Do You Sacrifice One For Many? Mirren's Latest Film Has No Easy Answers
Helen Mirren says she hopes her new film "doesn't cause any divorces." That's because Eye in the Sky raises some very tricky moral questions. Mirren plays a U.K.-based colonel overseeing a secret drone operation in Kenya. Her mission is to capture a terrorist target, but when it becomes clear the target is assembling a suicide vest for an imminent attack, the question becomes whether to capture or kill.
The decision is anything but clear-cut: The suicide bomber is in the sights of a drone flying overhead. But the strike that could take him out might also kill an innocent girl nearby. Is the life of one girl more important than the lives of those who could be killed if the bomber isn't stopped? What should the generals half a world away do?
"I think of it as a courtroom drama in a way," Mirren tells NPR's David Greene. "The audience are the jury. ... As people come out of the cinema there will be a lot of discussion. ... It takes no sides."
Director Gavin Hood says every character in the film approaches the situation with his or her own truth. "The audience is sitting watching multiple characters involved in this operation, all of whom have very different agendas," he says. "There is no easy answer to this."
Hood and Mirren joined Greene to talk about whether working on the film changed their feelings about drones, and to remember Mirren's Eye in the Sky co-star, Alan Rickman, who died in January.
On forcing the audience to grapple with big moral questions
Gavin Hood: I think what Guy [Hibbert]'s script does so well is he draws most of the audience into a situation where they're ready to pull a trigger, and then he asks: Are you sure you're ready to pull the trigger? Should you pull the trigger? Even if you think you should pull the trigger are there broader political implications and so on that might make you pause?
My parents lived in the war during the blitz and they experienced the German bombers coming overhead and dropping bombs on London. ... . You just prayed for it to carry on over your head and go and drop the payload on someone else.
On personal feelings about drones
Helen Mirren: My parents lived in the war during the Blitz and they experienced the German bombers coming overhead and dropping bombs on London. My mother said by far the worst was what was known as the Doodlebug — which were unmanned drones, if you like, early, early drones. ... You heard it coming and it made this "wuuuuuuuuuuuu" noise and she said the most terrifying thing was when that noise stopped: Because when it stopped it meant it was dropping its payload. And you just prayed for it to carry on over your head and go and drop the payload on someone else. You didn't really care who the other person was, you just didn't want it to drop on your head.
I don't know what I think ... the technology is one thing, the use and how we use the technology, and where we use the technology is a very different thing.
On a more recent experience with a drone
Mirren: I was at a wedding recently and they had a drone up, taking photos ... hovering, making this horrible noise. ... And all of the people in the wedding hated this drone even though it was there for a super benign reason; we all loathed the drone. ... And then the drone accidentally crashed and fell and everybody at the wedding put up a huge cheer. Everyone was so thrilled that the drone was out of the sky.
Can you imagine living in a world where that drone is there on a daily basis and it's not benign and it doesn't belong to you? ... I can't imagine living in that world, it must be so disturbing.
On sacrificing one life for the good of many
Mirren: The appalling moral issue that we've been struggling with as human beings for millions of years is: Do you sacrifice one for the greater good ... one life for 20 lives, for 200 lives, for 500 lives? We know about the little girl [near the suicide bomber] in this movie ... we're not personally involved with the children that might die in the shopping mall on that same day [if the suicide bomber isn't taken out by the drone]. And maybe if we're following one of their stories our whole attitude would change ... and that's sort of the wonder of being a human being and the awfulness of being a human being — we're only really involved in what we're aware of.
On the response to the film
Hood: We had a woman stand up in a Q&A Helen and I were at yesterday who said this is the best anti-war film she has ever seen. ... I had a general the other day saying this film should be shown at every single military college for discussion. So if we want to become better at what we do as a society — be more just — people who operate in different areas of expertise have to talk to each other as opposed to pushing out propagandist information that the other side simply ignores.
On saying goodbye to co-star Alan Rickman
Mirren: The reason I think Alan would love this film — and the reason I love to see Alan in this film — is because it's Alan up there. His elegance, his articulation, his fierce intelligence and his humanity. And it's absolutely Alan that I recognize up on that screen. So I think it's really a great way for us to say goodbye to him.
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