no longer had any faith in the system – Sullivan was a cop but didn’t believe in the system; Costigan detested the criminal roots from his father’s side. 

People betray for several complex reasons – these reasons differ from person to person and their personal upbringing – for certain people, they can endure extreme torture or deprivation and yet not rat their comrades – the sense of loyalty and duty entrenched in them from a young age. Others, betray their friends or fellow comrades, even without any threat. History is rife with traitors – personal gain has been the dominating factor to push someone over the edge but it is not the only reason. 

When asked if they would betray someone for personal gain, a great majority of the people would say no, even though in an actual situation where they are threatened, they will betray without a second thought? Because to be considered a rat makes a person a social pariah, even though most others in their situation would do the same. Hypocritical but sadly an integral part of who humans are. 

Kickstarter takes down campaign to remove the rat from The ...

SCARFACE (1983) – LESSONS FROM TONY MONTANA

Brian De Palma’s Scarface is a cult film. Nothing else can be said about it. A timeless classic. It has several reviews which describe its plot but none that talk about the lessons derived from it. I wanted to take you through these. Al Pacino as Tony Montana was the spark that made the movie what it was. The premise was simple – the movie itself a remake of the 1932 version – a poor immigrant arrives from Cuba with nothing and then rises up to become Miami’s drug kingpin and how he ultimately spirals towards his own destruction. 

The rags to riches tale has been a proven money spinner when it comes to films. The same tale has been retold in different versions across different film industries across countries. There is something empowering about seeing someone with nothing rise up to the top of the game. 

However, Scarface delves into Power and Wealth and the illusory nature of the same. It deviates from showing only the rise – here the focus is not on the rise but rather the flaws in human character that do not allow Tony Montana to see that his ultimate fall, follows him quickly.  Tony Montana’s meteoric rise to power, his deposing of the existing drug lord of Miami, Frank Lopez (portrayed by Robert Loggia), his acquisition of Lopez’s possessions including his wife, the eventual arrogance and the power-drunk behavior on his part (just like Lopez), leading him to be destroyed in the same way by another stronger kingpin and lose all his possessions in turn, shows the circular nature of life. 

It sheds light on how illusory our conquests are and how fleeting wealth is. Every man who is at the top, falls under the illusion that he can never fall. He even prepares his defenses like Tony Montana, living under a vast, well-guarded fortress and with a slogan like “The world is yours” to egg him on, but then eventually someone superior comes along and crushes you the same. 

Scarface is an exciting, bloody but fun-filled guilty pleasure which should be indulged in. But Tony Montana the character gives us some lessons that come in handy along the way. These lessons are derived from some of the character’s iconic quotes throughout the movie

LESSON 1 – “The World is yours!”

In this Tony Montana, was right. You can do anything in this world, that you set your mind to. Nothing in life works better than human will directed towards one unflinching objective. From the moment Tony stepped off the boat, he knew exactly what he wanted from life. His game plan was clear and he knew the steps he would take on this journey. He was not distracted by women and the temptations when he got a little money like his friend Manny Ray. Even when he desired a woman, it was his boss’s wife Elvira (portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer) – a desire which would need him to become king if it was to ever be fulfilled. 

This driving sense of purpose – a clear set ambition is what allows us to achieve great things in life. It is exhilarating and it provides such a kick that nothing else is needed. However, the lack of such ambition, causes us to look for minor indulgences and be satisfied with mediocrity and to settle. We accept average as a part of life. The idea here is not for everyone to obsess about acquiring Zuckerberg’s level of wealth – it is to be driven by a purpose that lets you attack each day to your utmost strength. 

LESSON 2 – “All I have in this world is my balls and my word and I don’t break them for no one.”

Despite not seeming so, this quote applies to both men and women. It is about your personal beliefs. It is easy to take the path of sacrificing one’s beliefs and ideals for the sake of getting something in life but one must also calculate the cost of giving up on these ideals. Life is short and temporary – defeat comes to us all. But values and personal ideals are all that differentiate us – men and women – in life. Giving up on these in pursuit of a task, take a toll. The victory achieved is always hollow as you remember your word or your belief in your values, broke when it should have stood strong. 

Tony Montana said this iconic line when he saw Omar being hanged from a helicopter and while being threatened by the same by Alejandro Sosa. He however, did not break and actually achieved more through his guts than he would by cowardice. 

LESSON 3 – “Who put this thing together? Me, that’s who! Who do I trust? Me!”

During this part of the movie, Tony Montana’s the top dog – he has money, power and he has vanquished all his foes – or that is what he believes. His confidence in himself is supreme and he like any powerful man, begins to suspect conspiracies around him. A man who rose to power by slaying the king, is always looking for daggers around him. The lack of trust makes him distrust his support structure – his wife Elvira and his right hand man Manny. 

This quote shows the easy path taken by confidence to turn into hubris – every leader who begins to think only he knows best and only his skills can deliver victory, is one who is heading for a big fall. The lesson here is to remember to have a close knit group of people who you can trust fully as the man who tries to be the master of everything is a master of nothing. 

LESSON 4 – “ You need people like me so you can point your fuckin’ fingers and say ‘That’s the bad guy!’ 

By the time this scene comes up, Tony Montana’s journey is coming to an end. Hopped up on cocaine and vanity, a brief moment of pure disgust comes to the surface – the disgust for the seemingly holier than thou elites who turn up their nose at any one breaking into their tight circles of influence. Without out and out evil men, like Tony Montana, those individuals who are equal to the evil but honest men in character, would become society’s new pariahs. For the rich and powerful, it is essential to maintain an air of purity about themselves and their wealth even though they have conducted themselves in a fashion similar to those of robber barons but haven’t been outed yet. 

We see such conduct even among our celebrities, how the darlings of the Left – actresses like Meryl Streep or Jennifer Lawrence kissed the ring of the then chief power broker in Hollywood, Harvey Weinstein but tried to act as saviors of women kind through empty speeches after other women, much less famous, who had had their careers destroyed by Weinstein for not bowing to him, caused his fall. We see the conduct among politicians, celebrities and businessmen. It is an important lesson as it speaks to the teaching of lesson 2 – where one gives up something to become something else but it is up to you to decide what you give up. 

CONCLUSION

Scarface is an entertaining movie no doubt – but beyond the fast paced life of Tony Montana, there are important takeaways to absorb into our own life. This review was not about the plot of the movie as you can find that any where on the internet but more like a critical review of the movie’s deeper learnings. 

FIGHT CLUB (1999) – ITS RELEVANCE IN OUR SOCIETY 21 YEARS LATER

GUEST EDITORIAL: The Relevance of "Fight Club" — Every Movie Has a ...

WHY FIGHT CLUB?

Fight Club is described as the quintessential “guy movie”, a description it lives up to for the most part. However, describing it only as a guy movie would be inaccurate. Based on the best-selling book by author Chuck Palahniuk, the movie is much more engaging in my opinion than the book and very few movies can claim that. 

