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
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 ()