Saturday, February 11, 2006

Syriana: Living Our Fragmented World and Shattered Dreams

Writing about the movie Syriana made me realize that I only write about movies that want to change the world to a better one. I wrote a review before on Hotel Rwanda and the Constant Gardner. I watch lots of movies but I do not find the urge to write about any movies except those that want to make a change and there is no doubt that Syriana is one of them. And this is not intentional.

Last night I had the chance to see Syriana. I liked the movie so much, not only that so many parts speak my language and that I was able to understand their Arabic but the movie was like reading an interesting book. And, indeed Syriana is based on a book. I highly recommend seeing the movie. I was so proud to see the Egyptian actor, Amr Waked, as part of this great cast. This is the second time in less than 8 months that I see an Egyptian actor taking part in one of Hollywood movies. Last year, I saw Khaled El Nabway in Kingdom of Heaven. In Syriana, it was interesting to watch this mix between the US and the Middle East not because I am a Middle Eastern myself but because it is a reality translated into a movie.
The movie moves in fragmented scenes yet in parallelism which I thought very suitable to the story of the movie and the reality. The director and the cinematographer took the viewers to so many places without making the viewer feeling confused about the places. The two parallel scenes were mostly the closed rooms and the water. The water was running through out the movie at the moments of making the wrong decision. The character played by Matt Damon chose to let his wife and son go back to the US alone at a fountain area, disappointing his wife and son. And, Bob (George Clooney) wanted to kill the wrong an Emir of a rich oil country as part of an intelligence plan close by the sea. Damon was able to correct his wrong decision by going back to his wife at the end of the movie after his materialistic dreams were shattered. However, Clooney at the end tried to save the life of the Emir that he was earlier on a mission to kill him but he failed and he was killed with him by a missile from the US intelligence.
The windows: Two scenes in Syriana brought into attention the significance of the windows. After the death of the elder son of the character played by Damon, at a home scene at night the other child called his dad and the child asked for the window. The window is where you stand on your present while looking forward to see something at the far distance that you do not know about or you cannot see from your present position. The other window was the window of the high influential US politician at his home at night. The house was infiltrated from outside to inside. It was an indication to the beginning of the fall.

The funny part of the movie was in Spain at big palace owned by one of the big oil country emirs where he is concluding his deals in a weekend big party. The camera roams the palace with the character played by Matt Damon, not a single Arab woman is in the cadre. Women on the swimming pools and around the palace are either western women or the Asian women babysitting the children.
The only Arab woman that appeared at the end of the movie was the wife of the liberal/reformer emir when they were on their way to take over the palace before his death. She was wearing pants with a seethrough scarf. The dream for more open societies in the Gulf oil countries was aborted by a wrong missile from the US intelligence to maintain oil interests in the Persian Gulf. Generally, scenes of the wealthy Arab emirs were so masculine.

While Washington, DC, politicians and CEOs of giant oil companies are busy with daily deals and merging agreements, a new world is born full of impoverished young budding youth living in the distressed slums of the rich oil gulf countries between the refineries of oil drillers and camps. Johnny, poor young Pakistani fellow, traveled all the way to one of the rich oil countries was denied a simple job opportunity due to giant oil companies merging deals and when he had to report himself to the immigration department, he was savagely beaten until lost consciousness by local police because he only dared to talk in a queue for poor workers when orders were to remain silent like an animal. He was not only denied work but also his humanity as well. That’s why I believe that Freedom and Democracy are the only guarantees for human dignity, self-respect and human rights. That leads me to the final important water scene; Johnny was recruited as a suicide bomber by an Islamist group that takes advantage of frustrated poor youth. He ended his life on a missile in a small boat that targeted a big oil ship where the American company and the Gulf rich folks were celebrating an oil deal. In Washington, the owner of the two giant companies was winning the prize of the man of the oil for the year.

The amount of miscalculation found in the amount of decisions taken throughout the movies between Washington and oil country rulers led to devastating consequences. The intelligence missile that killed the moderate emir reminds me of the mistake of the US went it helped a bunch of officers to take over Egypt in a military coup d’ etats. They are a bunch of officers of no background that worked on dismantling the society's natural fabric of Egypt since 1952 and until this day. The destruction that happened to Egypt is not only political or part of a political equation we had to be in that time of history, but Egypt is suffering from a huge social deterioration with a strong influence of religion that we do not know when it will stop.