Search the internet for Fight Club and you will be bombarded with thousands of blog posts,  YouTube videos and articles dissecting the movie to its minutest details – much better articles written by much more talented individuals with good looking websites & fancy blogs. However, for me it’s the love of the movie itself which made me write about it as my first blog post. 

In 2020, during the Covid-19 epidemic, as most of the world is stuck in quarantine, I decided to review a movie from 21 years back. Dumb right? Who is going to read this? Everyone’s already seen the movie and it has been discussed so much already so does it make sense to have another blog devote time to it? I feel this crisis, has allowed people to experience in real time, one of the most memorable quotes from the movie –

“First, You’ve Gotta Know – Not Fear, Know – That Someday, You’re Gonna Die”

The impact of this epidemic on so many families across the world, the loss of family members, the loss of income – the threat of impending doom brings home the feeling of death – not just physical death but more like death of will, of the ability to make things happen which is worse than actual physical death. 

For me, it was the loss of my job at an investment bank, that made me reevaluate things. I always wanted to write a blog and share my thoughts about movies, TV shows and books with other people, but was either too lazy or figured, who the hell is going to read that? Why bother? But the other day while watching Fight Club for the umpteenth time, I realized that I was making excuses. I was busy running after stuff which was not that important. Even when it came to sharing my thoughts about a movie, I was thinking more about acceptance from society and the negative thoughts about not being eloquent enough or imaginative enough, when all I needed to do was talk from the heart. 

So, that’s what led to all this – I finally accepted that one day I will die so what is the point of a life of half measures and pandering to society? I need to do what I want to do and I wanted to write my thoughts about movies, TV shows, books and basically every thing I could with anyone and everyone out there. Now, let me help you all enter the world of Fight Club – fasten your seat belts, it is going to be a bumpy ride. 

SO WHO IS IN IT AND  WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

The movie directed by David Fincher stars Brad Pitt as “Tyler Durden”, Edward Norton as the “Narrator” & Helena Bonham Carter as “Marla Singer”. The movie revolves around these three characters although Meatloaf as “Robert ‘Big Bob’ Paulson” and Jared Leto as “Angel Face” have a major impact on the course of the plot as it develops. 

The Narrator is an anonymous everyman – works in a stressful job (like almost everyone), as a Product Recall Specialist (a title tailor-made for showing your status on LinkedIn but which basically cements your position in life as a minion for a company which does not care much about you) and suffering from recurring insomnia brought upon by severe jet lag from the several business trips he takes.

He goes to the doctor and when refused pills, he tells the doctor that he is “in pain”, to which the doctor asks him “You wanna see pain? See the guys with testicular cancer” – post which we see the Narrator going to a support group for men with testicular cancer. Despite not sharing the disease, he finds that when he shares in the problems of others, his insomnia vanishes. He attends more and more support groups to enhance the feeling of being remade from scratch as he says “Every evening I died and every evening I was born again“.

This blissful existence with the entrance of another “faker” – Marla Singer. Her visiting of the support groups under false pretenses only serves to make the Narrator aware of his own deceit and his insomnia makes an unwelcome comeback. He confronts Marla and they agree to split the support groups hoping to never meet each other again.

We are then introduced to the Narrator’s work and lifestyle and his frequent flights, on one of which he meets soap salesman Tyler Durden who quickly becomes his favorite “single-serving friend” and who he exchanges business cards with. After he lands, he returns to his home to find that a gas explosion has destroyed his apartment and all of his carefully cultivated material possessions. Disheartened by the loss of his possessions and not wanting to ask Marla for help, with whom he had exchanged numbers earlier, he calls Tyler and they meet at a bar.

At the bar, he whines about his possessions to Tyler, saying he was almost there – he almost had it all. They discuss rampant consumerism and things that truly matter and ends with Tyler summarizing the consumer culture with a durable quote – 

“The things you own, end up owning you”

After drinks, in the parking lot, the Narrator asks Tyler for a place to stay to which Tyler agrees, but Tyler requests that the Narrator “hit him as hard as he can“, post which they begin a fist fight. Both of them realize they enjoyed the fight. We are also introduced to Tyler Durden, who does odd jobs by the night, as a projectionist splicing pornographic reels into family films, as a banquet waiter who pees in the soup at a high end hotel and as a thief stealing left-over drained human fat from liposuction clinics which he uses in his soap. 

As the Narrator moves into Tyler’s large dilapidated house, he continues his regular fights in with Tyler, which attracts other young men. Soon the fights become large enough, that they move into the basement of the bar they met at and a Fight Club is formed, routinely meeting for recreational fights based on the following rules:

1. You don’t talk about fight club.

2. You don’t talk about fight club.

3. When someone says stop, or goes limp, the fight is over.

4. Only two guys to a fight.

5. One fight at a time.

6. No shirts or shoes.

7. The fights go on as long as they have to.

8. If this is your first night at fight club, you have to fight.

As the Fight Club blossoms, one day the Narrator receives a call from Marla, who has overdosed on pills and is asking the Narrator for help; he ignores her but Tyler proceeds to Marla’s apartment and saves her. They soon began a sexual relationship annoying the Narrator to no end. Tyler however, makes the Narrator promise him that he would not talk to Marla about him. Soon afterward, the Narrator blackmails his boss for company’s assets to support Fight Club and quits his job.

Very soon, Fight Clubs emerge all over the country with new members joining in large numbers. One of them, is Robert Paulson, who the Narrator met in his testicular support group earlier in the plot. Tyler rebrands the Fight Club movement into Project Mayhem – an anti-consumerist and anti-corporate anarchist organization. This is done, without the Narrator’s knowledge.

Select members of Project Mayhem, soon begin to live in the large house, the Narrator & Tyler live in and the members begin indulging in increasingly violent acts of vandalism. This troubles the Narrator and he confronts Tyler about excluding him from Tyler’s plans. The Narrator soon realizes, that Tyler was responsible for the explosion that destroyed his home. 

During one of the operations, police action leads to Robert Paulson being shot dead, which makes the Narrator try and halt the project. He follows the trail of cities, Tyler has visited. In one of the cities, a member of Project Mayhem, addresses the Narrator as “Mr. Durden”. This confuses the Narrator who calls Marla who also believes he is Tyler, with who she is sleeping with. Suddenly Tyler, appears in his room and tells him he and the Narrator are disassociated personalities in the same body; the Narrator assuming Tyler’s personality when he is asleep. Tyler also tells him Marla is a threat as she knows too much at which point the Narrator blacks out. 

