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The International - discussion guide

Author: Richard Blakely

Keywords: Truth, justice, revenge, corruption, deception

Film title: The International
Director: Tom Tykwer
Screenplay: Eric Singer
Starring: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl
Distributor: Columbia Pictures (USA); Sony Pictures Releasing (UK)
Cinema Release Date: 13 February 2009 (USA); 27 February 2009 (UK)
Certificate: R (USA); 15 (UK) Contains strong bloody violence and language

 

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Summary

The International pits Interpol Agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) and Manhattan District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) against the International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC). When a secret meeting with a bank employee goes awry and a fellow agent is killed, Louis and Eleanor set out in pursuit of those responsible. In Milan they learn that the IBBC is involved in weapons sales, seeking to control the world’s debt. They then trail a sniper to New York, where they capture one of the bank’s senior staff, Wilhelm Wexler (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who agrees to help them. He challenges Louis’s perception of justice, revealing to him that the IBBC works with governments across the world, allowing them to operate in the grey areas of morality. Nevertheless, Louis is not deterred. But in order to bring down the bank, they will need to work outside the law. Eleanor has a family, and Louis doesn’t want her to put herself in jeopardy by going with him. So he sets out alone to Istanbul to take on the bank’s manager, Jonas Skarssen (Ulrich Thomsen).

 

Background

The IBBC is a modern interpretation of the real-life Bank of Credit and Commercial International (BCCI), which ran from the 1970s until its collapse in 1991. Though the film’s inspiration is rooted in a scandal in the past, it also has relevance for the current financial crisis. Screenwriter Eric Warren Singer says:

The BCCI was one of the first international banks to aggressively pursue the practice of predatory lending, and now the entire world financial system is experiencing its worst crisis since the Great Depression as a result of predatory lending and the unscrupulous manipulation of debt.

The IBBC in the film is an attempt to portray the methods in which similar banks might operate in the present, utilizing the technology available to them and the influence they cultivate to cover their tracks and keep on top of the game.

 

Questions For Discussion

  1. Did you like this movie? Why/Why not? Did you find the characters and situations believable?

  2. Does the knowledge that the inspiration for the IBBC came from an actual situation affect your opinion of the film? In what ways?

  3. Louis and Eleanor pursue justice for the murdered victims of the IBBC by exposing the truth of its activities to the world. Why do they think that revealing truth is the key to achieving justice? Do you agree?

  4. Why is truth important? Why is it important to be accountable to others?

  5. Do you always tell the truth? Do you think there are any times when it is right to not tell the truth? What is it that makes those occasions the exception?

  6. Do you expect other people to be truthful when they speak to you? What would happen if we could not assume that most people are speaking the truth?

  7. The Bible describes God as ‘the God of truth’ (Isaiah 65:16). Despite truth being so important to his character, many people have a hard time believing what he has revealed in the Bible. Why do you think that is? Why do you think we want to listen to God on our terms, rather than on his?

  8. Louis, attempting to convince Wexler to help him, says, ‘Sometimes a man can meet his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.’ Do you agree with this statement? Why/why not? To what extent are we in control of our own lives?

  9. In the confrontation at the end of the film, Jonas Skarssen says to Louis, ‘Executing me won't change anything. There will be a hundred other bankers to take my place. Everything will continue. The only thing you'll succeed in doing is to satisfy your own bloodlust. And you know it.’ Do you think Skarssen is speaking the truth or is he just seeking to preserve his own life? What real impact would his death have in the fight to stop the bank’s nefarious schemes? What do you think would be a better method of countering the activities of the IBBC?

  10. Wexler tells Louis that his idea of justice is an illusion because the system he serves ‘guarantees the IBBC’s safety because everyone is involved.’ Is justice undermined when those we expect to enforce it are involved in the very corruption they are meant to be fighting? Or is there more to justice than this?

  11. Romans 13:7 demands that respect and honour be given to those in authority. What if we knew that those in authority were involved in covering up murder? Does the government’s involvement in illicit activities negate their right to receive respect and honour from its citizens?

  12. What do you think is meant by the word ‘justice’? Are different interpretations of the word as valid as one another?

  13. What would you say is the difference between revenge and justice? What about between fairness and justice?

  14. Psalm 112.5 and Jeremiah 7:5-6 are both instructions to run business fairly and to treat each other with justice. Good is promised for those who obey these instructions, and bad to those who don’t. Is it therefore our responsibility to ensure that good comes to some and bad to others?

  15. God claims that he is ultimately responsible for ensuring justice is done. Is this reassuring or frightening? Why? The Bible sees human beings as all being guilty of rebelling against God, and therefore as all deserving God’s just punishment. How do you feel about the idea that God’s son Jesus Christ has endured our punishment for us by dying in our place and rising from death so that, if we accept what he has done for us, we can be forgiven?

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Author: Richard Blakely
© Copyright: Richard Blakely 2009

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