Breaking Bad is now running it’s fourth season. In fact season is almost coming to an end. People who haven’t seen this series don’t know how much are they missing in quality television. This series has everything you could ask for – amazing writing, taught direction, beautiful cinematography and above all awesome performance by the cast. Last week’s episode took this series to new heights and I thought I need to write my two cents here.

Before I delve into my review of this particular episode (Season 4, Episode 11) here is a little background.

Breaking Bad

For people who are not following this series here is a quick Hollywood style high concept – A chemistry genius realizing that he is terminally ill with cancer must generate enough money for his family by using his chemistry skills to cook pure crystal meth.

Sounds simple. Well, it ain’t. There are competitors – real drug dealers, cartels, DEA, family and worst of all a Junkie cooking partner.

Bryan Cranston plays Walter white, the high school chemistry teacher terminally ill with cancer. A very methodical man who gets into cooking crystal meth with a highly disorganized junkie called Jesse played by Aaron Paul. It’s a classic freudian conflict with two archetypes having opposing character traits – anal retentive and anal expulsive.

“What we have here is failure to co-ordinate.”

If you go little deep in the philosophy of Breaking Bad then you’ll realize that the whole story is in a way a re-telling of faustian bargain. For some reason when this episode ended I thought about Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray. It’s rare that you see such a clearly defined character arc in a dramatic TV series. Walter White in that sense is really Dorian Gray – person who made a deal with the Devil (in this case drug dealers) for eternal youth (money in this case). His character has undergone such a dramatic shift from a wimp to a control freak.

This episode highlights one inevitability of life that good luck doesn’t last forever.

The episode has an amazing cinematography. In my review of No country for old men I mentioned harsh terrain of texas as a a character in itself. Similar technique is utilized by show creators by giving a character to deserted country of New Mexico.

The episode has a very haunting ending. Show creators used editing, cinematography, sound effect, performance to accentuate this ending. A very clever (some may say cliched) framing device along with smart sound editing. If you have started watching this series then hustle up to season four. If not then I have one thing to say – Netflix It now (sorry, Qwikster it now)!!.


I came across Echo of a Scream some months ago when my wife was taking a course in appreciation of art. She found it very interesting and hence showed it to me. First look at the painting and one will be puzzled at what really is this about – war? famine? disaster? So I started deciphering this painting one layer at a time.

Echo of a Scream is a haunting yet beautiful piece of art. A look at the painting evokes strong pathos – a tragedy always followed by a war. Throughout his career, David Alfaro Siqueiro created paintings depicting human struggle against authoritarian regime. He was born in the province of Chihuahua, Mexico in 1896. Enlisted in Venustiano Carranza’s Constitutional Army at the age of eighteen while studying art at the Academy of San Carlos. Siquero was a marxist from very early age. Much of his work had a direct influence from his first hand experience of the grief and suffering of war. His paintings also reflects his strong belief in Marxist ideology.
Echo of a scream

Echo of a Scream is Siqueiro’s iconic painting conceived in 1937 before he started working against Francisco Franco’s fascist dictatorship. The event which represents the painting is aftermath of a war and the trauma of human loss. Specifically the painting represents the famous Spanish civil war. The painting is captivating both visually and metaphorically. When we look at the painting the most prominent figure we see are two crying babies. One baby’s head is enlarged and other baby is coming out of his mouth. Baby is sitting on a surface which looks like a war zone. The ground shows the fallout of the war and the destruction that ensues. The visible elements are the shells, broken canons, and shrapnel.

