Tuesday, May 15, 2007


The tagline of Syriana is “everything is connected” and this is exactly what the movie portrays. Principally a tale about the oil industry, the tale the movie tells is spun across USA, Switzerland, the middle east, south asia and the far east. A missile disappears in Iran, a Geneva-based consultant group covets the role of economic advisor to the heir of an Emirate,; the heir to the Emirate, Prince Nasir, awards an oil contract to China, the immigrant Pakistani workers of the US firm which previously held this contract lose their jobs, and are inducted into a fundamentalist group, the US firm merges with a smaller company which has landed an oil contract in Kazakhistan, the Department of Justice is worried about this merger, the companies hire a law firm to ensure the merger is pushed through, the CIA meanwhile plots to kill the heir Emir and set up his weaker pro-America brother on the throne to secure American oil interests. A CIA agent, a young economist, a laid-off worker and some lawyers are pulled into these complex webs like so many flies.

The exact plot line of the movie is difficult to describe, for it is non-linear [1] and the plot only comes together – if at all – towards the end of the film. Indeed in his review, Roger Ebert makes a valid point when he states “The more you describe it, the more you miss the point. It is not a linear progression from problem to solution. It is all problem.”

At one level the root of this problem revolves around the lengths to which the American government would go to maintain its supplies from the wells of the Middle-East. Indeed, ex-CIA Agent Robert Baer, whose book See No Evil was the inspiration for Syriana, told Washington Post that “[i]t’s a fictional place, a term used inside the Beltway, to describe redrawing the borders in the Middle East to suit our interests. It’s a made-up name. For example, Iraq is very much an artificial country and that is one reason we’re having so many problems there because the Iraqis are not a people with a common identity.” The film's website also states that ‘Syriana’ is a very real term used by Washington think-tanks to describe a hypothetical reshaping of the Middle East [to suit Western interests]. As the story indicates, the reshaping need not only be geographical – the term can also refer to political interference – such as the CIA plan to kill Prince Nasir.

At another level however the movie rises above being merely a powerful indiction of American quest for oil. Syriana spins an intricate tale of corruption and vested interests at every level as each state, each group within the states and each individual within the group tries to realize their/his desired ends. What emerges most clearly is that there is hardly anybody who is capable of grasping, let alone controlling the whole process – the American oil interests are but one variable, as are the ambitions of the heir to the Emirate and his brother, the dreams of the retrenched immigrants, the goals of the law firm, the ambition of its individual lawyers, the motives of the oil companies, etc. It offers a window into the complications which are often very simplistically subsumed within labels such as “US foreign policy”; “Islamic terrorism”; and “spreading democracy”.

The film is remarkable for the fact that throughout the course of its complicated narrative, it endeavors to bring the different shades in the characters of each of its major actors, whether by exploring their backgrounds, or through clever dialogue. In addition it makes a bunch of small points which go into bolstering its overall attempt to give the viewer a sense of the complexity of such affairs. To mention a few of these:

  • The laid-off Pakistani workers feel a sense of alienation in the Emirates, for even though it is a muslim country, it is very unlike their own. Furthermore this is not because of sectarian Shia/Sunni differences, but because of ethnic and linguistic dissimilarities. This may appear to be an obvious point but is usually missed by films that lump together the entire ‘Muslim world’.

  • In one instance Prince Nasir claims his plans for rebuilding the Emirate are constantly obstructed by the American government forcing him to buy their products – like outdated aircraft – at exhorbitant prices, in order to combat the growing unemployment in the manufacturing sector.

  • There is an interesting dialogue on the nature of the Caspian sea – is it really a sea, or is it a lake and what the implications of this are, in terms of rights over its waters and its deep sea oil fields. The dialogue also explores how the countries surrounding it prefer to characterize it and why.
Lauded and criticized for its complex story; reviled by some as an anti-American film - Charles Krauthammer in an Op-Ed published in the Washington Post states “Osama bin Laden could not have scripted this film with more conviction”; praised by others because it does not descend to this level of simplification; a winner of several major awards, Syriana is a visible, moving film, well worth a watch – or as some suggest, two back to back viewings, to truly appreciate its intricacies.

[1] A good synopsis is available on the film’s official website http://syrianamovie.warnerbros.com/.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

SYRIANA is a movie intended to deceive viewers about its subject matter; the importance of American oil companies, the historical role of Iraq CIA chief Robert Baer (polayed by Clooney). The movies’ initial funding came from Particpant Productions, a group tied to PSYCHOLOGICAL OPERATIONS activities of the Council on Foreign Relations, and to former Bush Intelligence Officer LGEN Brent Scowcroft. Clooeny is just an actor, playing a role that never happened. Its all fake. See it explained here: