Although the memory begins to be buried after two dozen films and three television series, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born in Afghanistan. One of the characters that catalyzed this multi-film franchise was Tony Stark, a wealthy mogul of primarily weapons-oriented technology. During a visit to Afghanistan, the millionaire fell into the hands of a violent group. Stark noted that the group had abundant weapons manufactured by his company. The example of the local engineer who saves his life twice inspired the millionaire: he would stop wasting his life as a wealthy seducer and capricious to become an armored protector.
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Take the anecdote as an example that Hollywood movies already told, implicitly, the same story that President Biden made explicit in a recent speech. The war enterprise was not about building democracy or liberating the indigenous population, but about preserving the interests of the United States. And for the cinema of that country, as for Biden, the invasion of Afghanistan was about the United States itself and did not have much to do with Afghanistan and its problems, whether they were pre-existing or derived from the intervention.
That truth was out there, and it could be found even in movies that didn’t address it directly. It is only necessary to note the tendency of the filmmakers to turn the Afghan or Iraqi populations into absent images or, in the best of cases, into picturesque secondary (whether in an endearing or threatening key) and extras that appeared in a corner of the scenes . At times, the stories approached an adventure narrative historically twinned with the colonial gaze like the western. This was done both in productions with a certain creative and commercial ambition (see The Sniper by Clint Eastwood) as in action holdings low-cost (Rescue in Afghanistan, for instance).
When the Hollywood audiovisual has tried to relate the war on terror dramatically, it has tended to self-pity. The problems of the protagonists of the hurt Locker, the ethical brutalization of the young soldiers in In the valley of Elah, the return of veterans in Brothers or Fort bliss… The rejection of the so-called war on terror he has used to prioritize internal motives (such as the suffering and death of troops, or the enormous economic expense), both in political speeches and on film billboards. This also happened in more or less activist positions such as those reflected in the documentary Goodbye, America, where the actor who played the television’s grandfather Munster family spoke out against the Iraq war.
The darkest night, the highly fictionalized account of the extrajudicial execution of Osama bin Laden, exemplified several ramifications of these self-absorbed analyzes. The enemy had no voice, was barely visible, and the local population did not even serve as stone guests. The progressive Hollywood revolted against the cuts in freedoms for the American population derived from the different patriotic laws (although it did so through metaphors and temporary games in works as varied as v for Vendetta, Good night and good luck or The bridge of spies), but rarely attended to the suffering of those invaded by the American pax. Syriana it was one of the movies mainstream that dealt more sharply with the mixture of the economic interests of big capital with the geostrategic power games and energy thirst of the states, but did not refer to Afghanistan or Iraq, but to Lebanon and an unnamed Arab emirate. Other proposals have related some of the disasters that arose from the invasion of Afghanistan, and the mistreatment or abandonment of the local population during the occupation, although they have not been used to questioning that egocentric look at the root.
‘The outpost’: heroes at the service of nothing in particular?
A group of US soldiers is assigned to the protection of an isolated and especially vulnerable site because it is located in a valley. After some time enduring more or less sporadic attacks from the adjacent mountains, the combatants must defend themselves against a large-scale attack. Those responsible for The outpost They were inspired by a battle royale that took the form of a double movie. The first half of the film is aligned with other stories of boredom, videoconferences with the family, tavern humor and specific shootings, which explain the life and death of those outstanding in a hostile zone. The long and fierce final stretch of large-scale action is shot with a quasi-documentary aesthetic.
The outpost (available at Movistar +) slightly expands the limited repertoire of characters in the cinema of the war on terror. In addition to the resistant heroes, and the secondary of rigor (a cowering Afghan soldier), a council of elders appears that basically wants to get money from the occupiers while conspiring (or so it seems) with the Taliban. Several actual survivors of the American forces participated in the film as actors, in a symbolic gesture that occasionally contributes to overturn verisimilitude through interpretive amateurism. Once the fight arrives, the result is surprisingly powerful, although a certain poverty of means causes some failures of the Matrix in the cinematic illusion.12 brave, a kind of Rambo III of the new century, seemed to dimension the invasion of Afghanistan as the good war of the discredited war on terror, compared to the hoaxes around Iraq. The authors of The outpost They do not project a clear intention: perhaps they portray the despondency of fighting for a cause in which they no longer believe, but the praise of the capabilities of the soldiers and the criticism towards the high command would open the door to ultramontane patriotism: could the war be won? and was it lost because of the bureaucrats?
