It Was Mother

It Was At

It Was At
Wayras Olivier
JUNE 2019

AT DIFFERENT times in Scarface—most immediately the opening crawl—Oliver Stone walks us right up to the motives of the film’s gangsterish excess and thuggery. We see the complete absence of a Cuban economic crest and trough; teeming boats of marginalized Marielitos on America’s shoreline; and the plugging of American lighthouses as broken—unlike Cuba’s, which merely flicker (due to communist theory being fused with practice)—by Castro, darkening any hope for a promised land.

Much later, Tony Montana, having long thought that vertical social mobility in America makes people white and especially useful has been arrested for trying to keep his powder dry. A problem that the chief snorter, so to speak, rails to the good lord himself (Alejandro Sosa, a Bolivian aristocrat who is being outed for curating America’s dependence on Bolivia’s “national product, which is cocaine,” says a journalist on TV). Sosa and his coterie, whose empire “stretches across the Andes,’’ are losing political altitude because they can’t control the substance of the journalist’s crack. Montana is assured that he’ll only have to pay through the nose for his problem if he assures Sosa that the journalist will, without hesitation, get smoked.

Stone has but one scene to show—by placing Montana in a restaurant amongst the oligarchs of Miami (the night before he is to fly to New York to exterminate the journalist)—that Montana is indeed capable of calling himself out without being high-minded. “You need people like me so you can point your fingers, and say ‘that’s the bad guy!’” Montana blusters. “So, what does that make you, good? You’re not good,” he says, “you just know how to hide. How to lie. Me, I don’t have that problem.” Montana concludes, “Me, I always tell the truth. Even when I lie. So say goodnight to the bad guy!”

In other words, the socioeconomic conditions that he was born into aside, Montana is granting—a right of passage for every character in drama—that the axis of evil begins and ends within. A most hard-won achievement in fiction.

Especially compelling is Stone, twenty-five years later, revisiting (with Stanley Weiser) the criminal excess and thuggery involved in statecraft, in his superb film W. Most notably, inside the situation room where America is described as being “five percent of the world’s population,” but using “twenty-five percent of its energy. You think Russia and China,” Cheney construes, “are going to help us out when they need those resources themselves?” Riveted by a map of the Levant, Cheney continues, “We drain this swamp, like Don [Rumsfeld] says. We rebuild it. We develop its resources to the maximum. A nexus of power that won’t be broken in our lifetime.”

Debriefed on America’s dependence on foreign oil (which may never be satiated), the cerebral forty-third president of the United States, George W. Bush, has but this to say:

“You know when I was coming up it was a dangerous world. But we knew exactly who the “they” were. We knew it was us versus them, and it was clear who “them” was. But today we’re not so sure who the “they” are, but we know they’re there.”

Bush’s last sentence is abysmal. Saddam Hussein, who, along with the Ba’ath Party, succeeded in exterminating hundreds of thousands of Kurds—the Anfal genocide and Halabja Massacre—in the late eighties, along with his takeover attempt of Kuwait in the summer of 1990. Ostensibly, these are who and what Bush is referring in his incurious response above, with its fatuous conclusion that evil becomes more difficult to detect the more one becomes aware of its presence.

Difficult as it is to think and say, real-world passages, such as the one below by the great Mahatma—to the people of Briton in 1940—appear highly credulous and unworldly too:

“Let them take possession of your beautiful island, with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these, but neither your souls, nor your minds. If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourself, man, woman, and child, to be slaughtered…”

Gandhi’s nostrum to cure the spread of National Socialism. Thinking of this sort, practiced inappropriately, makes inaction—or worse, pacifism—inappropriately estimable in theory.

When it came to foreign affairs Dubya was, in his political preface, an anti-interventionist. He changed upon being elected CEO of the U.S.A., accounting for much of the fashionable Bush-bashing in the books. In barefaced contrast, Bush is not a pacifist, nor did he believe that evil is merely a prolongation of unexamined malevolence ruminating in the self. Evil, he is most certainly aware despite his career-defining babble, absolutely can be detected as a tangible out-there. “I don’t wanna sound like I haven’t made no mistakes. You know I’m confident I have,” Bush says to a reporter upon being asked, “Mr. President, after 9/11, what would you say your biggest mistakes would be and what lessons have you learned from them?”

That Bush is purportedly coercible on all matters of foreign affairs except for being able to call himself out as the “bad guy” is the decisive climax of Stone’s film. Yes, imperishable sloganeering such as The World is Yours was created by an American and resonates unquestionably with the despotic impulses of crime figures as various as Slobodan Milošević, Omar al-Bashir, Robert Mugabe and Zarqawi, but to say that these gangsters were made by the American conscience ought not be considered outside of fiction as a motivating good.