A cold has severely damaged my already limited thinking abilities. I just rewatched “The Way of the Gun”. I saw it about a dozen years ago and remembered it as an enjoyable and darkly funny action movie with an exceptional performance by James Caan. Seeing it again, the movie, for all its violence and seeming nihilism, is a sustained argument for the personal significance of all people and the need for personal love.

All the characters in the movie are fixated on their own wants. They all want power,  freedom, or identity, or some combination of the three. The result is that every character ends up treating every other character as either a weapon or an obstacle. This shows up in how the movie treats sperm donation, surrogate birth, and abortion. Reflecting on how they can get paid for sperm donation, a character muses that, if you are careful with how you spend your money, you can be self-sustaining.  A rich couple hire (and practically imprison) a woman to be a surrogate mother because the healthy wife does not want to go through child birth. An obstetrician becomes an abortionist after a career damaging mistake saying that he has decided to end mistakes rather than make them. The stuff with abortion and surrogacy needs to be seen in the context of the rest of the story. The characters spend most of the time treating adults with the same kind of pragmatic impersonality.

And yet none of the characters can rest easy. They are haunted by the need for personal love. The rich couple’s home is a hell of resentment, lies, and latent violence even before the surrogate mother is kidnapped. The abortionist is desperate at the thought that his pregnant girlfriend will lose her unborn baby. The two loser kidnappers at the heart of the story begin by thinking that they have no personal significance whatsoever. That morally frees them up to do whatever they want in order to get as much power and freedom as possible within a meaningless universe. They don’t end up with the money or their lives, but they get a kind of redemption. They have a chance to see (and to treat) their fellow humans as ends rather than means.

Articles by Pete Spiliakos

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