The painting has a very rough and grungy texture. Siqueros used intense colors to represent a very dark and catastrophic period of time. On the top of the painting there are some dark clouds signifying the tough times caused by the war. On the left end corner of the painting we can see what looks like a tree on a barren land, accentuating the loss of the livelihoods of farmers. The debris on the land has rough edges and sharp corners, specifically the twisted metal in the frontal plane. The red color on the front of the painting near the twisted metal looks like human body parts and dried blood. The red cloth that baby is wearing symbolizes fresh blood still oozing out of his body. In a way it is a metaphor for the endless miseries of the war. Certain elements are placed in a very subtle manner in the painting such as the chimneys of the factories on the top right corner. It symbolizes the conflict between industrial growth and the traditional way of living. Why Siqueros chose African baby will always be open to interpretation. However considering the period when painting was composed as well as the fact that Spanish civil war used Morocco, an African country as treading ground might be a reason.

Echo of scream strikes its viewer in a very visceral manner. It immediately creates a very strong feeling of sorrow even without understanding the context. Siqueros succeeded in communicating with his audience. Although the painting is his point of view about the Spanish civil war but it is perfectly fitting even in the present world. It is a visually dark painting and intended to shake it’s viewer and forces them to think above their own selfish agendas and look out for the future generations. This painting creates a disturbing yet visually arresting picture.

When I saw the painting the very first emotion that went through my mind was an intense sorrow. The cry of little baby forced me to analyze the painting further and search for a reason of his grief and the source of all his pain and suffering. I forced myself to look for clues and visual cues which could possibly explain and answer all my questions. Looking deeply into the painting not as a passer but as an avid viewer opened more and more vantage points.

Echo of a scream is a multi-layered piece of art as most of the rich art forms are. For a casual onlooker its bleakness may be captivating but one needs to look a little closer and then it creates multitude of interpretations. The subject matter of the painting underscores the very fundamental theme that every war is different, yet every war is still the same. As Siqueros quoted “It is a call to all human beings so that they may end all wars”.

References and further reading

1. “Spanish Civil War”,

2. “David Alfaro Siqueiros”,

Green Lantern is a summer tent-pole film from Warner Brothers based on DC comics character of the same name. I got a chance to catch an early preview tonight. The film is directed by Martin Campbell who was responsible for successful reboot of James Bond character in Casino Royale. As much as he was successful in rebooting Casino Royale he failed terribly in Green Lantern. To be euphemistic the film is a mess from start to finish. There is so much happening in the film and yet I could not relate to any of the Green Lantern’s cause / crusade even if he wants to save the earth (By that time I just wanted the damn film to finish). The film failed on multiple levels but the weakest link is screenplay. It was terrible for $200 million dollar film. There was so much plot and yet film felt so hollow in emotionality that it just failed to capture my interest. I am not trying to be self-aggrandizing here and talking the talk of a named critic but comic book filmmakers need to put more heart and soul in their films rather than VFX wizardry.

From acting standpoint everybody played their part perfectly (as expected). Although I never really understood why studio always want big name actors for even smaller parts in the comic book films. Ryan Reynolds looked pretty good albeit goofy at times. Somehow whenever I see him I always think of Van Wilder and Harold and Kumar goes to white castle. It was hard for me to think of him as an action hero. Blake Lively looked like as she always do – hot and pretty :) . There was no need for Angela Bassett and Tim Robbins to be there in the film. Yet they were there and they played perfectly whatever they were playing in the film.

One of my major gripe with the film is 3D. For some reason the physical structure of characters looked CGI to me in the 3D. It may be a side effect of watching in 3D. Since there were quiet a few scenes in space so I guess studio thought 3D might be the best way to project this film.

Dialogs were way too bad and awful. The screenwriters did pretty bad job in that department. There were way too many plot-holes. As I said earlier too much plot is condensed in a two hour film. Bad story could be problem with a source material. But my personal belief is that superhero “inception” stories should be kept simple and should focus more on character development and less on litany of villains. Once you establish audience’s interest in inception stories the risk of early death of franchise is mitigated. But as often is the case Hollywood decision makers are MBAs and not MFAs.

In very first post of my blog I mentioned my strong dislike for comic book films. After more than a year I think that opinion is even more stronger now. I believe the day is not far when Hollywood will abandon comic book films altogether. At least there is no harm in dreaming.

Final Score: C- (that too because I didn’t pay for the ticket, otherwise D).

Green Lantern

First of all I am not reviewing two films here. If title is a little misleading then I am sorry about that. I accidentally discovered this film in my Blu-ray library lying there for years so I thought blast from the last is a little fitting introduction. Oh, by the way Alicia Silverstone did look hot in blast from the past.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has nothing to do with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang if you are thinking in that direction unless off course in some odd universe flying car becomes a flying b**g then you can attempt some similarities.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was a directorial début of Shane Black released in 2005, starring Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer. It’s an oddball movie and incidentally did poor at box office but later became a cult phenomenon on home video. I am sure people will have polarized opinion about this film. It’s kind of comedy with a touch of film noir which is odd because film noir is essentially noire. It has most if not all the elements of noir – femme fatale (usually blondes), murder, corruption, twisted plot. References to Raymond Chandler was all over the film – Goodbye my lovely, Lady in the Lake. Being a big fan of film noir and hard-boiled fiction I really liked the film.

The plot is fairly simple with Robert Downey a thief who gets intertwined in Hollywood, asked to learn to be a detective for a film only to start solving the case of a missing girl who happens to be the sister of a highschool sweetheart. Did I say it was a simple plot? Film Noir and Los Angeles has a long history – years before L.A. Confidential or even Chinatown. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is by no means in the same league but it is no slouch either. Robert Downey Jr is an amazing actor even before he was Iron Man. It’s really a pleasure seeing him performing. His rapid-fire repartee is faintly visible in this film which was heavily used in both Iron Man films. Val Kilmer did good justice to his role as a PI as well as providing a much-needed mentor archetype to the film. One complain I have is that the bad guys were not very well fleshed out which typically isn’t the case with film noir.

Shane Black really is a good writer and director and knows how to borrow the correct elements. [It's paying him off anyway as he is in the running for directing Iron Man 3]. He created an effective Chandleresque universe with a flawed Philip Marlowe (Downey) and a femme fatale (Monaghan).

Overall I’d say the film is a good watch for a lazy sunday afternoon.

“Everything that has a beginning has an end.”

It is a cardinal law of trilogies that every part must represent a single act in the three act structure of the whole. When it comes to film, a director can take it in two different directions – make it a series of unrelated films or end it when it is suppose to be. If you make it a series then the creative juice in the story dries very quickly and the whole story loses the very vital emotional drive. This ultimately leads to a painful death of the franchise and then there is only one way out – reboot it in 3D!

After two travesties by Joel Schumaker namely Batman Forever, and Batman and Robin, execs at Warner made a wise choice by taking it to Nolan. He amped up the series and gave it a place it always deserved.

Time and again I always displayed my distaste for comic book movies. Batman is a different beast though. Tim Burton brought to life one of the most difficult character in the comic book series. His two movies set the ground for one of the darkest comic book hero in the history of cinema. Christopher Nolan went to the roots and based on his fascination for film noir created a movie which was anything but a comic book film. And suddenly Batman was no longer a kiddies film.

We all know what he did with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. However what we don’t know is what’ll happen in the The Dark Knight Rises. Let’s explore the possibilities by using some logical deductions.

Dark Knight ended on the edge of a cliff and if first film is considered as Dark Knight Begins then second can also be called The Fall of Dark Knight or simply put – end of act 2 in Nolan’s Batman universe. So Dark Knight Rises may not be a flashy title but it is a logical title as it’ll bring an end to the series. Off course money grubbing bastards can always find one trick ponies to resuscitate the franchise. As long as it is able to walk, let’s fuck it!

What about the villains?

In an interview with LA Times Hero Complex, Nolan confirmed that Riddler (or Edward Nigma) will not make an appearance. I think it makes a logical sense. Riddler as a Batman villain is very similar in characteristics to Joker. He is egomaniac like Joker with no motive for creating terror. He is ostentatious, sociopath and wears almost similar mask like Joker. In terms of casting it was earlier rumored that Robbin Williams, Johnny Depp and lot of other actors have shown their keenness. But it’s no longer relevant. Off course it is also confirmed that Joker will not make any presence. I think it’ll take a decade to bring Joker back to life as Heath Ledger’s performance will be hard to top.

Another villain which is recently in rumors is Dr. Hugo Strange. As per IMDB Tom Hardy (from Inception) is purportedly playing this role. As per wikipedia, Hugo Strange is a Professor of Psychology with genius level IQ and perfected in the art of hand to hand combat. Off course he is no Joker but he might serve as a good entry in Nolan’s grand finale.

It was also reported on some websites that Wally Pfister and Nolan is planning to shoot part of the film in Louisiana which brings an interesting perspective to the story. There is a hint off course which is Bayou and that means crocodiles and a hint towards another villain – Killer Croc. Killer Croc has a reptilian appearance which is result of a genetic mutation.

As a general rule in screenwriting you always create a rectangle in storytelling where each corner represents one of the major character from the story. In typical story it means – a hero (Batman), a mentor (Alfred), and two villains. However in case of comic book film two villains are not enough as you always need something going on so a screenwriter creates a pentagon with an additional villain. This third villain is usually not the major one but it does represents a force. In case of previous two films it was the mob and it is quiet possible that it might be mob again in the third film.

So there you have it my analysis of the third film two years before it’ll come to theater. Off course none of this has any possibility as it is all based on information collected from different sources. But nevertheless guessing unpredictable is an interesting game. That’s how all the analyst are keeping their jobs about making all the baseless predictions about what Apple Inc. will announce next month.

There is still one and a half year before film hits theater. In the meantime here are some fan made cover for the film.




First of all guys. I am not dead. Yet. I have been MIA from quiet sometime but boys n’ girls now I am back.

Moving on…


Okay…Pop quiz. Hot shot. What in the world is El Pueblo de la Reina de los Angeles.

I guess the last two words probably gave it away.

Britishers call it Los Angelees, Americans call it Los Angelus, Everyone else calls it L.A. Never in the history of humanity a town has been so popular that people all over the world flocked just to be part of the cultural action (or lack of thereof).

Famous cultural icon Andy Warhol said, “I love Los Angeles. I love Hollywood. They’re beautiful. Everybody’s plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic.

In the popular culture Los Angeles has been referenced in numerous films, loads of hardboiled fiction (Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy) and off course countless reality shows (Real wives of who knows what, Hills).

Los Angeles So what the hell is this article about?

This is my personal salute to the city people all over [world] loved (or hated) by either being part of it or had a glimpse on the boob tube.

This is first part in the series of articles about Los Angeles as experienced in the popular culture (somebody somewhere really said Holy crap how much free time do you have).

I am listing some of the films that tried to capture the essence of Los Angeles and were really successful in creating the virtual image it strived for.

The films listed here are not aiming for any top spot but are really in a random order.

Chinatown Chinatown – The first thing which comes to mind whenever I say Los Angeles is almost always Polanski’s Chinatown. Chinatown is a masterful neo-noir. The film successfully captured the essence of valley during the early 20th century when Los Angeles was facing a huge water crisis. The accuracy of location was in part due to Robert Towne’s excellent research about the city and the infamous California Water Wars.

Yeah? Ain’t that something? Middle of a drought, the water commissioner drowns. only in L.A. 


L.A. Confidential – Another masterful neo-noir. The film was a true poster child for how a noir should be crafted. Raymond Chandler would have been very happy – dirty cops, femme fatale, grisly locations. What’s not to love. Only bad thing — it lost loads of Oscar to an undeserved contender made by a man who traveled on Titanic to Pandora. Bad joke. Don’t worry after 2.5 billion and counting Cameron can now take it all.

Come to Los Angeles! The sun shines bright, the beaches are wide and inviting, and the orange groves stretch as far as the eye can see. [But you know that ain't true.]



Lethal Weapon Series – Unabashedly loud, this series of buddy cop action film is one of the first thing comes to mind when you think about L.A. of 1980′s. It was a different era. People look different. Places look different. When you watch and re-watch this film now the only thing you’ll notice is cliche, cliche and more cliche. But boy was it fun or what.

Two cops. Glover carries a weapon. Gibson is one. He’s the only L.A. cop registered as a LETHAL WEAPON. [This has to be one of the worst tagline ever.]


Beverly Hills Cop Series – Another pseudo-buddy cop funny action film for whole family to enjoy. Just the way Disney wants you to. Not as famous as its brethren Lethal Weapon series but equally loud, ridden with similar cliches. But definitely worth a watch.

In Beverly Hills we just take whichever car is closest.


Collateral – One of my favorite gritty thriller from Michael Mann. Mann is the only person deft in creating a character out of a block of buildings. When you watch Collateral you really believe that you know the

city, the people, the places. It’s only Mann who can pull off an ordinary story into an extra ordinary film. Notable mention is his another film – Heat.


All the cabbies in L.A., I get Max, Sigmund Freud meets Dr. Ruth.


So there you have it. Not my top five favorites but top five which I can think from the top of my head.

There are many more which I want to list but man I am tired now. So here are some films which I think are worth mentionining:

  • Heat
  • Boogie Nights
  • The Player
  • Magnolia
  • L.A. Story
  • To Live and Die in L.A.
  • Speed
  • Californication (TV Series)
  • No country for old men is a chase story where a man with stolen drug money is hunted by a vicious and unstoppable killer. The story of the film is set in 1980, West Texas. The film deals with three main characters Llewelyn Moss, Anton Chigurh and Sheriff Bell. When Llewelyn Moss runs away with the two million dollars from the bad drug deal then Anton follows him with a trail of murder and mayhem.

    The screenplay is based on Cormac McCarthy’s bestseller of the same name.

    The majority of the film is shot in daylight of West Texas. The film deals with greed, crime and death. The landscape of Texas acts as another character to intensify these elements. Cinematographer Roger Deakins chose to desaturate the daylight shots using bleach bypass (Image 1). This served dual purpose of setting the period look of the film as well as intensifying the harshness and brutality of West Texas. It immediately helps in setting the grim mood.

    (Image 1)

    Thematically the film is about the greed of human being and what disaster it can lead to if left unchecked. Llewelyn Moss although a good natured person couldn’t control his greed and that ultimately leads to his death. There are two interesting instances in the film which can be called as “moments of realization” for Llewelyn Moss. Both the instances uses similar kind of lighting technique where light comes filtered from the window when he just wakes up realizing something. In the first instance (Image 2) he wakes up in the middle of the night feeling guilty for not giving water to a dying drug dealer. This guilt is a turning point in his life as it leads to his ultimate demise. In the second instance (Image 3) he wakes up suddenly in a room in Hotel Eagle realizing why he is so easily trackable. Both the instances employs similar composition of bird eye’s view shot of Llewelyn in bed with light falling from the window creating an interesting pattern of light and dark on his face. It gives an indication of his character which is a mix of both – greed driven yet still likable. The screen shots below shows the above mentioned compositions.


    (Image 2)


    (Image 3)


    The film employs both static framing as well as tracking shots although most of the time static framing is used. The film opens with a montage of wide shots of West Texas countryside starting with night and finally becoming day time. There is no movement at all and the whole series of shots uses static wide angle framing. Some of the screen captures are shown below (Image 4, from left to right and then down).


    (Image 4)

    The movement in the film feels natural and motivated. Usually the tracking shots are used when either we are following a character(s) point of view or we are getting closer to a point of interest. Since the film takes place in Texas countryside so tracking shots are also used in wide angle shots to reveal the harsh landscape. In a way the landscape also gives a sense of mortal threat for Llewelyn Moss. There are instances where handheld shots are also used to show character’s Point of View. The screenshot (Image 5) below show one such instance.


    (Image 5, the above shots are mostly handheld shots from Moss’s Point of View)


    The overall shot types of film can be divided in two main parts:

    1.Wide angle shots: In this film the country side of West Texas is shown as another character which is barren and ruthless. It sets the dark tone of the film. The best way to capture this character is by using wide angle shots which is used extensively in the film. There are static as well as tracking shots when a character is followed or character is following something. Some of the example shots are below:


    (Image 6)

    2.Over the shoulder Shots: The film apart from its chase theme is a serious character study and therefore has many sequences where exposition is done through amazing dialog. There are many sequences where the over the shoulder framing is used. Some of the shots below show different variants of over the shoulder style of framing.


    (Image 7)

    Visual Metaphors:

    Metaphors are scattered at all over the film. Some of them that help in accentuating the tone of the film are described below:

    1. Anton as a ghost: Anton has been portrayed as an absolute evil. He commits murder with no remorse and he slips in and out of the scene of crime like a ghost. There are various places where this theme is underscored. In the opening sequence when he is arrested by a trooper he almost looks invisible in the backseat of the car. In another scene when he goes to Moss’s mobile home he looks at his reflection in the television and it almost looks like a ghost in the machine. When he is chasing Moss outside the hotel he is again shown in a glass on the front door of a store. Some of the above shots are shown below.


    (Image 8, vertical ellipse in third image represents Anton visible in glass window of store)

    2.Warning to Llewelyn Moss: Before Llewelyn Moss goes to the place where drug deal happened a black dog is shown which in most culture is a bad omen and usually represents death. It is shown as a warning to Llewelyn for not to go ahead as it’ll lead to his demise.


    This is one of the finest collaboration of Coen Brothers and Roger Deakins. The film is visually rich and Deakins’ cinematography perfectly captured the dark tone in moral wasteland of West Texas.  It is a film which will make people interpret the ending for years. Unlike most of the Hollywood film there is no closure to the story. But as most of the film theorists agree if you provide a closure to the story you are not giving your audience any food for thought.

    As famous writer Gene Wolf said, “Ambiguity is necessary in some of my stories, not in all. In those, it certainly contributes to the richness of the story.”


    I got a chance to see Inception in IMAX on saturday. It was superbly crafted, highly intelligent and in true sense a modern masterpiece. As per me it comes in the same ranks of Blade Runner and Matrix as a science fiction film.

    Broadly there are two kinds of film audience:

    1. One who watches films

    2. Others who understand films (typically critics or anybody remotely interested in the specifics of cinema)

    Thankfully the movie will appeal to everyone. There is more than enough food for thought for everyone.

    This is Christopher Nolan’s first original story after Following. Christopher Nolan has proven time and again how deft he is in handling complex characters and plot-lines.


    On the surface Inception is an action packed science fiction film but where it separates from the pack is it’s multi-layered narrative. Christopher Nolan experimented with multiple genres in this film — it is a heist film in a science fiction type setting but under the hood is really a love story. This is Christopher Nolan’s third stab at experimenting with the perception of reality. I was listening to his interview with Elvis Mitchell on KCRW before the release of Inception and he mentioned his inspiration goes all the way back to Akira Kurosawa. 

    Without talking too much about the setting I want to delve deeper in the web of narrative style.

    Story De-construction

    Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb who is a masterful thief of human consciousness. How they do it is not really the crux of the film. On the surface it seems an ensemble cast with excellent performance from every actor. However what drives the story forward is really the need of Dom Cobb (DiCaprio). One theme which on an on resonates in the story is “to go home”. This strong desire to go home is what drives him to plan the big heist. The film had lot of international settings and clearly reflects Nolan’s fascination for the magnanimity of Bond films.

    Usually in the heist films all the characters seem very similar as style takes over the substance. As Nolan puts it “heist films are typically emotionless”.

    The film questions the very basic fabric of reality – what’s real and what’s not? It is not surprising that the inspiration also comes from the films from the late 1990s namely Dark City and The Matrix and to an extent Memento.

    Without giving away too much I want to say that the film is way different then anything you might have seen before. It is deep in terms of emotionality and narrative structure. I am sure film students in future will have hard time deciphering the meaning conveyed in the story.

    Editing Style

    Nolan is a big fan of Nicholas Roeg (director of Don’t Look Now, Walkabout and many more). His editing style is apparent here and the third act itself is best example of cross-cutting ever practiced in cinema. This whole sequence is the highest point of film and perfected with cross cutting. The tension never dips and keeps on mounting until the final catharsis.


    The film deals with subconsciousness and vastness of mind and Wally Pfister’s cinematography effectively captures the limitlessness of the world without calling attention to itself. The film wasn’t shot on the IMAX cameras so even if you don’t watch it there you are not going to miss anything. It is still equally great in terms of storytelling.

    Sigmund Freud said, “Dreams are often most profound when they seem the most crazy.” In Inception every world is governed by its own laws of Physics. What is impossible here is a reality in other. The only thing that limits the laws of the world is our ability to imagine.

    The film is intelligent, smart and for most part something very original. I am sure that film theorist will deconstruct the story in the years to come. It’s a film which you watch for the first time for fun and subsequent times to understand. I cannot wait to watch this film again sometime next week once the fever settles down.

    In The Dark Knight somewhere near the end of the third act there is a sequence where Joker plants explosive inside two passenger ships. One is carrying hardcore criminals and other innocent civilians. He gives choice to captains of both ships to blow the other one otherwise he’ll blow both of them in an hour. This plot device is heavily used in films and is particularly found in films where protagonist often have to make a choice between two bad options.

    Ladies and gentlemen welcome to the world of Game Theory. Before we begin I must iterate game theory is not just about video games.

    In it’s simplest definition game theory is a branch of science/strategy that studies behavior of people embroiled in a specific situation. It is widely used by law enforcement, politicians, economists to plan their strategies in situations such as negotiation, planning economic policies or devising a plan to win election.

    What I want to discuss is not related to any of the things above but how Game Theory has been used effectively in some of the most popular films in the past.

    The Dark Knight example above is one of the most popular game termed as Prisoner’s Dilemma. This game was conceived by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher but Albert W. Tucker coined the term.

    This game involves two or more players (or prisoners) who cannot co-operate with the authority (whatever that may be) because co-operating will noDark Knightt be in best of their interests.

    Typical scenario is very often a variant of the following situation:

    Two suspects are questioned into separate rooms and offered a similar deal. If one rats out the other, s/he may go free while the other receives a life imprisonment. If neither complies both are given moderate sentences, and if both complies the sentences for both will be severe.

    Typical Characteristics

    Prisoner’s Dilemma is a commonplace in TV shows and films dealing with law enforcement situations. However this dilemma is not limited to law enforcement based films but can also be found in instances where protagonist is forced to make a tough choice.

    More than a strategy game it is a psychological game. In a typical scenario the authority figure feeds on insecurity of the players. The players are often cornered in a no-way-out place. Ratting out the other partner seems like the best and the easiest choice.

    Authority figure often acts as god or godlike archetype such as Devil, Faust or Mephistopheles to the players. In The Dark Knight, Joker acted as a true incarnation of Mephistopheles by offering difficult choices to Batman.

    Authority figure in all cases need not be an external entity. Very often it is the player’s need which defines the characteristics of the figure. If internal it is usually manifested via any of the great sins, usually greed.

    Some films which employed this technique (internal / external) are:

    • Treasure of Sierra Madre
    • Gamer (Although not a good film by any stretch)
    • Dark Knight
    • Murder by Numbers
    • L.A. Confidential
    • Lost TV Series (a poster child for game theory)
    • North By Northwest
    • Maltese Falcon

    Largely unnoticed but film noir employed variants of Prisoner’s Dilemma. Usually authority figure in such kind of films is internal. Lack of trust and greed usually acts as authority figure often crumbling the symbiosis which otherwise would have benefitted both parties.

