Sunday, May 12, 2013

Is Iron Man 3 A Truther Movie?

Note: This contains a major spoiler for Iron Man 3.

Blog reader Bilbo writes:
I just saw the film yesterday and enjoyed it immensely, though I disagree with you about the politics. Attempts have been made to make a 9/11 Truther movie in Hollywood, and all such attempts have been shot down. So if a filmmaker wants to include any kind of Truther theme, it must be done subtly. For example, in the second Sherlock Holmes movie, the terrorists are controlled by Moriarti, who wants to make money selling weapons. But here in Iron Man 3, the subtlety wears very thin. After the Mandarin is exposed as a fake, there is even a line about Osama bin Laden. I would need to see the film again to remember the exact quote. Either that or find the script somewhere online. But the connection between the Mandarin and Osama bin Laden both being masks used by others is made explicitly. So yes, there is politics. Thanks to Robert Downey, Jr., the movie is too big for Hollywood to shoot it down, and the closest thing to a "Truther film" is now out there.
Is that true? Let's take a look.

1. What Would A Major Hollywood Truther Movie Look Like?
Fortunately, we do not have to guess. There is/was one in the works. Here is the poster:
The Truth Is Out There
This is a slated-for-2015 (maybe) release that would, purportedly  star Charlie Sheen and Woody Harrelson giving us the full-force Truther experience. It's being made by a studio that has already put out one conspiracy movie about the Oklahoma bombing. I'm not sure which version of the 9/11 story September Morn would propose but, certainly, this would be a pretty major event on the basis of casting alone.

According to what I've found on Google, though, it may well not get made. Buzz has gone silent ... and the official film page doesn't mention the big name stars ... and the web-site on the poster isn't active.

Conspiracy? Let's look ...

2. So No 9/11 Movies Got Made?
Uh--no. There have been at least two 'fictional' movies about 9/11 Truther conspiracies. Both were independent releases (as is September Morn--but at least it has big stars). You can read a take on them here:
Needless to say, the Truthers have yet to find their Chris Carter or Oliver Stone. These movies repackage 9/11 skepticism in an accessible format, but they're practically inscrutable without descending further into the rabbit hole. Able Danger can only be understood by reading The Big Wedding by Sander Hicks, an indie journalist whose version of 9/11 involves an alliance of Islamists, neo-Nazis, technofascists, and a Republican "pedophilia cult." And God help you if you turn on the droning filmmakers' commentary on The Reflecting Pool dvd.
They are out there, but--in the ancient language of the Illuminati conspiracy--I strongly suspect they are 'oring-bay.'

This should not be a surprise: they are at best 'edu-tainment' and at worst outrageous and over-earnest without having the built-in documentary back-bone to carry that weight. That, however, is going to be true for any 9/11 Truther movie. There is no escaping that structural problem.

There is another issue: these are movies many film-goers (more than 60% of us) will find offensive (and, the Bush Administration having moved on, the movie-makers will have little choice but to blame both Bush and Obama--which should make everyone angry at them).

In other words: might the reason we haven't seen a 9/11 major movie be because it would be a bad idea from a studio perspective and not a conspiracy? How would we tell?

3. What Would A Movie Have To Do To Be a Major-Studio Crypto-Truther Movie?
I think we can all agree that a movie may make use of certain themes or ideas in a superficial manner. Capricorn One has a faked Mars landing--which recalls the moon-landing-hoax theories--but it does not "blow the roof" off the moon-landing. Nor does it actually address the various skeptic's questions (there are no stars! The rock has a 'C' on it! The flag is standing up with no breeze!). It just takes the idea and builds a movie around O.J. Simpson with it.

So what if Iron Man 3 is doing that? How would we tell the difference?

I think the way we would tell the difference is:
  1. Iron Man 3 puts some real weight into the big reveal around The Mandarin--it doesn't just use the Truther-style stuff as stuffing--but actually shines a spot-light on it and tries to get it into the audience's heads ... to make them think.
  2. Iron Man 3 actually beaks a taboo--it does something no one else has been able to do. It's "Too Big To Fail" so the (theoretical) Hollywood gatekeepers can't stop it.
Fair enough?

Let's see!

Is Iron Man 3 Emotionally Invested In 9/11 Trutherism?
In order to meet our first requirement, the movie in question has to be using 9/11 Trutherism as a gut-punch. It needs to have more than the trappings of the theory to be a torch-bearer for the theory. At very least it needs to:
  1. Establish the key foundational elements of 9/11 Truth: (1) that the government was complicit or even behind 9/11 (or similar mass killing) (2) that the cover-up has been done by control of the media, (3) that Bin Laden is a patsy* and (4) the government is using this to curtail our civil liberties.
  2. It would need to provide an emotional climax where this marks a major turning point for the protagonist (and the audience).
  3. It would need to provide some link between the real-world and the movie-world in order for the audience to take the question out of the movie and into real-life. That link would have to be more than just name-dropping--but actual 'evidence' (such as the 
So far as I see it, Iron Man 3 does not meet these requirements. In IM3:
  1. The only foundational element of 9/11 Trutherism is that Bin Laden is a patsy. The involvement of the Vice President is of the LHOP (Let It Happen On Purpose) version of 9/11 Conspiracy Theory--which is not the "inside job" version and the VP is given an explicit and very personal reason for siding with AIM: he wants the healing technology for his crippled daughter. This personal-actor-for-personal reasons deal is not part of 9/11 Trutherism (which requires a much larger multi-agency conspiracy and necessarily implicates the whole government). There is no evidence of any sort in IM3 that the government is doing anything to take over or leverage the explosions to control the populace.
  2. There is no indication that the media or the narrative around IM3's bombings is being manipulated or suppressed.
  3. It does hit #3--Bin Laden (in this case The Mandarin) is a fraud. But this is the only one.
  4. The discovery is not an emotional climax for Tony Stark or the audience. It is played for laughs. The threat is not greatly reduced and nothing material is gained (Stark's princess is, alas, in another castle).
  5. There is no real-world-link: The use of the name Bin Laden--which may or may not appear in the movie--is not sufficient. The audience will not be given "things to think about." Whatever the theory of OBL's role in 9/11 Trutherism, it is generally conceded that he was not a British actor who had never even considered any kind of violence. The Mandarin is too over-the-top for Trutherism.
On the other hand ...

