Rendering Judgment

Matt Yglesias seems to have enjoyed Rendition a little more than I did, but I more or less agree with him on this:

Meanwhile, while making a bunch of other worthy political points in obvious ways, it also did a good job with a subtler point, namely that normal people find the idea of torturing another human being distasteful. And everyone understands that. A normal person isn’t going to have the stomach for the torturing job. So, consequently, once you adopt routine torture as a matter of policy you’re soon enough going to find that your torturers — not the Bushes and Cheneys and Yoos but the people who actually need to get their hands dirty — are going to be people inclined toward sadism. Normal people aren’t going to want to be professional torturers, and the ranks of professional torturers are going to be filled with people who like torturing. Like everything about this foul business, of course, that’s a terrible way to get accurate information.

I think this is true in certain cases, namely where the job of “torturer” (do you get to put that on your business cards? on an office door plaque?) is an explicit sort of thing, as in the film, rather than, say, something a little more general and less obvious like “terrorist prison guard.” All sorts of experiments and historical anecdotes suggest that people we might assume to be otherwise well adjusted are perhaps more willing to engage in acts of cruelty than we might otherwise expect.

I’d add, though, that he seems to like the movie in large part because of what it says. There’s nothing wrong with that, exactly (I’ve praised movies at least partly because I like their messages on plenty of occasions), but it backs up my point that, while generally well-meaning, the filmmakers seemed more invested in making certain points than really delivering a compelling cinematic experience.

And while we’re on this note, the Post has a list of 5 Myths About Rendition which gets into the accuracy (or lack thereof) of some of what goes on in the movie.