When he awakes, the Narrator returns to his house, he discovers Tyler’s plans for erasing debt by destroying buildings holding credit card records. He also meets Marla to apologize and warn her that her life is in danger and she needs to leave town. After escaping a run-in with the police, he reaches one of the buildings about to be destroyed and attempts to disarm the explosives, but Tyler subdues him. As Tyler holds him by gunpoint, the Narrator realizes that he is holding the gun, as Tyler and him are the same person. He shoots himself, through the cheek and Tyler disappears, as he thinks he has committed suicide; the mental projection of Tyler ceases to exist. 

Project Mayhem members bring a kidnapped Marla to the top floor of the building where they find the bleeding Narrator. He tells them to go, holds Marla’s hands, telling him she met him at a very strange point in his life as they watch the buildings collapse around them after the detonation of the explosives. 

SEEMS LIKE YOUR AVERAGE THRILLER, WHAT THEMES ARE YOU DERIVING FROM IT? 

Fight Club covers several themes – the emasculation of men, the consumerist culture and the obsession with material wealth for happiness and fear and its role in our lives. 

The theme regarding the emasculation of men, is defined by Tyler’s rant about being history’s middle children, a situation still relevant today as it was in 1999 when the movie came out. 

Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy s**t we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off..”

Tyler seeks to identify a major cause of dissatisfaction in the younger generation of men – we have no great cause. Earlier generations, during the world wars had major causes for which they fought and died but now there are none. Wars still ravage the earth yet for most part these are unknown and buried affecting only a set group of individuals. The reality TV culture in the world today, where thousands audition to demean themselves for the chance to be famous for a short while and be forgotten soon after; the way we make Gods out of morons living on the Jersey Shore or a family of promiscuous individuals, it speaks to our great depression – unfulfilled lives where we engage in activities not to bring joy to ourselves but rather to impress people who we, for the most part, do not even like.

Men for the most part in our society, due to the existence of patriarchal societal structures, have been the primary breadwinners in the society. From ancient times until the world wars, men have been given the spotlight as the Alpha. Strength was valued over everything else. However, in the information age, along with the breakthroughs made by women’s right advocates and the advent of feminism, the societal structures, flawed as they were, have begun to collapse. Men for most part have not evolved with time atleast in how we grew up – we began to see money as the way to maintain our Alpha status in place of physical strength and the way to assert dominance, instead of evaluating how we were being raised.

Tyler seeks to reset the world through anarchy to revert back to the hunter gatherer times, a time when it was kill or be killed. He seeks to make men relevant again through an acceptance of testosterone-fueled conflict instead of engaging in the discussion about a middle path. 

WHAT’S WRONG WITH BUYING THINGS?

The current IKEA culture, the cheap mass produced goods world we live is another theme we see throughout the movie. As Covid-19, hits countries across the world, there is another evolving discussion taking place about the problems of globalization – the lack of self-sufficiency caused by cheap, mass produced goods being sourced from intricate supply chain systems globally. The excessive wastage, the habit of keeping up with the Joneses and the lack of satisfaction from objects has taken a huge toll on our environment, our natural resources, our relationships, our wallets and our mental health. 

How much is enough? In the movie, Project Mayhem members are only allowed to bring a basic attire and some personal burial movie. No other possessions. This is seen as a statement on the current culture, especially on Wall Street and within the high society at large, where one constantly needs to show off the latest flashy thing for the sake of appearances no matter whether it is needed. Greed causing a massive global financial crisis in 2008-09 and the bubbles being burst – whether it be in the housing market or elsewhere is a sign that over-consumption and greed has a negative impact. 

You are not your bank account. You are not the clothes you wear. You are not the contents of your wallet. You are not your bowel cancer. You are not your grande latte. You are not the car you drive. You are not your fucking khakis.”

Tyler tries to let us realize that as individuals we are more than just the title we have at work, we are more than the car we have parked or the brands of clothes we have. We are capable of much more as humans and yet we have become embroiled in an unnecessary rat race to keep desiring more and keep running behind more until the day we die. We can stop and reevaluate what is truly important. 

THE ROLE OF FEAR – WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?

In a society in which advertisements systematically program our minds to continuously pursue the acquisition of material stuff to better ourselves, sacrifice involves giving up these possessions and even giving up the desire to emulate that self. Tyler says, “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything”. Society inhibits individualism and self-control over thought and perception unless one frees oneself from it.

There is a scene in Fight Club where Tyler and the Narrator go into a small liquor store and hold the guy there at gun point. Watch scene below:

Tyler explains the usefulness of fear – he uses fear as a motivation for the man to chase after his forgotten dreams.

“Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel’s life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted.”

However, some may argue, that being held at gunpoint might have left Mr. Hessel with severe PTSD. The point here is fear and the role it plays in our lives. During our current quarantine, we were forced to reevaluate many things in our lives including the lies told to us by the Government and moviestars and other cultural icons – fear for our lives had us thinking clearly and viewing things objectively. Fear when used correctly can be an extremely useful aid in making our lives fulfilling. Fear when used against ourselves – where we lack the courage to challenge ourselves, can cause us to miss out on many good things in life. 

In my personal view, this would be the most important theme to understand from the movie as it is the most useful. I was afraid myself to begin writing – to let my thoughts flow for others to read and ridicule but today as I sat in quarantine watching a movie I had seen several times before, I finally asked myself what am I afraid of ? Who can judge me if I give their judgement no power? Why should a thought I have remain trapped within me because of what society needs me to be – just because I worked in Investment Banking, I should go around with the label that I know very little about movies or books? No. 

I am more than what my LinkedIn status is – I am more than my Resume – I am more than what I let myself believe.

AND SO ARE YOU!

Fight Club is just a movie. But there are lessons in everything if you actually take the time to truly see. Distraction is fine but remember, know in fact, that one day you’re going to die so what you do now is important. 

GANGS OF WASSEYPUR PART 1 AND 2 (2012) – AN UNENDING CYCLE OF REVENGE OVER GENERATIONS

Gangs of Wasseypur is a Hindi film directed by Anurag Kashyap and released in 2012 as a two-part series (the movie is 5 hours long undivided) about the coal mafia in Dhanbad (a mining town in India) and the underlying power struggles, the cycle of violence and revenge between three families all seeking to control the town and the nearby Wasseypur. The movie covers the ups and downs of each family from the 1940s to the mid-1990s and the end of the license-raj. The entire movie is shot as a narration of the events by Nasir, one of the players in the chaos of Dhanbad and Wasseypur. The village of Wasseypur has been historically dominated by the Qureshi Muslims, a sub-caste of animal butchers who are feared by the non-Qureshi Muslims living there.

During British colonial rule, the region was a hotbed of the local dacoit Sultana Qureshi who robbed British trains in the night and thus held some patriotic value for the locals. However, in 1941, Shahid Khan, a Pathan, takes advantage of the faceless dacoit and also begins robbing trains. This creates friction with the local Qureshi overlords who attack his men and hound Shahid Khan out of the village who settles in Dhanbad and begins working in a coal mine. In a tragic set of events, Shahid Khan’s wife dies at childbirth, as he is delayed by the muscleman at the coal mine, giving birth to his son, Sardar Khan (played magnificently by Manoj Bajpayee). He later takes his revenge by killing the muscleman, where he is noticed by the owner of the mine, an Indian industrialist, Ramadhir Singh who hires Shahid Khan as his new enforcer.