There Is A Better Candidate For a Major Hollywood Truther Movie
Our second requirement for IM3 being 'the' Hollywood Truther movie is that there's nothing that's clearly better out there--that IM3 crosses some line that has not previously been crossed. I think IM3's Truther-score has already been exceeded: By the Wachowski Brothers' 2005 movie V for Vendetta. With V, we have: 
  1. The government is behind a mass killing using a manufactured plague.
  2. The state run media ('the BBC' or an analogue) is complicit in covering it up.
  3. The government has used the plague to seize control of the state.
  4. There is no OBL analogue--but the reveal is meant to be important and unsettling. In this case it takes a "victim-less crime" and puts a face to it.
  5. There is no real-world link--but I think one could argue that it helped launch the real-world iconography of Anonymous / Guy Fawks.
I think this still makes a better case for being a 9/11 Truther movie as it, in my opinion, hits more of the key elements and they are far more central to the story and the message (don't trust the government they'll kill you to take control).

4. Conclusions
I don't think the IM3 qualifies as "the" Hollywood Truther Movie. With V for Vendetta hitting what I would say are more of the salient points (the government orchestrates the mass-kill, it's done to remove civil liberties, and the media is compliant in the cover-up) and the lack of real emotional investment in the Mandarin being a puppet, I think it's hard to make the case that IM3 is doing something that hasn't been done before.

Basically, I think it's just clever (the press-materials really do make it look like Iron Man will face The Mandarin) and funny (Ben Kingsley is chosen, wisely, for comedic potential--rather than anything having to do with believably). Iron Man 3 isn't going to make anyone think any harder about 9/11 unless they were already skeptical of it.

* There are several things that the major 9/11 Truther documentary Loose Change is somewhat contradictory about. One of them is that Bin Laden is either (a) the guy behind the planes--but working for the US Government (the movie states he was treated, as an honored guest, in hospitals manned by the US in the middle east prior to 9/11) or maybe (b) wasn't involved at all--the movie of him taking credit doesn't look anything like him and gets key elements wrong or maybe (c) there weren't manned planes at all--they were remote-controlled.

Loose Change spreads these concepts out through its run-time so they don't typically bump into one another--and it always stops short of presenting an operational scenario (which, presumably, would be easily falsified). For example, if I have remote-controlled planes with jet-fuel on them, why bother with controlled demolitions at all? Why not just crash planes into the towers and let them burn--the aftermath will result in the towers coming down anyway. Even if they don't fall it'll be sufficient justification for any war you could want.

Another contradiction in 9/11 documentaries is that media reports are seen as truthful (Flight 93 landed safely in Ohio!) until they are not (Oh, sorry--I got that wrong). It has been explicitly said by some that reports closer to the time of the event are more accurate as the cover-up has not had time to set in. This also flies in the face of operational planning where the cover-story has to be manufactured before the event.

It also flies in the face of common sense: is a massive, frantic quest for data--any-data--without fact checking or time for examination more likely to produce the truth or not? If you think it would, consider that you are also suggesting that doing your writing in a drunken rushed haze is more likely to produce good grammar than careful proof-reading ... or that things like the scientific method and controlled experiments will probably produce worse data than seat-of-your-pants trial and error.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Omni,

    1. Yes, September Morn has been shut down.
    2. Thanks for pointing out "The Reflecting Pool" and "Able Danger." I hadn't heard of them, and I'll try to find them and watch.
    3. I agree that it wasn't Iron Man 3's goal to be a Truther movie, and that the filmmakers weren't emotionally invested in making such a movie. But I think they wanted to include a Truther theme, as the director pointed out, and was quoted at the National Review:

    Thanks for pointing out Vendetta, which also looks interesting. Without having seen it, I don't think I should try arguing with you that it is a better role model for a Truther movie. You might be right. But the connection that IM3 makes between the Mandarin and Osama bin Laden is the closest thing I've seen in a blockbuster to an explicit Truther theme. So I'm still leaning towards it as "the" Truther film.

    4. I agree that the film is clever and funny. As much as I admire Downey's acting, I think Kingsley stole their scene. He out-Downeyed Downey, so to speak. Will it make people think about 9/11? I don't know. It at least made the reviewer at National Review think about it.

    *I'll just say that there is responsible research and debate within the Truther movement. Check out, for example, the Journal for 9/11 Studies.