Tag: human error

Fail-Safe


Fail-Safe (1964)
★★★★ / ★★★★

When a group of American bombers, led by Colonel Grady (Edward Binns), received a false transmission that they were to obliterate Moscow, leaders from the Strategic Air Command, like General Black (Dan O’Herlihy), a scientist (Walter Matthau), and the president of the United States (Henry Fonda) struggled to come up with ways to avoid World War III with the Soviet Union. Based on a novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, “Fail-Safe” was a gripping exercise in what soldiers and politicians were forced to do to delay a war when they could no longer stop it. Under Sidney Lumet’s focused and assured direction, the film successfully highlighted the fears of three groups of men confined in one place. All three were fascinating but I found the room where the president, with the help of his interpreter (Larry Hagman), tried to convince the Premier of the Soviet Union to be most sublime. The conversation occurred via telephone but from the minute the president picked up the telephone and a voice from the other line answered, it felt like watching two leaders looking intensely into each other’s eyes and weighing whether to trust the words they heard through a machine. After all, the president warned his translator to be very wary of certain intonations of the Premier’s voice. He could be saying one thing with words but the fluctuations in his voice could mean something else entirely. So I inched toward the screen and listened closely. I had a laugh at myself for realizing a couple of seconds later that I didn’t speak or understand Russian. Fonda was excellent in the role because the air of confidence he carried around with him, combined with his character’s intelligence, made us hope and believe that the mistake’s repercussions had a chance to be circumvented. I also admired Matthau’s turn as the scientist with extreme ideas. I didn’t always agree with his negative vision of society, applicable just to Americans or otherwise, but his sharp insight was undeniable. The film asked a lot of questions about responsibility in terms of human or mechanical error. If the transmission was a simple mechanical error with disastrous consequences, in technical terms, wasn’t it still considered human error because we were the ones who designed (and ultimately relied on) the machines? What I loved was the material didn’t get stuck on who or what to blame. Tragedy was embedded in the images of planes falling from the sky and the fear reflected in the soldiers’ eyes as they obeyed commands that they knew would lead to their deaths. “Fail-Safe,” purposefully claustrophobic so we were forced to look inwards, is more relevant than ever with our reliance in technology and the seeming lack of accountability just because we can hide behind clever inventions and foolish notions of anonymity.

The Abyss


The Abyss (1989)
★★★★ / ★★★★

James Cameron (“The Terminator,” “Aliens,” “Titanic”) directed this deep sea adventure which stars Ed Harris as the leader of a team of divers hired for a rescue mission after a nuclear submarine mysteriously sinks. His ice queen of a wife (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) who he does not get along with comes along and a lot of tension brews between them. The divers are aided by the Navy led by Michael Biehn but we later discover that he is not emotionally, psychologically, and physically equipped enough to handle the pressure (pun intended) of staying underwater for an extended period of time. This film surprised me because I did not think it would be as emotional as it was. I thought what was going to happen was the divers would find the submarine, encounter some aliens and head back home. I did not think that it was going to be a story of survival, clashing against differing positions of power, dealing with fear and paranoia, and pushing an extraterrestrial agenda. The underwater scenes were nothing short of amazing. I really felt like I was deep sea diving with the characters because all I could see were giant rocks, endless darkness, and blue light coming from their mode of transports. It reminded me of scenes from a fascinating documentary (also directed by Cameron) called “Aliens of the Deep.” I also liked the fact that the alien angle of the story was minimized up until the very end. The tension rises after each scene due to human errors and vulnerabilities so I had no trouble buying into everything that was happening. When Biehn’s character finally lost it, I was scared for all of the characters that he considered his enemy because he knew how to kill and do it efficiently. Although the film could have been shorter, in some ways it worked to its advantage because we really get to feel how it was like to be stuck underwater for almost three hours. Two stand out scenes for me were the resuscitation and the falling into the abyss scenes. I felt a whole range of emotions during those scenes and even I had to tear up a bit because I had no idea how it was all going to turn out. In many ways, it had the drama of “Titanic” and the horror of “The Thing.” There’s a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche (or some version of it) in the beginning of the film that perfectly summed up the experience. That is, “If you look into the abyss, the abyss will look into you.”