You heard right, Tom Cruise, tell people to wear the damn masks or fight me!
You may feel placing sole blame for the American unwillingness to wear masks on famous actor, Tom Cruise, is a bit extreme. Well, I answer that accusation with a question: Have you ever seen Mission Impossible: Fallout?
Last week in the forced-comfort of quarantine, I watched the latest installment in the MI series with my little sister because she insisted. At age 11, she still has that innocent infatuation with all things “spy” and, according to my step-mother, is still too young for me to explain that the CIA is just an extra-judicial arm of a capitalist, white supremacist government that our country uses to silence freedom fighters and…
Yeah, maybe Pam is right, 11 is too young.
The plot of Mission Impossible: Fallout kicks into gear when Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) lets an international terrorist organization get away with three nuclear bombs in an attempt to save his teammate. The “fallout” the title references is not just nuclear, it’s the fallout of his choice to place the life of one man over the lives of many.
Fallout spends the whole film meditating on this choice, questioning whether Hunt’s non-stop gambling with the lives of millions will ever catch up to him. In some ways, that makes it the most interesting of the MI franchise, questioning the ideology of the American action hero.
Of course, when Hunt inevitably snatches victory from the clutches of defeat, the movie becomes a simple re-affirmation of the individualist ideology that has kept the U.S. under quarantine months after the rest of the world contained their corona virus spread.
The controversy surrounding masks in the US mirrors the this classic Mission Impossible format. One side says wear a mask to stop the spread of corona virus. The other side says, “At what cost?”
When pressed on exactly what “cost” the mask rejecters are referring to, they may respond, “freedom” or “their rights.” Those who choose to mask up are sheeple, they’ve failed the government “compliance test.”
Behind these arguments are two fundamental concepts: Firstly, that the individual’s rights outweigh the collective good, and secondly that there must be another way.
To give Tom Cruise just the tiniest bit of slack, the “critical decision” moment has been a part of Hollywood cinema for years. Post 9/11 action films have simply adjusted for inflation. Now instead of Batman having to choose between saving Robin and Chase Meridian, the choice must be between the individual and millions! Sometimes even the whole Universe!
In The Last Jedi, when Fin attempts to sacrifice himself to save the Resistance, Rose Tiko jumps in with a “Save what we love!” When all Thanos needed was Visions’ infinity stone to destroy half the universe, Captain America puts the kibosh on kibosh-ing vision!
My biggest problem with “Mission Impossible” ideology in the pandemic is less the American individualism. I mean, sure, we may never progress as a society until we broaden our focus beyond the individual toward the community—but, what worries me more in this pandemic is the “There is always another way” mindset.
Tom Cruise spends the last forty minutes of MI: Fallout on a fifteen minute timer, dangling from a helicopter, chasing down sexy-bad-guy-Henry-Cavill in said helicopter, crashing both helicopters, and then fist fighting with Henry Cavill, and on until with literally one second left he defuses the nuclear bombs.
MI: Fallout is extreme by design. It means to test our belief that Tom Cruise/Ethan Hunt will eventually save the day, test it to its very limits, and then yes, prove us right. It means to shore up our belief in American exceptionalism against even the most impossible odds.
But Tom Cruise won’t save us from this virus. And, in fact, he doesn’t have to. We just have to put in some individual sacrifice in at act one, and avoid the third act battle all together. We just have to wear the damn masks.
Does this mean I’ll never watch MI: Fallout again? Hell no! Did you see how thicc Henry Cavill is in them suits? We stan a Beefy Boi. But it’s good to know when you’re eating propaganda with your popcorn. And next time you see a crowd with not a mask among them, shake your fist at the sky and curse Tom Cruise like me.