Lions for Lambs
by Laura Tucker
“If I must choose between righteousness and peace, I choose righteousness.”
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I was worried walking into the theater to see Lions for Lambs, afraid it would be a film that would be telling me what I what supposed to think and what I was supposed to feel. Especially when it comes to political matters, it seems movies are designed to make us see it from a certain perspective, no matter which side that perspective happens to be. After seeing Lions for Lambs, though, I have to say, I didn’t walk out of the theater feeling a different way, nor did I walk out with the feeling I should be thinking it through differently. I just walked out thinking there’s no easy answer.
One of the reasons, perhaps, that I didn’t walk out of the theater feeling like I was being beat over the head with the intended message was the creative way in which the story is told. We see the issue from so many different perspectives. It’s clear the filmmakers aren’t thinking wartime is wonderful and everyone should jump out of their chair and enlist, but the different perspectives were shown of a politician, a journalist, a teacher, a cynical student, and two best friends that are optimistic that they can do something to bring change to the world.
Tom Cruise plays Senator Jasper Irving, who seems to use his smile and twinkle of his eye as a way to stump for votes. He calls in a top television journalist, Janine Roth (Meryl Streep), offering her a one-on-one interview with him. She’s perplexed, to say the least, and thinks he’s offering more information for one of her War on Terrorism timelines, but instead he starts talking of a new directive. He acknowledges they made mistakes in the beginning of the war, but says they now want to focus on the future. He describes a new mission, attacking an area of Afghanistan with one small troop, as they see now they do better work with small groups. Of course, he doesn’t want to focus at all on the lives already lost in the war. When she asks when we’ll start this new directive, he tells her ten minutes ago.
Our focus now changes to a military plane headed to Afghanistan. There are two best friends on board, Ernest and Arian (Michael Pena and Derek Luke), who are anxiously looking forward to their chance at defending their country. Although the Army had been promised that the area they were attacking in this new directive was secured, they find the information wrong, and Ernest and Arian end up injured, falling out of the airplane. The military quickly hones in on them, but can’t seem to get a rescue to them quickly enough as they see the enemy troops closing in on them.
Professor Stephen Malley (Robert Redford) invites an often absentee student, Todd (Andrew Garfield) to his office, and shows him the few times that Todd has actually been in class, he’s been acing the tests. He offers him a choice of a B for nothing for the rest of the semester if he never takes another of his classes again, or the opportunity to sit and listen to him for one hour to perhaps become challenged to want to become involved again, as this political science student seems to have taken a stance against becoming involved, as it won’t change anything. The last time Professor Malley had students that he had such hopes for, it was two bright students that could have bought a ticket anywhere. Their names? Ernest and Arian.
The movie takes place over an hour as the directive is led in Afghanistan, as what Senator Irving is actually doing, is feeding Roth a story that he wants published that will help him sell the new war directive. It’s him that makes her upset, as she sees that the stories that the journalists write are only feeding the war, not stopping it as she believed. She is absolutely stunned to see one of her own articles framed and up on Senator Irving’s wall. As Todd tells Professor Malley everything he doesn’t like about what he now sees in politics, we see Senator Irving actually doing all those things with Roth.
It’s a vicious circle that goes around and around, and it becomes clear that maybe total blame for the war isn’t necessarily on the politicians in Washington, but maybe we’re all playing a part. And is there really a reason to blame anyone at all? It didn’t change my mind at all, just made me think about it much more deeply. In the end, the Senator still tries to sell his directive, the journalist still does as expected, the professor continues to try to reach out to students, and the two Army fighters still feel it’s right to stand up for what they believe in. Todd is the only one with the question mark, making him represent the majority of the American public. Is he going to choose righteousness or peace?
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