Updated: 9/29/02; 10:39:01 PM.
ology dot org -- Eric Tilton's weblog and photo journal

Thursday, September 12, 2002

A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.

I just finished re-watching WarGames, which I guess was my little way of observing the 11th. It's quite the time warp; acoustic coupler modems, video terminals, phone phreaking, and most importantly, a moral story about the terrors of thermonuclear war. For me, it's a movie about my own childhood. Not literally, naturally, but the themes from the movie are the themes from my own teenage years. It's perhaps the most sympathetic (and believable) movie about hackers ever; our hero (an impossibly young Ferris... I mean, Matthew Broderick) is clearly motivated by curiosity. He's rowdy and a ruckus, but when he realizes that his actions have had a serious consequence, his instinct is to set things right. And, true to form, his solutions revolve around get-to-the-point problem solving: consider the scene where he tries to place a phone call, right after escaping from NORAD. His first instinct is to look for a quarter; he resorts to hacking the phone when stymied by the legitimate route. There's no question that he's still a very id-driven creature ("I want to play this game, so I will solve this problem by hacking into this system"), but in his own mind, it's an act free of malice.

The movie's ultimate destination, of course, is for the various characters to realize that their actions do have consequence, and that that consequence may well be unintended and unwitting harm. Our hero Lightman realizes this early on, and so eventually does Falken. At long last, so does the general, when he is finally willing to step back from reacting on pure instinct, and makes the choice to wait -- almost unendurably -- for physical confirmation of the supposed nuclear missles before reacting irrevocably.

It's fascinating that the general's decision, which is essentially the last human redemption in the movie, takes place twenty minutes from the end. The character who most needs to learn this lesson is WOPR/Joshua itself, and the coda of the movie revolves around this lesson. The movie doesn't really reflect on this, but what we're seeing in this climactic sequence is a passing of the torch -- humanity is teaching its child how to take responsibility for itself.

That being said, the general's choice -- even though it's not the final crisis in the movie -- is by far the most terrifying. I spent too much of the '80s terrified of nuclear war, since I was just a teenager, and the Cold War was what I grew up into. This movie is probably at least partially to blame for that; there's a line in the movie where Falken -- still fatalistic at this point -- says, "It's all right, I've planned ahead: we're just three miles from a primary target. A millisecond of brilliant light, and we're vaporized." Falken was in Oregon; he had to be talking about Portland; and since I lived in nearby Gresham, it freaked the hell out of me. We lived near the flight path for Portland International Airport, and there were many nights where I'd hear a plane fly over, and wonder whether or not it was a missle. This fear of generals and presidents in bunkers pushing buttons and committing the rest of us to destruction still terrifies me; watching that scene where the general almost pushes the button is still hard.

So that's how I finished out September 11th, 2002. Being glad that as a race, we still seem to mostly manage to pull back from the brink, and grow, and learn, and figure things out... but still worrying about the disproportionate power of madmen to still possibly pull us over without warning. Madmen on either side of the fence.

Uh, anyway, yeah. I guess I should hold off on watching Tron anytime soon.

  1:35:59 AM  (comments []  

September 2002
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30          
Aug   Oct

Click here to visit the Radio UserLand website.

Click to see the XML version of this web page.

© Copyright 2002 Eric Tilton.
Last update: 9/29/02; 10:39:01 PM.