‘Death squad’: when the killers are ours
Movies like Back to hell or the one already mentioned The Sniper they have recounted personal dramas surrounding the post-traumatic stress disorder and personal and relational injuries of soldiers posted to Afghanistan or Iraq. In some of these narratives, the same soldier could become a danger to himself, or to his surroundings, due to psychological problems derived from the military experience. Filmmaker Dan Krauss addressed another type of threat in Death squad (available from Netfllix): the extreme ethical brutalization of combatants implicated in assassinations and the environmental pressure suffered by reluctant comrades who can reveal them.
The director Dan Krauss adapted to the language of fiction some facts that he had already addressed in a homonymous documentary. His proposal qualifies, but does not directly question, that inertia of centering the questions of the war against terrorism on the suffering of the Americans themselves. The murders of the civilian population appear this time within the shot, but the protagonism continues to fall on the anguish of the young man who tries to act according to his principles, on the fear he feels when he sees that his life may also be threatened. The very nature of the project encourages self-absorption: for better and for worse, Krauss addresses (and denounces) a limited and very concrete reality.
‘The only survivor’: a Rambo for the ‘war on terror’
Cinematographically interesting for its account of the moments of pause and waiting of four Marines in reconnaissance tasks in a hostile area, The sole survivor (available on Netflix and Movistar +) is also an offense to intelligence and a bizarre falsification of history. It is recounted how the members of the command succumb to successive waves of attacks, but leave dozens of corpses in their resistance. The director Peter Berg signed this work where Mark Whalberg embodied the real figure (or something similar) of Marcus Luttrell, and which vibrantly stages a fight for survival. The almost superheroic feat arouses a certain perplexity, and has been questioned by witnesses and analysts. However, the film was endorsed by a Pentagon perhaps too eager for heroes and fictions that use admiration for the hero as a recruiting tool.
Berg & Co.’s film was an anomalous case because it gave an unusual role to the Afghan population. One community offered asylum and protection to the protagonist, even confronting the Taliban, to honor the right of asylum traditionally offered by the Pashtun people. Unfortunately, the fictionalized portrait follows an almost superheroic and sensationalist logic. On the other side of the screen, the story dragged on in a sad and undesirable way. The man who rescued Luttrell, understandably desperate by the various assassination attempts he has suffered over the years and the difficulties of obtaining asylum, has ended up in a nasty fight with the former soldier.
‘War machine’: a grotesque based on real events and characters
Could the war on terrorism begin to be portrayed in a satirical way? Perhaps it was facilitated by the time that elapsed between the attacks on the New York World Trade Center and other US sites on September 11, 2001, until the year 2017 when it was released. War machine (available on Netflix). In this film, Brad Pitt played a royal leader of the Western presence in Afghanistan, General Stanley A. McChrystal. Based on the newspaper account of the late journalist Michael Hastings, initially published as an article in the magazine Rolling stone and later as a book, the film addresses the disconnection from reality suffered by a military man who defends that winning a war (instead of managing a retreating occupation) is the way to build parliamentary democracy in Afghanistan.
War machine is a satire with some parody components, beginning with Pitt’s somewhat extreme acting work. In this regard, the proposal is so strident that it seems to personalize in a single person the failed policy of all the powers involved. Its ironic and bleak ending, which features the new Pentagon warchief in the same music and visual style as the film’s opening, underscores that the problem goes beyond McChrystal or former presidents Karzai and Obama. The comedy Game of weapons, which recounted the reconversion of two young men into large-scale arms sellers, reflected in a playful way some dark angles of the military-industrial complex that were still pending to be addressed in this film.