Shahid Khan’s role as an enforcer goes to his head and one day, Ramadhir Singh overhears Shahid Khan telling Nasir, a cousin of his, his plans to remove Ramadhir eventually. Ramadhir Singh sends Shahid on a task and has him assassinated by a local hitman. He also sends goons (including Ehsaan Qureshi, a member of the Qureshi gang who drove Shahid Khan out) to kill Nasir and Shahid Khan’s son. However, Nasir, finding Ramadhir’s umbrella with his initials near the door concludes that Ramadhir eavesdropped on their conversation and escapes with Sardar Khan.

Ehsaan, after not finding Nasir and Sardar, lies to Singh that Shahid’s family has been murdered, burnt, and buried. Under the care of Nasir, Sardar grows up along with Nasir’s nephew Asgar. Sardar learns the truth about his father’s death, upon which he shaves his head and vows not to grow his hair until he has avenged his father’s murder beginning the entire chapter of revenge. This begins a cycle of revenge and brutal violence, that envelops the towns of Wasseypur and Dhanbad – violence perpetrated not due to the differences of religion but rather greed.

New generations are introduced throughout the movie and revenge envelops each generation with Sultan Qureshi murdering both Sardar Khan and his elder son Danish Khan and himself being murdered by Faizal Khan, the younger son of Sardar Khan. He later manages to kill Ramadhir Singh as well, but is later shot by Sardar Khan’s illegitimate son Definite Khan. The chaos of the different characters is sometimes hard to track as new characters are introduced during the movie and are killed soon after.

The movie shows the seed of violence ingrained with some individuals, nurtured by greed and lust, which destroys generations as the vendetta grows over time. Even a marriage alliance between the Qureshis and the Pathans cannot ensure peace, as Sultan Qureshi continues to kill and begins including women and children in the violence.

Gangs of Wasseypur: An indulgent effort - The Hindu

Ultimately, Gangs of Wasseypur shows the poorer areas of India in stark contrast to urban India. It shows the downtrodden state of the coal miners, their exploitation by the British and then the rich Indian masters. It shows the differences between people belonging to the same religion and customs and their capacity for extreme violence against their own kind. But Gangs of Wasseypur, manages to show this with flair. Anurag Kashyap’s bold style of depicting the story, reinvents the Indian mafia dramas, which had been dominated by Ram Gopal Varma’s gritty tales on the Mumbai underworld and did not capture the violence and the crime in the Indian heartland – regions dominated by poverty, hunger, corrupt politicians and policemen.

Hate is inherited: Gangs of Wasseypur | Filmotrope.com

There is a lot of justified criticism for the level of violence in the movie but that is the whole point. It shows the capacity within people, normal people like you and me, to indulge in gruesome violence over pointless vendettas driven by ego and revenge. Several generations of three families are destroyed by revenge and ultimately no one is truly victorious. Wealth gained by violence is also destroyed by it.

There is a saying by Francis Bacon – “This is certain, that a man that studieth revenge keeps his wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well.” This quote is the essence of the Gangs of Wasseypur, generations of families obsessing over revenge – vengeance for a dead father (Sardar Khan), vengeance for a dead father, mother, uncle and brothers (Faisal Khan) and vengeance for supposed insults (Sultan Qureshi). None of these emerge victorious – they get their revenge but end up losing their lives and ensuring the destruction of their families.

Smaller stories of other individuals seeking to profit from this cycle of violence merge into the larger tale. Anurag Kashyap keeps this long tale of Wasseypur, entertaining and engaging, through brilliant dialogues, a diverse array of characters and a story that keeps the audiences on their toes. The interlocking conflicts and ever-changing allegiances never cease to fascinate throughout the course of the movie.

The performances, across the movie, are magnificent, with Manoj Bajpayee (Sardar Khan), the Khan family matriarch Richa Chaddha (wife of Sardar Khan), and her second son (and star of the second part of the film) played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui whose work and character arc in “Gangs of Wasseypur” defy superlative.

Watch the movie as any list regarding the best Indian mob movies, actually mob films in any language, going forward has to mention “Gangs of Wasseypur,” or it will be incomplete. The word “epic” has been devalued by overuse, but in Gangs of Wasseypur one is reminded of what the term truly means. It is Anurag Kashyap’s entry into a league of extraordinary film-makers. It is a violent, terrifyingly intense work of art with humor interspersed in between.

JAY’S VERDICT

As far as crime dramas go, this gritty tale of vengeance in the Indian heartland doesn’t disappoint.

HACKSAW RIDGE (2016) – KEEPING TO THE COMMANDMENT ‘THOU SHALT NOT KILL’ IN THE MIDDLE OF WAR

The portrayal of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector in the Second World War, in the movie Hacksaw Ridge is a tale of courage, maintaining one’s convictions and not shirking away from duty. The movie, based on the real life heroics of Corporal Doss, who saved 75 men in the Battle of Okinawa and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions, seeks to paint a picture of courage and duty.
Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson and starring Andrew Garfield as Doss, is an excellent war movie which focuses more on the importance of saving a life than taking one. Doss refusing to carry a weapon or take lives, suffered countless punishments at the hands of his fellow soldiers and had to defend his beliefs in front of a court-martial panel. He said exemplified his conviction in his beliefs and God when he said the following:
“I had a job in a defense plant. I could have taken a deferment but that ain’t right. It isn’t right that other men should fight and die that I would just be sitting safe at home. I need to serve. I have the energy and the passion to serve as a medic, right in the middle with the other guys, no less danger just while everybody else is taking life, I am gonna be saving it. With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it don’t seem like such a bad thing to me to want to put a little bit of it back together.”
The question that arises out of the movie, is not related to Corporal Doss – his bravery, his courage and commitment to duty cannot be denied or ignored. The question is about being a Conscientious Objector in the time of war. War is hell – bullets flying everywhere, explosions all around you and your comrades dying brutally – when an enemy is coming to kill, how do you defend yourself if you have no weapon? If you assume you would be defended by your comrades as you protect their lives and treat emergency wounds and save lives, is that right?
Now, how many conscientious objectors can a Nation effectively tolerate? What if every man says I won’t take lives or kill – but for that to effectively work, wars will need to end, men must be required to live in harmony and peace with each other all the time. It’s a great thing to desire but naive to believe. War has been part of human society from the time of the first civilizations – when we carved weapons out of wood and stone. With every scientific breakthrough, we have found new ways of killing each other. So if war is here to stay and we can safely say that at any given time, there is a war going on in some part of the world, how do we justify conscientious objectors?
True, a medic is there to treat. But not everyone has the required skills to become one – so how do they serve, if they can’t serve as a medic – then would these men be required to carry out tasks away from the front-line so they wouldn’t be in danger? In that manner, everyone would try to avoid danger as who would want to die in conflict, most of the time, to not even see the man who kills you but be killed by an unknown bullet.
A conscientious objector, in my opinion, is a valuable human being but in war, no nation can afford to have many. War needs complete commitment – it requires a kill or be killed response; otherwise there can be no victory. To hate war, to hate killing and the desire to be kind to all, is a beautiful thing but in reality, unless everyone thinks the same, wars will happen and then, a person cannot hide behind the cover of not wanting to kill, especially if he is fighting in the war.
The battlefield, for a soldier, like the office for a corporate stooge, is his place of duty. That is what he was built for despite all the swill, people who assume a holier-than-thou approach when discussing war, utter. In the holy books too, war as a duty for the soldier is mentioned. In the Hindu epic, The Srimad Bhagavad Gita (The Song of God), when the warrior Arjuna, loses his nerve when confronted by his family members and friends on the battlefield, and drops his weapon, he is admonished by Sri Krishna in the following way:
“Death is certain for the one who is born, and birth is certain for the one who dies. Therefore, you should not lament over the inevitable. Considering your duty as a warrior you should not waver. Because there is nothing more auspicious for a warrior than a righteous war. If you will not fight this righteous war, then you will fail in your duty, lose your reputation, and incur sin. People will talk about your disgrace forever.
To the honoured, dishonor is worse than death. The great warriors will think that you have retreated from the battle out of fear. Those who have greatly esteemed you will lose respect for you.
Your enemies will speak many unmentionable words and scorn your ability. What could be more painful than this? You will go to heaven if killed, or you will enjoy the earth if victorious. Therefore, get up with a determination to fight, O Arjuna. Treating pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat alike, engage yourself in your duty. By doing your duty this way you will not incur sin.
Bhagavad Gita Quotes | Bhagavad gita, Krishna, Krishna avatar
Now, to those who do not believe in reincarnation or people who follow another religion or do not believe in the existence of God, the words may not hold much truth. But the words about duty. Death is certain for every man, woman or animal – everyone that is born must die. While we live, we must act in such a manner that we can stand up as proud men. Men who behave as conscientious objectors to hide their cowardice or escape the draft to avoid fighting, die a thousand deaths daily until their ultimate end. Men and women who serve and do their duty, for others, can live their lives, despite any hardship, as real men and women, with a strong sense of duty and honor.
“Thou shalt not kill” cannot be implemented individually – unless adopted collectively, it has no real place in our society and very little during times of war.
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BLACK HAWK DOWN (2001) – STRATEGIC LESSONS GATHERED FROM THE ACTUAL BATTLE


Black Hawk Down, is a 2001 war film, directed by Ridley Scott. The movie describes the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993, where the US military raided the city for high value targets and got caught up in an intense ambush. The film has a large cast with several actors, including Tom Hardy in his first film appearance. 

The movie describes the Rangers and the US Delta Force operatives fighting towards the objective of capturing the Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid’s top military advisors. Though the raid is successful, two of their support helicopters (Black Hawks) are shot down by Somali militia, and other soldiers trying to leave no man behind are subsequently ambushed resulting in casualties for both sides with around 19 dead, 73 wounded and 1 captured for the Americans and approximately 1000+ dead or wounded for the Somali militia. 

The objective of this write up is to understand the movie and the actual battle – what would have guaranteed success. With the technology and weapons strength of the United States, a minor militia should not have been able to inflict losses on their special forces. 

STRATEGIC LESSONS FROM BLACK HAWK DOWN

1. No guarantee that technology will ensure success 

Though the US Task Force enjoyed the complete surveillance and intelligence capabilities and assets at their disposal which was vast, they were ineffective in front of the low-technology communication employed by the Somali militia. Couriers and dated walkie-talkies could not be tracked by the high-tech gadgetry of the US military. Somalia’s utter backwardness in technology was actually an asset to Aidid’s forces. As we see in the movie, Somali kids employed by the militia gave an early warning to the militia and they had established road blocks and mobilized fully by the time the U.S forces began their assault. 

Eric Bana Shares Memories of Making the Classic War Movie 'Black ...

2. Human intelligence (HUMINT) credibility is essential when fighting against low-tech militia 

We hear a story about one of the men who had infiltrated Aidid’s militia, during the movie and how he shot himself during a game of Russian roulette. They are forced to rely on another local asset to pinpoint the location but the lack of credible intelligence from local resources is a major reason for the casualties and chaos. If a targeted individual is perceived as a hero or a “Robin Hood” figure, the protection offered by the local population will thwart almost any number of satellites or elite troops – so one needs to understand the type of human terrain one is going through before committing one’s forces. 

Black Hawk Down Blu-ray Josh Hartnett
3. Ability to take losses and perseverance in conflict can sometimes turn the tide of the war

The Battle of Mogadishu, was a victory for the US special forces. They inflicted more casualties on the Somalis and they achieved their objectives of capturing Aidid’s advisors. But the battle was perceived as a disaster for the USA – the video footage of Somali militia parading and dragging the naked bodies of the US soldiers on the streets of Mogadishu, was extremely shocking to the American audience. The footage disheartened Americans more than the actual losses. It was the same during the Tet Offensive when Viet Cong soldiers overran the US embassy and the photographs shifted the public sentiment towards leaving Vietnam. 

Author Mark Bowden Revisits the True Story of 'Black Hawk Down ...
Wars are not just won by defeating the enemy; they are also won by the ability of a nation to sustain losses and dishearten their enemy. 

4. Sun Tzu’s lessons regarding Terrain, Speed and Information should be disregarded only at your own peril

The American confidence in their special forces, equipment and technology was such that basic tenets taught in Sun Tzu’s treatise on the Art of War were ignored. 

 “From a position of this sort, if the enemy is unprepared, you may sally forth and defeat him. But if the enemy is prepared for your coming, and you fail to defeat him, then, return being impossible, disaster will ensue.”  

As soon Sun Tzu says, if you catch an enemy unprepared, you will be victorious – but with the Somali militia being informed about the American raid and being fully prepared, it was no clear victory for the American troops. The surprise element was lost. 

Black Hawk Down Film Review | It Rains... You Get Wet

“Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions”

The goal of the raid was to capture the two individuals and return immediately. But instead through several strategic mistakes, the American forces kept getting bogged down, leading to an ambush that went on for 15 hours. The enemy was not caught unprepared; the Americans entered the city in broad daylight through the main road into the city and were caught in the middle of the city where Aidid’s militia was dug in. 