Syriana beautifully brings so many dreams, small and big, that all revolves around one idea, the right of humans to lead a human decent life. The character, played by George Clooney, as a CIA agent, wanted to serve his country as solider. Everyone can be a solider for his/her country without being in an army. It is the feeling of commitment and love to one’s country. He went to a mission following a wrong decision and he was brutally tortured to divulge information and he did not. When he was back to his country, U.S., he was denied his job and passport and he had to go through an investigation, denying him the honor of serving his country. He was killed trying to save the moderate emir that he was recruited earlier to kill based on a wrong calculation and decision.

Johnny, the suicide bomber, went to the oil country leaving behind a family with a commitment full of love to work to provide them a better life. He failed and he chose an imaginary life in the other world because he believed he will be rewarded in the other world. The giant merging deal could not save the oil project that Johnny destroyed with one missileThe moderate emir and his family were killed by another missile. This emir who believed in his country and wanted to reform through elected parliament, rights for women to vote and independent judiciary was killed over an oil deal between his family and the Washington politicians.

When the character, played by Matt Damon who worked economic advisor, was about to be close the oil royal family that’s full of corruption and fishy deals, he lost his blood. His son was killed in the swimming pool of this royal family. Prices of corruption are always expensive.

Usually, when I see American or western movies I laugh at the way how Middle Eastern or Arabs are depicted, this time I saw that it was so realistic that I could not laugh, in fact I felt merging with the movie. I thought it was a reality. I have also to applaud the music, it was beautiful. Spending almost two hours watching by all those handsome guys from the west and the east was awesome!

Dreams are always shattered in a fragmented world that defeats us…FFE

I wrote before about:
The Constant Gardener and the Hotel Rwanda: “This is How the World Fucked Africa”


At 7:46 PM, Anonymous ace said...

Not a bad movie, but at times it was a bit confusing, I thought and I didn't really understand the significance of some of the characters.

Oh well, I think I have to watch it again.

At 8:09 PM, Blogger Moved Elsewhere said...

While some people claim that America played an important role in bringing Nasser to power I have yet to find any plausible evidence that was the case. I think that some Arabs too often see a hidden hand where there is none. Sometimes they can screw things up royally without any foreign help whatsoever. Nationalism, Socialism and Pan-Arabism, I suspect, where home-grown products.

At 8:18 PM, Blogger Freedom for Egyptians said...


I admit that Nationalism, Socialism and Pan-Arabism are the poisons of the Middle East, and actually, they are as dangerous as radical Islam.


I think I m like you if I watch it again, I will understand other perspectives and angles.

At 5:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did anyone know that one of the main protagonists in the film is Sudanese?
Siddig AlFadil, better known as Alexander Siddig was Prince Nasir in Syriana.
As well as being a laudable actor and a groundbreaker for actors from the East Africa region, Siddig is the nephew of British actor Malcolm McDowell and former Sudanese Prime Minister AlSadiq AlMahdi.

At 8:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ken and @freedom:
Alexander Siddig, a British Arab actor who played Nasir, explains that the name Nasir was chosen because “it is the name of one of the most respected leaders in the Arab world.” Go figure whom he meant.

At 8:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous' last post,

The article from which Sudanese-British actor Alexander Siddig has been quoted can be found at:

The transcript of another interview with British-Sudanese actor Alexander Siddig can be found at:

Alexander comes from a big political family in Sudan which was ironically very averse to AbdAlNasser.
His great uncles alsayed AbdAlRahman and alsayed AlHadi as well as his uncle alsayed AlSadiq AlMahdi were all averse to AbdAlNasser's meddling in Sudanese affairs, from his bribing the electorate in favour of the National Unionist Party to his support for the military takeover of General Abboud in Sudan in Novermber 1958, to his 1959 Agreement which inundated the ancient Sudanese city of Halfa and dispalced over 50,000 Sudanese in order to build the Aswan Dam whose beneficiaries were the Egyptians at the exclusion of the Sudanese!

Ironic indeed...

At 2:37 AM, Blogger Cosmic Duck said...

You're right. Very good movie. Perhaps a bit naïve in its way of describing the forces of good versus the forces of evil. How does one define good and evil in the context of the Middle East? I can see that is one of the questions you grapple with in this blog of yours, and it is very laudable, what you're doing. But I think you have some problems walking the straight ethical line. Is good to be defined as the values of the modernising Egyptian middle class, and whatever it stands for?


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