    In Treasure of Sierra Madre it is greed for gold which drives all the players to deceive each other thereby making authority figure internal.

    In films such as Gamer (2009), Death Race, Running Man the authority figure is often an external entity such as lawmaker, industrialist or warden. The primal need here is survival which will be compromised if players don’t co-operate. Such kind of films have very generic plot elements rendering the story very predictable. However these films are mainly action films where predictably is often expected.

    TV Series Lost made a good use of Prisoner’s Dilemma by forcing the survivors to collaborate if they want to survive against all the monstrosities that exist on the island. The creators realized that if they make authority figure known then the story will lose its charm and most likely will fall in the same trap as any of those prison / futuristic action films. They introduced a unique design principle by making the authority figure mysterious and unpredictable. This introduced another layer of complexity to the principles of Prisoner’s Dilemma.

    If you are a writer of screenplay or novel it might be a good idea to understand various types of games in the game theory. It adds a layer of unpredictability to the stories. However if not used properly it might seem clichéd. Discretion is highly advised.

    Sun Tzu quotes in art of war, “All war is based on deception.”

    Prisoner’s Dilemma is nothing but a deception wrapped in the form of good choice. If you know how to weave that illusion in your plot then you have a winning story.

    There are a lot of good resources on the web to understand the intricacies of game theory. Some of the good ones are as follows:

    People of my generation probably never heard of Sam Peckinpah (often quoted as Bloody Sam) unless you are a film fanatic or a student. Peckinpah was never afraid of painting violence in his film. In fact most of his films pushed the boundaries of the medium as in The Wild Bunch, The Getaway (1972), Straw Dogs. People often remember him as a director of westerns when most of his contribution is towards the modern cinema as we know it today.

    I happen to catch Straw Dogs today on DVD and having seen Peckinpah’s previous body of work realized why critics are polarized when it comes to his films.


    Straw Dogs is about a quiet American academic who moves to his wife’s English country home where trouble with locals increases the tension resulting in the final powder keg.

    More than violence the film is about the nature of violence.

    When the film was released in theaters it generated a lot of controversy both in terms of violence and for the infamous rape scene. This film along with some other controversial films (Clockwork Orange) released same time heralded the new age of graphic violence in the cinema. Great filmmakers were never afraid and will never be afraid in their experimentation with violence. After all it is a hard but known fact of our society.

    Dustin Hoffman really pulled off the role of David Sumner in the film. It was a great and naturalistic performance. Susan George also did justice (not great though) to the role of Amy.

    The cinematography was simple and serviceable.

    The editing is where the film championed. One particular instant is the church scene. The juxtapositions of violent imagery of rape and magic tricks of Reverend were really disturbing. From Amy’s point of view it was reliving the nightmare again and again. The editing style almost reminded me of Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now or even opening scene of Peckinpah’s Getaway.  It was an effective attempt at Kuleshov’s technique.

    Straw dogs.jpg

    David Sumner’s character arc is well-defined. From a coward academic he becomes an ultra-violent person when his home and his family were threatened. His calmness in the third act was almost menacing and you always think, “Why the hell is this guy acting so calm?”. I think people will always have a differing opinion what really is happening inside his head — was he in control or in a state of denial / shock. Another question was why is he hell-bent on saving the crazy person. There were all such kind of questions and thankfully were never answered. A good filmmaker always gives a glimpse of a character but never defines his or her boundaries. David is a guy like us an academic or a normal white-collar professional. In order to understand his psychology try imagining yourself in the same shoes and probably you might understand what’s happening.

    Amy’s character was great but didn’t had the kind of arc you would be expecting. But that’s OK. The film is not about Amy’s reaction but a case study about our tendency towards violence.

    Jim Morrison quoted “Violence isn’t always evil. What’s evil is the infatuation with violence”. Thankfully I don’t agree with the second part.

    There is a great essay about Straw Dogs at criterion (Publisher of the world’s best cinema on DVD and Blu-ray):