fail safe


-- चार हजार एक सौ सत्रह --

Back to having not much to tell you today: I didn't go anywhere last night. I rode my bike home, and Shobhit and I watched the 1964 Sidney Lumet film Fail Safe, which I had never seen before, and was actually overall kind of stunningly bleak. I didn't find it especially believable, and Shobhit disagreed.

Oh, I guess I take it back; I'm going to talk about this movie. Spoiler alert! When the U.S. President (Henry Fonda) finds out his bombers who were mistakenly given the order to bomb Moscow are not coming back, he offers to bomb New York City himself as an act of good faith in order to prevent the U.S. and the Soviets from completely annihilating each other's countries, rather than "only" their respective largest cities. This is actually how the movie ends: with New York City getting nuked! You don't see any explosions -- there are almost no special effects in this movie, as it's all about the drama in the dialogue (and would make a pretty effective play, come to think of it) -- but the very last sequence is a rapid-fire shots of daily life in a New York City oblivious to the fact that it's about to be vaporized.

I was kind of amazed that the movie went there, but then, I grew up in a far different era -- although I am old enough to remember the real fears of nuclear holocaust that lasted through the eighties, most of my life has been spent with far greater fear of the effects of climate change. I kept having to remind myself that a movie like this would have played far differently to audiences in the mid-sixties, when Cold War paranoia was at its height.

Still, I had a rather hard time imagining any scenario at all in which any U.S. president would nuke one of his own cities under any circumstances. Shobhit pointed out to me that the choice was itself a fail-safe: a means to preventing the entire country from being destroyed, since the Soviets would see before they had any need to attack multiple targets that the President had kept his word. It still felt like a movie scenario rather than a plausible real-life scenario. Perhaps more plausible in the sixties than now, though: Can you imagine our current President acting in any way rationally under similar circumstances? I absolutely cannot.

As I also pointed out to Shobhit, in a real-world hypothetical of this movie's situation, I don't think it would ever even have gotten to the point where the President could offer such a fail-safe as an option. Our respective countries would have begun nuking each other well before that was possible -- as the civilian professor played by Walter Matthau kept suggesting. (That character really annoyed me, but his presence in the script made sense.)

Something else about this film's historical context made it interesting to me. To wit, this passage from its Trivia section on its page:

Columbia Pictures produced both this movie and Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). Director Stanley Kubrick insisted his movie be released first, and it was, in January 1964. When Fail-Safe (1964) was released, it garnered excellent reviews, but audiences found it unintentionally funny because of "Strangelove", and stayed away. Henry Fonda later said he would never have made this movie if he had seen "Strangelove" first, because he would have laughed too.

Dr. Strangelove is absolutely and objectively the far superior film of the two, but, having not seen that one in quite some time (to my surprise, my Netflix account shows no record of my having ever either getting it on DVD or streaming it, suggesting it's been more than a decade at minimum), it was far from my consciousness while watching it, so could not taint my experience of it -- unlike, apparently, 1964 audiences. I found Fail Safe to be pretty good, if implausible; I'm glad I finally saw it, in any case, as I had never seen it before.

I did not realize it had such a similar theme to the last Netflix movie Shobhit and I watched, the 1983 Matthew Broderick film WarGames, which also has a computer glitch setting things in motion for nuclear war. Spoiler alert again! The key difference is that in WarGames the bombing is actually avoided in the end. Fail Safe is a far more philosophical film, clearly intended to make audiences self-reflect; WarGames is more of just a straightforward thriller. I think WarGames holds up way better, although I do agree with Shobhit that the inciting incident is more plausible in Fail Safe (computer glitch sends code as go-ahead to drop nukes on Moscow) than in WarGames (hacking teenager prompts computer to misinterpret intentions and set things in motion for bombing), but I still feel that everything that happens after the respective inciting incidents is more plausible in WarGames.

I would have added these two movies to my Netflix queue years ago, as that's how long it takes for titles to get all the way through since I spend far more time with streaming -- there's no question in my mind that I added the two together deliberately, and must have read something somewhere about their similarities. I can't remember what the hell that might have been, though.

Knowing that Roger Ebert began his movie-reviewing career in the sixties, I did look to see if I could find a review of Fail Safe, as I've always wanted to know what he thought about specific movies I was watching -- but I could find none. The best I could find was one of his "Great Movie" essays, on -- of course -- Dr. Strangelove, in which he said nothing about Fail Safe, but someone posted a comment in which they wrote, This was actually a far MORE realistic portrayal of the business of Strategic Bombing than the sappy "Fail Safe". If you Google Rogert Ebert and Fail Safe, this page comes up with that sentence as part of the preview, making it seem as though Ebert himself said it -- but he didn't. And I'm glad, because it surprised me that Ebert would use that word to describe Fail Safe, which is a lot different from Dr. Strangelove but is hardly sappy.

I am thinking now, though, that I should definitely watch Dr. Strangelove again. It's been too long, and it was Stanley Kubrick's only straightforward comedy -- and a brilliant one. Shobhit would probably enjoy it. I'm a little bummed that it's not available on any of my streaming platforms (Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Amazon) but whatever; I just added it to my Netflix DVD queue.

-- चार हजार एक सौ सत्रह --


-- चार हजार एक सौ सत्रह --

The rest of my evening was otherwise kind of unusual. Shobhit had eaten a relatively heavy lunch at an Indian buffet on the eastside and was not yet very hungry, so I waited until after the movie to start making us lettuce-wrapped veggie burgers. Shobhit wound up not touching his, both because he still wasn't hungry and because he was feeling unwell last night -- so much so that even after taking two Aleve for his slight headache, he gave up on the crossword puzzle shortly after we started it because he was feeling nauseated. He took my suggestion to go to bed and was actually sound asleep well before 9:00. He got a good, solid eight hours or more of sleep, and when I asked him this morning -- having gotten up for another early work shift -- how he was feeling, he said, "Much better." I was genuinely relieved to hear that; he can't really afford to be missing work shifts right now.

So, I worked on a couple of playlists -- using my headphones at my computer because Shobhit did not want to hear the music, no matter how low I had the volume, but that was fine -- and then I spent a little time just reading my library book out in the living room. I was in bed myself a little after 10:30, by which time Shobhit had been snoring peacefully for close to two hours. He clearly needed some rest.

-- चार हजार एक सौ सत्रह --

It's a rather nice day today -- sunny, mid-seventies -- so I ate my Tandoor Chef Naan Pizza lunch out on the patio, munching while I just stared out at Puget Sound. I didn't even look at my phone while I was out there.

I usually save this pizza for Friday lunches but had it today because tomorrow is lunch with Karen, and I'm going to semi-skip lunch on Friday, which is our next office "Town Hall" before a Happy Hour intended to start at 4:00. There should be food at that. We'll see how much into it I get before I need to leave; I'm also meeting Laney for Happy Hour -- this very same thing happened the last time I met Laney for Happy Hour. If they have hard ciders again here at work, and then I go drink with Laney, I might get a bit sloshed that day.

Looking forward to it!

-- चार हजार एक सौ सत्रह --