…think anybody will notice?
Some nights ago I could not fall asleep, so I switched on my already-dusty TV; as I adapted to the blinding flash, it did not even take two seconds for me to realize which movie was about to start: Collateral.
I know that I am about 11 years late with writing a review on this movie, so I will leave that out. Instead, I want to discuss it on a quite personal level and show you my favorite scene and reflect on a thought-provoking scrap of conversation between the main characters Max, a visionary cab driver who does not live up to his dreams played by Jamie Foxx and Vincent, a sociopathic and nihilistic hitman played by Tom Cruise.
What Makes this Movie so Compelling?
There is something about this movie that leaves me musing and bewildered whenever I watch it and nights like this one are not that seldom. Frankly speaking, this something still remains to be unmasked. The well-made technical execution and filming, on the one hand, surely contribute to it: the camera angles, well-timed cuts, fullness of symbolism, dark tone and gloomy lighting during most scenes. So does the excellent performance of Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx on the other hand. Not to mention the capturing dialogues between the main characters from the beginning to the end. Really, I cannot think of another movie featuring lines that capture my attention like Collateral’s. Just at the moment I have processed one of Vincent’s countless pithy remarks, the next one follows straight away and strikes. There’s no chance to zone out, not even for a second. To me, Collateral is more of a philosophical take on modern big city life than a typical action flick. Don’t get me wrong, the action scenes are strong, really strong and well choreographed, but the subliminal nuances are what makes this movie outstanding and definitely one of my personal favorites.
The Inconspicuous Climactic Scene
I claimed there is no pause for breath in this film. Well, this may not be quite correct. There is, in fact, one single scene halfway through the movie that allows you to recollect yourself and brace for the second half. This is also my favorite scene, maybe even my favorite film scene in general. It is brief; there are no words, just a well-chosen song, “Shadow on the Sun” by Audioslave, which underlines the message and artistic tone of this atmospheric scene. Please, see it for yourself:
To me, this scene is like an allegory to the main characters’ situation. Fates intertwined. Cosmic Coincidence. However, the key aspect of this scene seems to be Vincent’s affection. Director Michael Mann highlights this by directing the camera perspective right at his facial expression. This is, in fact, the only time in the movie you can see him at his most vulnerable state. The otherwise so nihilistic and indifferent killer is suddenly struck by the encounter with the coyotes; I think he identifies with their way of life: a cold, lonely and self-willed predator that is misunderstood and kinda out of place in this big city, living as he pleases, invisible to everyone. He probably also realizes his affection for Max who somehow managed to get through to him despite his disconnectedness from humanity. Max brought Vincent back to normality – at least for a brief moment.
So Near And Yet So Far…
Let’s pick up this disconnectedness and discuss it in the context of the aforementioned scrap of conversation:
Max: First time in L.A.?
Vincent: No. Tell you the truth, whenever I’m here I can’t wait to leave. It’s too sprawled out, disconnected. You know? That’s me. You like it?
Max: It’s my home.
Vincent: 17 million people. This is got to be the fifth biggest economy in the world and nobody knows each other. I read about this guy who gets on the MTA [public transportation] here, dies.
Vincent: Six hours he’s riding the subway before anybody notices his corpse doing laps around L.A., people on and off sitting next to him. Nobody notices.
Not only does this very first piece of dialog between the main characters serve as the basis for a brilliantly closed circle, but also make the viewer ponder on modern big city life and human interaction in general. I am not from Los Angeles; I am not even from a town close to these 17 million people. Actually, there are about 360k residents in my hometown, Bochum, a medium-sized city in Germany. Nevertheless, I still feel there is something about the central idea of what Vincent describes that bothers me a lot. I commute via public transport regularly and what I experience in the metro is always the same sad story. There are dozens of people in confined space: so close on a physical level; yet so distant on a personal one. There is absolutely no connection. Most people who forgot to bring something to busy themselves with, such as a book or a smartphone, seem to be nervous and do not really know what to look at; so they look at the ceiling or the interior walls or out of the window – even if there is nothing to see. They look everywhere, but not at other human beings, especially not into their eyes. Okay, at least not overtly. Covertly, however, things are completely different! This is where the fun begins. Everyone looks at everyone, as long as they feel unwatched, but as soon as the look is returned, people cave in and look down. Weak. If eyes meet in a reflective surface – jackpot – some people then feel guilty like a caught child, turn red and maybe even contort themselves like the devil in holy water. I have a strong play instinct, so I have fun playing this game, but at the same time it makes me sad, because I would rather prefer a society of people that do not live in their own little bubbles.
Setting Up the Necessary Connection
From a dry evolutionary perspective, this misery is not only anti-social, but also totally nuts. In order to operate well and expediently in any given situative environment you must know your environment first; in order to know it, you must perceive it. Other human beings are an important environmental factor that must be examined. If our ancestors had not examined everything and everyone precisely and cautiously, you and me would not even have lived at all. Even from this pragmatic point of view, building a connection is vital. Well, I think the situation is not hopeless: the described covert inspection of fellow travellers at least implies that there is some genuine interest in connectedness and human touch; there just happen to be some weird irrational fears holding people back from making it really come up. I think the problem is that people cave in way too fast and lack stamina to withstand the impulse to look down. But why? There is really nothing to be afraid of about friendly eye contact. It is not like you convey any offensive or weird signals by looking at your surroundings in a friendly way; you simply convey curiosity, friendliness and interest. What matters in communication is the message. Well, if you dart a lustful or intimidating glance at your opposit, your message is obviously a different one. So always try to be conscious of your messages, both verbal and nonverbal. Remember, even no message is still a message. By ignoring your surroundings and openly avoiding any interhuman relations you signal total apathy and – even worse – contribute to that awful disconnectedness. So, please, do not take part in that aforementioned covert… uhm… coward game any longer.
A Call To Action
I’m not Jimmy Wales, but I do have a personal appeal to you. When you are using public transport the next time, take a look at all the people, be conscious of your environment, read people’s faces and body language and when your eyes meet, stay strong and be bold and hold the eye contact for a moment and even dare to smile at a stranger; let some brief connectedness emerge. Believe me, it will be a positive experience and better the rest of the day. Well, if not for yourself, at least do it for Vincent, so he possibly does not feel like killing people any longer or for that dead guy riding the subway, so he can finally be noticed. As of right now, I am afraid a guy could really get on the subway, die and ride it for six hours without anyone noticing it – or even longer!
Take care, friends.