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

The Somali militia recognized their strengths – they knew that they could defeat the US forces, in a straightforward battle. But in the urban ruins of Mogadishu, among their own people and in narrow streets, they were confident of inflicting heavy casualties on the US forces. Being extremely close to the US positions, they knew the air superiority of the US forces would count for little as they would be afraid of hitting their own men. The US forces on the other hand, did not have complete knowledge of their enemy, the strength of their forces or their morale. 

When you go into a battle with incomplete knowledge, defeat is almost always certain. 

Conclusion

Wars are not always won by the strongest. Battles may be lost to achieve a strategic victory. The Battle of Mogadishu, though a success for the Americans was ultimately a defeat. The images of the dead American soldiers, removed any desire in the hearts of the American public to interfere in future conflicts elsewhere in Africa. The American forces left Somalia soon thereafter. 



URI THE SURGICAL STRIKE (2019) – EVOLUTION OF THE WAR MOVIE GENRE IN INDIAN CINEMA

Uri: The Surgical strike was a Hindi movie (Bollywood) from last year, starring Vicky Kaushal as the protagonist but boasting of other talented actors including Paresh Rawal. Uri: The Surgical Strike is based on the 2016 Pakistan sponsored terrorist attack on the Indian Army camp at Uri which led to the deaths of 23 Indian soldiers and 4 terrorists and the subsequent Indian retaliation across the Line of Control, attacking terrorist camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. 

The plot of the movie is simple as it is based on real life events. However, where the movie deviates from the usual Bollywood war movies, is how the story is told. The movie is divided into five parts:

1. The Seven Sisters (North East India) – depicting the protagonist’s operations against North Eastern insurgents. 

2.  An Unsettling Peace (New Delhi) – depicting the protagonist’s life in the capital – away from his unit, in a peace locale, to take care of his mother who has Alzheimer’s. It also shows his friendship with his sister’s husband, who also serves in the protagonist

3. Bleed India with Thousand Cuts (Uri, Jammu and Kashmir) – depicting the Uri attacks in 2016, where the protagonist’s brother-in-law and best friend dies during the attacks. India begins planning for a counter-strike behind enemy lines, for which the protagonist volunteers to lead the assault. 

4. Naya Hindustan (New Delhi) – depicting India’s preparations for the counter-strike and the surgical strike. It describes how targets were chosen and the methods used to disguise the preparations. 

5. The Surgical Strike (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) – depicts the actual surgical strikes, where Indian army commandos cross over into Pakistan occupied Kashmir, and attack terrorist training camps before returning across the Line of Control into India.

Now, the political statements supporting or deriding the surgical strikes are a matter of debate. Pakistan continues to deny the existence of terrorist camps in its territory despite evidence, so an attack by India would also have to be denied as a successful attack would mean the existence of such camps. 

The point of this is not to engage in this debate. Uri: The Surgical Strike’s greatest achievement is in pushing the development of the war film genre. The realistic feel of the movie, the visual impact of the stories within the story and the depiction of the operation, allowed us to think of the movie as an advancement in Indian cinema’s ability to tell war stories. 

Indian cinema, with Uri: The Surgical Strike, felt more mature especially comparing it with the JP Dutta war epics like Border or LOC: Kargil. The over the top patriotism and the excessive musical numbers in a war film, seemed childish and irrelevant to the story. Border, where Sunny Deol’s ability to single-handedly defy an entire Pakistani tank division and have the eyesight to put a bald eagle to shame, as he gave a thumbs up to an Indian Air Force pilot who blew up the tank about to kill Sunny Deol as he lay helpless on the ground, is what defined the Indian war movie before Uri: The Surgical Strike

3:06 in the clip to admire Sunny Deol’s amazing eyesight

Border was still cinematic excellence, when compared to four hours or possibly eternity that was J.P. Dutta’s LOC: Kargil, where a whole hour was wasted in justifying hiring several Bollywood actresses to do nothing aside from being the love interest of a particular character and shed countless tears at the end. LOC: Kargil, though depicting a war, more recent in Indian memory, failed to connect us with the characters as the storytelling was extremely chaotic. 

Indian war films suffer from their tendency to do too much of everything. They need to show that they are covering a serious story, yet feel the need to insert song and dance sequences for no reason except the thinking that Indian viewers weren’t mature enough to understand that as bombs fall around, singing and dancing isn’t really the way to go. 

Uri: The Surgical Strike, does have patriotic songs but they are always in the background. There is no sudden dream sequence for the protagonist to have a song/dance number with his love interest. In fact, in Uri: The Surgical Strike, the women are active members of the planning and assault team instead of just being a sullen, love interest, waiting for the man to come home. It is a movie that is reflecting reality of modern India instead of holding on to an archaic notion. 

Apart from Uri: The Surgical Strike, the movie which came closest to reflecting a real portrayal of the Indian military or covering a particular war, was Lakshya, with Hrithik Roshan as the lead actor. The movie also had a strong feminist lead in Preity Zinta and was in fact, an excellent movie which told a good story. However, the Lakshya was defined by Hrithik Roshan and his character’s inability to become a mature young man who understood responsibilities. It could not really be deemed a war film as much as it felt like a coming-of-age film. So, Uri: The Surgical Strike can be considered a true trailblazer for Indian cinema. 

For any foreign viewers, if you like war films and want to watch a foreign film, pick up Uri: The Surgical Strike. Fast paced and full of action and unlike other Bollywood films, not long. Definitely worth the watch.   

JAY’S VERDICT

One of the best war films to come out of Bollywood – an extremely well-made and realistic portrayal of the surgical strikes by the Indian Army

THE BIG SHORT (2015) – MEET THE PLAYERS AND THE PEOPLE THEY REPRESENT

The financial crisis of 2008-09 and the worldwide recession that followed gave us several years of disappointment but a few really good movies. The Big Short, based on Michael Lewis’s 2010 The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine.  The movie focuses on several American financial professionals who predicted the ultimate collapse of the house market and profited from the subsequent fall of the real-estate bubble by shorting the housing market.
The film adaption introduces us to a brief introduction to Lewis Ranieri’s mortgage-backed securities and how they were first introduced. The subsequent story is narrated by Jared Vennett (portrayed by Ryan Gosling) though many of the characters take over during the course of the movie and indulge in breaking the fourth wall. These characters based on real life individuals, portray a particular type of human. Let’s delve into each of them and identify the traits that drive them.

MEET JARED VENNETT

Jared Vennett is the inside man at Deutsche Bank. He knows the toxic nature of the mortgage backed securities and that most of the AAA rated ones were also full of bad mortgages, by learning about Michael Burry’s analysis on an early Credit Default Swap. Using his quant genius (a guy who took second place in a math competition in China) to verify that Burry is most likely correct, he decides to enter the market, to earn a fee on selling the swaps to firms who will profit when the underlying bonds fail. However, no one bites until Mark Baum’s FrontPoint Partners, gets a whiff of the same, via missed call. Jared Vennett convinces them about his idea and the journey begins from then on.
We all know a Jared Vennett, they know something big and they are sure of it but they love to play both sides, and preserve their standing in both corners. This way they avoid putting all their eggs in one basket. They get a taste of the risks on one side while defending themselves against any real backlash by insulating themselves and let someone else face the music. However, the Jared in this movie, unlike many of the real-life Jareds, is extremely honest about his self-interest – he isn’t hiding the fact that he is using Mark’s fund to make himself a big pile of money and they respect him for it.
 
