“Body Of Lies” & “City Of Ember
 
            Both involve struggling against the powers that be.  In both, the context is dark, cynical, and clandestine.  In both, the world is seen as a precarious place teetering on the edge of chaos and obliteration.  In both, it’s the little spark of romance and caring that sustains the main character, but it’s more a fantasy unfulfilled than any real intimacy.  The difference is that “City Of Ember ” offers hope for a true escape, where in “Body Of Lies” it’s a grim Hell of fury and violence from which there is no escape except death.  “City Of Embers ” is entirely fictional, but may well contain the truth of parable.  Body Of Lies” is a kind of contemporary historical fiction---it’s a script, but it feels real, and current, and urgent.
            In “Body Of Lies,” Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a CIA operative in the Middle East .  He speaks Arabic, he moves easily among the populace, despite his Anglo heritage, and he is playing the dangerous, edgy game of attempting to infiltrate terrorist cells.  He is constantly in touch with his boss, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), who calmly speaks of assassinations while watching his kids play soccer, and who matter-of-factly delivers satellite surveillance orders while loading his children into the car after school.  He’s fighting for his country, but so objectively as to appear dispassionate, until he arrives on the scene, unannounced, to demonstrate that he is still in control of the operation, and is a force to be reckoned with in the field, as well.  Ferris tries to set up a cooperative venture with the head of Jordanian security, but that turns out to be a tricky alliance, and even Ferris’ dealings with his Jordanian counterpart contain secrets, lies, betrayals, and clandestine surveillance.  Of course, nothing compares to the American satellite network, the “eye in the sky” that can track anybody, anywhere, anytime.  But, of course, you have to know where they are first.  The “bad guy” is the head of a terrorist cell, who is as elusive and intelligent and ephemeral as he is cruel, violent, and egotistical.  Ferris’ only diversion is the nurse who patched him up in the Emergency Room, but he soon realizes that he puts her at risk just by being seen with her, because the spies are everywhere.  It’s a dreary and depressing world, being a spy operative in a volatile, hostile, environment.  These guys didn’t make the world they find themselves in, but they are striving to make a difference, anyway, even though the rewards are little and the risks great.  And we’ll never even know who most of them are.
            In “City Of Ember ,” Lina ( Saoirse Ronan) and Doon (Harry Treadway) live in an underground city in continual disrepair, where the lights are always flickering and sometimes in blackout for seconds or even minutes at a time.  The only generator, provided by “The Builders” many generations ago, is failing.  Lina and Doon have just graduated, in a paltry, pitiful little ceremony presided over by the town’s benign-looking Mayor Cole (Bill Murray), and they now have their work assignments, she as a messenger (20 coins per message, personally delivered), and he as a pipe repairman.  But Doon soon finds out that there aren’t any new pipes to repair the old ones.  In fact, the entire mechanism is on the verge of collapse.  His father, Louis (Tim Robbins), is a preoccupied inventor who may have provided a helpful clue, and so did Lina’s grandmother, who, right before she died, gave Lina a mysterious box that contains a map left by “The Builders” on how to escape the city.  Lina and Doon, though adolescents themselves, seem to be the only ones intelligent, resourceful, and daring enough to figure out how to escape the doomed domed city (also rescuing her little sister), while the dunderhead adults are having a singing day in the town square, filling their time with silly activities while their world is literally crashing down around their ears, and the leaders are surreptitiously ensuring they have plenty for themselves, while actively attempting to squelch any discovery of their duplicity.
            Both films are despairing of human nature, but “Body Of Lies” is much more violent and cynical.  “City Of Ember ” is designed as a post-Harry Potter adventure for teens, but at the expense of the adults being mostly either absent, indifferent, distracted, or corrupt.  In both movies, the world is a sinister and foreboding place.  The difference is that in “City Of Ember ,” there just may be a way out.
 
Questions For Discussion:
 1)  Should the United States be sponsoring covert spy operations in the Middle East ?  Throughout the region, or just in hostile territory?
2)      Should our operatives have the authority to “eliminate” terrorist targets?
3)      Should our operatives have the authority to interrogate suspects, with torture if necessary, to obtain vital information regarding the whereabouts of terrorists?
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas