Last weekend Miranda and I watched Captain Phillips, the movie about the 2009 hijacking of an American cargo ship by Somali pirates. It was excellent and very intense. For those of you who haven’t seen it, a large portion of the story takes place on a lifeboat where Captain Phillips is kidnapped and held hostage by the pirates. At the end of the movie (I won’t ruin it by saying what happens) I had all of the feelings of relief that I had anticipated. However, I also felt something much less expected: I kind of felt bad for the pirates.
The pirates were supposed to be the villains of the story, but the movie spent ample time developing their characters and explaining their perspective. In one sense they were playing the role of the “bad guys,” but I didn’t fully see them in that light. I actually kind of liked the pirates. I was able to understand their difficult economic and cultural situation, and for a quick moment I was able to see the world through their eyes.
Let’s step back for a moment and contrast Captain Phillips with another film that’s near and dear to my heart: Die Hard.
In Die Hard, the hero (played by Bruce Willis) single handedly vanquishes a group of foreign terrorists that have taken control over a skyscraper in downtown L.A. The villains are all purely one-dimensional and anonymously evil. In the end, Willis’ character is able to dramatically defeat the bad guys, save the day, and reunite with his wife: what a crystal clear triumph of good versus evil.
However, since Die Hard was released in 1988, the world has completely changed. The Internet has allowed people all over the world to tell their stories and be heard by a global audience. The world has become smaller and much more connected.
Entering 2014, the age-old narrative of pure good versus pure evil just seems less realistic. The real world is much more complicated than that.
Don’t get me wrong: there are people in this world who do truly terrible things. There are sociopaths, maniacs, and killers. However, the Internet has given us the ability to understand that well over 99% of all people in the world are truly reasonable, rational people, albeit occasionally driven by desperation to do things that harm others.
One of the truly magical things about the Internet is that it breaks down the physical barriers to global communication that once prevented us from knowing the people of other countries. Now able to fully tell their stories, we can no longer blanket foreign nations with the simple label of “good” or “evil.” We can now get to know them, to understand them, and maybe for a brief moment even see the world through their eyes.