Theory Teacher's Blog

More Globalization Cinema: The International

Those of you poor saps who read my blog regularly may remember back last November when I wrote about “Globalization Theory in the New James Bond film Quantum of Solace.” What I noticed there is that the new Bond was different from the old Bond because the way people today conceptualize the world has changed. But the new Bond is certainly not unique, as so many films today seem to be responding to a vaguely understood economic and social phenomenon popularly known as globalization.  For example, consider the last year’s versions of The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man, in which the superheros find themselves in the ghettos of Brazile and the mountains of Afghanistan fighting againt a globalized, corporate military industrial complex. This isn’t the kind of superhero movie I grew up with; something  out there has obviously changed. But what?

And of course, many university instructors are now teaching classes about globalization through such films as Dirty Pretty Things, Babel, Lord of War, Blood Diamond, Syriana, and Children of Men. There is even a new guide book on The Cinema of Globalization. Hollywood seems to be reading the journalism of Thomas Friedman and Naomi Klein about globalization, as well as such sensationalistic memoirs as Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, if not also the academic theories about globalization such as Saskia Sassen’s Globalization and Its Discontents and Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt’s Empire.

So, of course, I couldn’t resist going to see the new movie starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts, The International, about a multinational bank that attempts to buy and sell missiles and manipulate the economy of war. I wanted to see if it would do what I predicted in my blog on Bond that all suspense thrillers about globalization would do…. and lo! It did.

Thing one: in the new suspense thriller, the evil organization is always part of a network of legimitimate and illigitimate organizations. This is what globalization theorists tend to call the “network” form. So, no longer is the good guy agent operating on behalf of a national government opposed to a nefarious crime syndicate. Now, the nation state is unwittingly part of a larger global network of legal and illegal activities that crisscross national borders. And in The International, Clive Owen’s character, Interpol agent Louis Salinger travels around the world to prove the nefarious deeds of this bank (just as all suspense thriller characters jump around the world so easily these days, as if they were Hayden Christiansen’s character in Jumper.) As he does so, he discovers how difficult it will ever be to prosecute this bank on acount of how enmeshed its nefarious deeds are in the global network. Of course, whereas in the real world this network is a complex chaotic mess, in the cinematic world the dark side of the network is personified. In this case, it is the evil banker, and the movie is obviously capitalizing (pun intended) on recent popular frustration with the many banking scandals. While banks collapse due to corrupt practices and governments scramble to bail them out, ordinary people lose jobs and starve. So, it’s certainly not the least bit surprising that a movie about an evil bank would appear in theaters at this particular moment in history.

Thing two: as Negri and Hardt argue in Empire, there is no longer anything outside Empire. What they mean by this is that in the old days, individual nation states had imperial ambitions to control more and more territory and competed with each other, but much of that territory remained outside their direct influence. Today, however, although nation states and smaller tribal communities still exist, they are all part of a single socio-economic structure that Negri and Hardt call Empire. So, in The International, banks and arms dealers are selling weapons to both sides of any political conflict. It doesn’t matter which political side of the fence you are on. It’s all part of the same global economy.

Thing three: in contrast to yesterday’s way of looking at international relations, or relations between nations, in today’s way of looking at things we analyze the relation of the local to the global, as in the environmentalist slogan, think globallay, act locally. Clearly the global economy transforms local cultures, often turning those cultures into commodities that can be sold. This dialectic between the global and the local has been called by theorists glocalisation. And in The International, local political conflicts proliferate in the background as effects of the evil multinatinal bank’s effort to benefit from the arms trade.

Thing four: because there is no longer an outside to Empire, the moral dilemma of global suspense thrillers is how can the good guy confront an evil that is part of the very same system (or network of relations) as the good guy. As the movie tells us, how can we go after a multinational bank that is protected by the very system of justice that would prosecute it? And how can an Interpol agent do any good “lost in the complexities of international law?” Of course, as with the new James Bond, the agent can either abide by the principles of law and order or can forego those principles and become a rogue agent. But, unlike the fantasy world of Bond, Clive Owen in The International finds he can’t operate outside the system. So, following one of the many fortune cookie maxims that saturate the dialogue of the movie, he realizes that when there is no way out, he must go further in.

Thing five: part of this opposition between a supposedly ineffective international law and the undulating, extra-legal, network form of global relations is an opposition we see in globalization theory. Some globalization theorists argue for the importance for international law, regulation, and transparency for preventing corporate abuses and war. Others argue that the legal system only protects the most egregious forms of economic exploitation, and instead values the multitude that resists such exploitation through its extra-legal connectivity. And indeed, in The International, the good guys are always circumventing protocols and resisting the evil bankers because of personal bonds — what Negri and Hardt call “affect.”


February 14, 2009 - Posted by | global, movies


  1. Fascinating. Thing Four is especially interesting: You can’t get the system to work for you because everyone’s in on the system, whether they know it or not.

    Now here is a movie I was actually planning on seeing!

    Comment by Megan G | February 14, 2009 | Reply

  2. Meanwhile, that blogpost on Bond eventually was expanded and revised into an article that also includes remarks about “The International”… and it was published in the Canadian film journal CineAction.

    Comment by steventhomas | December 27, 2009 | Reply

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