MEET MARK BAUM
Mark Baum, after a personal tragedy, is a highly cynical human being. He takes an active leadership role whenever someone says a greedy financial institution has overplayed its hand. After Jared’s pitch, he and his team find out that there is actually a housing bubble and short the Mortgage Backed Securities immediately. As the premium payments hit them, and after the crisis hits, when Morgan Stanley begins to unravel, Mark remains strong and profits off the overall collapse. Seeing the damage caused by the crisis, Mark opens up about his brother’s suicide and lets go to a large extent.
We don’t meet a lot of Mark Baums. True leaders are rare – sure there are those occupying the corporate offices with President or Chief this or that in their title but most of them have either brown-nosed someone to achieve that title, gained the title playing off someone else’s work as their own or have just endured long enough to be promoted. True leaders don’t let their teams off the hook until what they decided to achieve, has been achieved. They lead from front, with courage and even when their own people are against them, have enough faith in themselves to see things to the end.
MEET MICHAEL BURRY
Michael Burry is an eccentric hedge fund manager who discovers that the US housing market, is extremely unstable. He believes that the market’s collapse in the second quarter of 2007 is eminent, as interest rates would rise from adjustable-rate mortgages, and he proposes to create a credit default swap market, allowing him to bet against market-based mortgage-backed securities, for profit. He is the first one to create the market for the same allowing Jared Vennett to hear about the same and bring in Mark Baum and accidentally Charlie, Jamie and Ben into the same short though unknown to each other.
His long term bet, causes him to pay heavy premiums to the banks, causing his investors to turn against him and for some to even sue him, as he prevents them from withdrawing their money. His refusal to cave into investor demands, sticking to what he has envisioned, allows him to make up to 500% in returns for his fund.
A Michael Burry is another rare individual out there. He can be categorized as a Visionary – it is a type of individual, who sees things as not what they are but as what they should be. His vision about where things are headed is crystal clear and he shows what a man/woman with a clear sense of where he is headed, is capable of achieving. When our vision is strong, we can overcome any resistance and we get the strength to hold off even when the whole world turns against. It is that sort of vision, that allowed Michael Burry to achieve such huge profits for his investors.

MEET BEN RICKERT (& CHARLIE & JAMIE)

Let us meet Ben Rickert, the mentor who helps Jamie and Charlie, from Brownfield Capital get their ISDA as well as sell their swaps for a huge profit. Jamie and Charlie, are young fund managers who have managed their small fund successfully but to move into the big league, they look to Ben Rickert to act as their mentor and provide guidance.
Ben Rickert is a ex-Investment Banker who grew tired of the greed and debauchery of Wall Street and is no longer in the game. He however, provides the necessary guidance to Jamie and Charlie, in getting their ISDA and profiting from their swaps. He also provides a moral guidance – something which a lot of “mentors” in big business, are unwilling to provide. He shouts at them as they celebrate betting against the AA tranche of securities; he tells them that they have effectively bet against the US economy. People’s lives, jobs, incomes – everything would be ruined in the crisis to come. So, don’t celebrate that. In the end, he realizes that the cost of the financial crisis would be borne by the average man.
Mentors like Ben Rickert, are not easily found. Someone who has nothing to gain from your success, yet not only puts himself out there he also guides you when arrogance and pride threaten to overtake you. In life, everyone needs such a mentor and very few, would actually have the opportunity to act as a mentor to someone in this way. So when the opportunity provides, do try to become a Ben Rickert – help guide someone out of a tough spot when the opportunity provides.
CONCLUSION
The characters in The Big Short are many aside from the four mentioned above – but as the story revolves around them, we decided to delve into these. The Big Short explains the financial crisis, the toxic instruments which caused the crisis and the greed of the people in the financial industry in a brilliant, easy to understand fashion.
Take a bet on watching The Big Short – you won’t be disappointed.

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998) – QUESTIONING MORALITY IN WAR

Saving Private Ryan is one of the most acclaimed war movies ever made. Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks, Matt Damon and several, talented actors, it is a trailblazer in the war film genre. 
 
It is set in June 1944, in the wake of D-Day and the Normandy landings and its first 27 minutes is a gritty, realistic portrayal of the horrors the men landing on the beaches of Omaha went through. The statement “War is hell” is experienced by every person watching the first 27 minutes of the movie. 
 
 
 
The plot of the movie seems straightforward and heroic – inspired by the real-life situation of the Niland brothers, it follows US Army Ranger Captain John H. Miller (Tom Hanks) and his squad as they search for a paratrooper, James F. Ryan (Matt Damon), the last surviving brother of three servicemen killed in action and who is to be sent back to the US to his mother. What follows are their ordeals and questioning decisions and the value of morality in war. 
 
UM, SACRIFICING EIGHT SOLDIERS TO SAVE ONE SOLDIER – DOESN’T SEEM LOGICAL DOES IT? 
 
Private Richard Reiben (Edward Burns) asks the same question, “Can someone please explain the math of this to me? I mean, where is the sense of risking the lives of eight of us to save one guy.”
 

 

Now, even if we think about the mother who has lost three out of her four sons in a battlefield far away from her home and feel pity, in pure strategic terms – sacrificing an elite squad of eight for one man, who might have already been killed in action or taken prisoner, who also have mothers of their own, makes little sense. So many families were destroyed by the Second World War and the wars that preceded or followed it, so if those mothers or children were ignored why should one in particular be considered?
 
Here Saving Private Ryan, splits its audience – people, based on their own values and beliefs, begin to question the plan to save one man. As the movie progresses decisions are questioned, deaths of comrades force the men to question decisions and their own feelings about their mission. A scene within the movie, where the squad comes across a crashed, overloaded glider, because it carried a jeep for a General resulting in the deaths of twenty-two men who were also on it, results in a feeling being echoed out loud which is repeated throughout the movie – FUBAR (Fucked up beyond any recognition). 
 
War, in short, is FUBAR. It is hard to make sense of things, hard to maintain a moral compass when surrounded by destruction, death and hopelessness. Mercy, is scorned in the movie, as a weakness as we see the German soldier “Steam Boat Willie”, who is saved by Corporal Upham, earlier in the movie, causing the death of Captain Miller in the battle of Ramelle. Mercy and pity, which are essential aspects of a good human being or so we are told, are emotions which are questioned amidst the gore of war. We say, oh that Upham is so naïve – foolish to spare an enemy who would later try and kill you again. But, when Upham shoots Steam Boat Willie dead later in the movie, we rejoice – “Ah, he finally did what good soldiers do”. But no one questions, the destruction of Upham’s faith in the goodness of man and his faith in the benefits of showing mercy. He becomes more cynical and we accept it as normal. 
 
