‘Drones’ (Rosenthal US 2013): the rarest of things in popular cinema. An allegory.

This one is just a relatively quick post. More by way of recommendation than anything else.

I was pleasantly surprised this week to discover a film called ‘Drones’ (Rosenthal US 2013). Essentially I was searching for some kind of guilty pleasure to pass a lonesome evening by, and such a contemporary take on the ‘war on terror was potentially diverting.

This film promised a fairly conventional low budget fare, the action being confined as it was to a simple functional box of a set, and the two ‘live’ speaking characters, military functionaries, piloting attack drones, seemed pretty unremarkable (there were other characters but they performed via video link). However, about a third of the way through the film veered way off into the left field, where each character was shaken out of their stereotypes into crises of faith, about their job. This was extraordinary, and suddenly gave this moderate diversion a serious political angle, quite radical for an American film, even an independent. Reflecting on this film later it occurred to me that the drones weren’t the remotely controlled aircraft but the two characters. And that what I was watching was one of those very rare beasts, film with allegorical significance, for the most part this was well handled, and was pretty broad in its scope.

(Spoilers ahead)

The woman character who initially expressed misgivings in the motives (and competence) of her superiors was the daughter of a senior US air-force commander, she refused a kill order, eventually her father came on the screen via remote link to persuade her, invoking their shared tragedy of losing family members in the World Trade Centre, a little heavy handed, but if we understand this in its allegorical terms, perfectly logical. 

The mise-en-scène is interesting, its form, a confined space where contact with the outside world is closely controlled; one might read parallels here, the narrow perspective offered by the US media on their involvement in various conflicts. These also tend to simplify representations as they appear to be here at first glance, the two characters, one a gamer, disconnected from the reality of his world (and his task) merely accepting what he’s told without question; The other a privileged individual nursing failed ambitions, bellicose and pugnacious. These stereotypes become subverted in the second act where the female character comes to question the veracity of the mission and the morality of her task. After some time where the chain of command seems paralysed by her refusal to cooperate, despite threats to her well-being and career (comparatively ineffective on account of her failed ambitions) she is ultimately confronted with a video link to her father (a senior US military officer) who in a very patrician manner reminds her of the loss of her family in the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. This intervention of a patrician leader, addressing dissent with an appeal to emotions of revenge is a little heavily handed, but leaves us in no doubt that this is a proxy for the ways that the post 2001 régime and the patrician politicians of that time dealt with criticism of their conduct, and the so-called war on terror. The resolution find the blue collar male character begin to question his role while the female white collar character accepts the patrician father’s line and executes the mission, this is a self-serving delusion which leaves the audience with questions about their consent/culpability for foreign military adventures by their governments.

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