Coming back to the point about one man over the lives of eight men, at the end of the movie, as Captain Miller lies dying – he tells Ryan, “Earn this, earn it.” Basically, he means that don’t let our sacrifices be in vain. But again, it raises more questions – just because men died to save him, Ryan who we see as having been a good husband and father- questions whether he has earned it or not. We applaud normal men as being good humans, deserving of respect even though they have just been good fathers or husbands and lived a decent life. It is sufficient. 
 
 
However, since men died to save him, should Ryan be held to a higher standard? Should he invent cure for diseases or rescue people, to have to be considered deserving of saving and worth the lives of the men who died to rescue him? Survivor’s guilt is a major component of any conflict and in the movie, it is a major factor. From Captain Miller, to Sergeant Horvath to Corporal Upham to Ryan – everyone is battling guilt of having lived while so many of their comrades perished for a war which is FUBAR.

WAR IS HELL, WE KNOW THAT – WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT THIS?

Aside from the amazing battle sequences and the gritty realism offered in the movie, Saving Private Ryan is a debate about morality when surrounded by war. If war is FUBAR then why are we so worried about morals and wrong and right. But the point here is even in the depths of conflict, humans have a choice to not lose themselves. Holding on to feelings of mercy, empathy and sacrifice, are essential when confronted by major upheavals. Every man for himself, dog eats dog world etc. are said when humans decide to take the easy path even though it may not be right.
 
Atleast, I’ll survive – yes, but at what cost. The loss of essential values that make you human, when confronted by major challenges, harm the person who emerges as a survivor at the end of the challenge. Captain Miller says the mission – eight men for one man – I don’t know if it is right or wrong. I don’t know about Ryan and don’t care. But if saving him, earns him the right to go back to his wife back home and stand proudly, then this mission is worth it. 
 
So, surviving isn’t enough. Knowing, you maintained your values, despite being embroiled in a struggle for your life, allows a man or woman to stand up with their heads up high for the rest of their lives. This is what Saving Private Ryan is essentially about – we need to keep asking ourselves have we earned it? Earned this life or are we just coasting?
 

NIGHTCRAWLER (2014) – A LOOK INTO THE DEPRAVED HUMAN SOUL

One of the most acclaimed movies of 2014, Nightcrawler is considered to be a look into the ‘stringer’ culture feeding on the desire of today’s audiences for more and more engaging news – what it actually is, is a look into human depravity and our capacity to be entertained by suffering and disaster.
Our enjoyment of someone else’s suffering isn’t new – from ancient Rome where Gladiators fought for the entertainment of the general public, in increasingly gory fests to our pleasure in watching police car chases, disastrous accidents which ruin homes and destroy lives and weak journalism built on “shock value” – something juicy to keep the audiences on the hook.
IS IT ABOUT THE MARVEL X-MEN CHARACTER THEN? 
Louis “Lou” Bloom (portrayed by a magnificent Jake Gyllenhaal) is an unemployed, small-time thief, who comes across a car accident and ‘stringers’ (freelance photojournalists) arriving on the scene to capture the accident and sell the footage to local news channels.
From there on, we see Lou’s clumsy attempts at trying to start his own business, failing twice but getting a major story in his third attempt. We see him establish his relationship with the morning news director Nina Romina (portrayed by Rene Russo) and to get her the best of stories, he begins to tamper with crime scenes to make his videos more engaging for the audience. He also coerces Nina into entering into sexual relationship with him, in return for exclusive access to his videos.
Here we see the descent of the human soul, when evil brings short-term gains, you begin to rationalize despicable for the sake of money and status. When Lou is beaten to a story by his rival, he doesn’t think twice before tampering with his rival’s news van causing a major accident, putting his rival out of business.
Lou thinks nothing of stringing along another desperate youth Rick (portrayed by Riz Ahmed) as they stumble upon a triple homicide in an affluent neighborhood and hide evidence of their complete footage from the police. The crime scene is actually a hit by rival drug gangs instead of being a home invasion. But since home invasions are a more engaging story, especially in affluent white neighborhoods, Lou makes the footage lean towards that. Here, we see capitalism’s influence, where market demands and the desire for more money, can make lies and deceit completely acceptable to a human being.
Using their video, Lou plans to take the story further – he and Riz, who has begun to blackmail Lou for half his earnings to keep his criminal activities hidden from the police, stake the gunman’s house – when his partner arrives, Lou calls the police. In the ensuing gunfight with the police, a police officer is shot and one of the gunmen is killed. The other gunman escapes in a car with the police behind him, in a high-speed pursuit, with Lou & Rick behind them recording the entire chase. The police car crashes into traffic but Lou continues the pursuit. The gunman’s SUV soon crashes too.
Lou urges Rick to film the gunman as he is dead and the police would be there soon. As Rick approaches the gunman, he is shot by him and in turn, the gunman is shot by the police who have arrived. As Rick dies, Lou, films him and says that he couldn’t work with someone who had leverage over him.The footage of the shootout and the pursuit, cement Nina and her news station’s loyalty to Lou. He fabricates another lie for the police, who are unable to charge him with any crime. As the movie ends, we see Lou has expanded his team and has two vans with “interns” working for him.

I AM NOT LOU – THIS IS ONLY POSSIBLE IN A MOVIE

You might be thinking – um, so what? I am not like Lou – I would never be like him. He lies, steals, murders and blackmails. He is a psychopath but not me.
What Nightcrawler shows is the ease in descending into criminal activities, despite maintaining the illusion of decency and goodness. It also sheds light on our tastes and consumption – our desire to be entertained constantly. We demand the news channels engage us whether there is anything concrete to be reported or not. It takes a look at inherent class biases – where an incident affecting a particular group is considered more news-worthy than others.
We see this in real life, with state-backed news channels like Al-Jazeera, portray news affecting a certain religious group in a different manner compared to others. Its stories regarding this group, who are always portrayed as victims, are meant to stir sympathy for one group while demonizing the others. Other left or right leaning news providers such as The Guardian or Breitbart, all engage in similar tactics. They understand their core audience and target stories and manipulate these based on what they know their audience prefers.
In the end, we as humans do not want to be informed. We want news which confirm the views about politics, lifestyle, groups of people or religions, which we already hold. We are looking for affirmation not information. Instead of focusing on the Lou’s cropping up all over the world, we need to look at ourselves and ask, how our desires to have our egos sated has increased the flow of “fake” news in the world today.
Go ahead and watch Nightcrawler, if you haven’t already, and try to relate it to your own lives and see how you are responsible for creating a Lou, somewhere out there.
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