I watched a good movie the other night called Collateral. It featured Tom Cruise taking a perfectly good Nicholas Cage part away from him (I suppose by emotionally blackmailing Michael Mann with the news that he hadn’t made a movie in over half an hour; and that he had been told by his therapist to avoid situations where he had too much time on his hands, in case he felt compelled to impregnate teenage virgins and boast about it in Heat magazine). The movie (I’m going to spoil it for you; so if you are the sort of person who contemplates suicide over the removal of the last page of an Agatha Christie novel, look away now) explores the subject of nihilism. “Hmm”, you say “why bring that topic up now?”. Funny you should ask…
A cold-blooded, cold-hearted assassin enlists the help of a cab driver in order to fulfil a shopping list of grisly murders. The cab driver becomes an accomplice; after first having a gun held to his head, he then participates in hiding one body, distracting the second victim, and helping obtain some information from the Mexican mafia on the whereabouts of the last two. He does this (and an obvious, if stupid cameo from the cab drivers mom in a hospital bed explains this … in case we don’t get it) because he is a compliant and helpful and rather weak-willed person.
Our cabbie, Max, comes to realise (quick lad) that his passenger is a completely senseless psychopath. The assassin, played by Cruise, spouts cod-philosophy as a rock for his lizard persona to hide behind. But he also challenges the cab driver (Jamie Fox…yes, I know he spells it with two X’s but I’m not going to) to make something of his life rather than spend another 12 years behind the wheel. The implication is that action, rather than temerity, is the sign of someone fully alive. So even if you are doing something heinous, at least you aren’t doing nothing. What spurs the assassin on is simply being very, very good at his job. And he takes the moral load and shifts it to the more chipped of his two shoulders by explaining how practically insignificant his actions are in comparison with genocide in Rwanda, for instance, or an AIDS epidemic.
Basically if we take the premise that God is dead (or perhaps flipping absent minded or maybe constantly distracted by the 100 billion other galaxies in our solar system), it doesn’t take an extraordinary philosophical leap to conclude that it does not much matter what one does. It is critical for human sanity that one does not leave it there, of course. The movie tries to suggest a proposal for moving forward from this parlous proposition; namely that you may not care about yourself, but that you care enough about other people to want to not destroy yourself, or see them destroyed.
That’s weak. I think people are basically selfish fuckers most of the time. They justify acting self-interestedly by reference to the knock-on benefits that might be being felt by others whilst they are the in act of doing whatever the fuck the like. They enjoy other people’s attention, if it is in praise of themselves, but not if it interferes with their wishes. They will satisfy - and adequately resource the satisfaction of - their own desires, but baulk at providing the same succour for their fellow man, unless there is a really good chunk of self-esteem to be bitten off in the bargain. The film tries to muddle through the moral maze by suggesting our hero is willing to sacrifice himself for someone else. As you know, a Hollywood pitch without someone proselytising would be like an escort service staffed by eunuchs. Actually, what gets our hero going at the end is the good old-fashioned horn. Yes sir! One of the lady lawyers (Jada Pinkett-maybe still-Smith) he picks up/chats up at the beginning and rather fancies is (Surprise!) the last target on the list. And he doesn’t want to see her in small red sticky bits before he’s had a chance to get to know what all the pieces could do for him when still fully assembled. But we’ll let them have the sophistry, because the gist is right. People matter. If you care how other people feel, you’ll go a long way towards reading the mind of God.
We have just past the point where Chelsea are officially better than us. They’re not really “better” of course, when the scales are tipped so unfairly northwards – we have ounces more class and style and a nice new stadium to be going on with, years of sustained success, better looking players, better looking playing surface and a nicer 1st team kit. But they are better at football at the moment. And the big thing that shocked me about them is that they play as a team.
It is an easy thing to do - get a calculator and tot up the cost of that team. It is even easier to be fatalistic about the answer. Hands up who has £300m in change down the back of the sofa that they want to ensure the Russian government can’t get their mits on? Were it just a bunch of highly paid mercenaries, I would hate it but I would accept it. What is hard to stomach - along with Mourinho’s hypocrisy, Joe Cole’s hair, Lampard’s fat arrogant swagger, Drogba’s face and the feeling of despair you get when you see Roman Abramovich’s eyes - is the way they work for each other. It would be easier to criticise the megabucks team, if they weren’t becoming slightly greater than the sum of their rather gaudy parts.
The Blue Scum may be passing us on the up escalator but teamwork has always been an Arsenal byword. Yes, we have players who model underpants and do Cruyff turns. But the smooth machinery of Arsenal could never work without bionic levels of co-operation. Some other teams form an unruly pile on top of a goalscorer as a signifier of dressing room solidarity – we prefer the fact that each one of them touched the ball tellingly in the build-up to the goal, that’s teamwork. Yes, we have a multi-lingual polyglot outfit who fielded a team lacking a single Englishman. But no one doubted that the 11 players in red and white shirts had an astonishing affinity, even if it was just for where Freddie might turn up at a given moment.
Now we actually see our players having a bit of a go at each other…on the pitch. We’re meant to explain this away in our heads as all part of the process of psyching themselves up for the challenge? I don’t buy it. Teams that are playing well don’t have on pitch fracas with their team mates. Teams that are playing badly do. It’s because people are conditioned to look around for someone to blame, I reckon. I know this from a professional viewpoint and any policeman, health inspector, or wife who has read a naughty text message on her husbands phone, will recognise it as well. It’s human nature. You blame someone else to take attention away from yourself. Why most people side with Kolo, in that little contretemps at St James’s, is because he’s playing consistently better than Freddie right now.
But what happens when you actually are powerless, as we now seem to be? What about when what you are being asked to do is actually beyond you? Does the realisation of this rock you back into fatalism, perhaps? Or is it a spur in the haunches to fucking well make them sit up and take notice of you? When Max, the cab driver, is confronted by the futility of his life he immediately decides to begin to drive his yellow taxi suicidally. His passenger, Vincent the assassin, is terrified for the first time. He clearly doesn’t want to lose his own life. It is Vince’s supreme self-confidence in all those life-threatening situations up until now that has meant he doesn’t ever see his life as being at risk. Now he is in the back seat and there is a mad man at the wheel – one he has created. Max, on the other hand is either undertaking a complete nervous breakdown and is about to kill them both. Or he has finally figured out how to overcome the paralysis that has gripped him and take the bull by the horns.
Chelsea, the new Chelsea, were formed out of genuine adversity. Unlike an air disaster or stadium tragedy, Chelsea’s big hurdle is that they are universally resented. The source of their wealth carries a taint as well – most people find it almost impossible to believe that Abramovich, and therefore, Stamford Bridge, came by those funds legitimately. And when you think about how illegitimately those funds might conceivably have been derived, it knocks Nestlé’s hand wringing over baby milk into a cocked trilby. You have to really not give half a shit, let alone two, about a lot of people, to appropriate funds generated by the sweat of many thousands of poverty-line utility workers in a near bankrupt Russian republic and spend it on buying a London football team. (That’s what I mean when I say I look into Roman’s eyes and despair. He’s not Ozymandias – he hasn’t actually “done” any “great works” that we know about – it’s just a feeling I get that he has done something about which I might be appalled). But it has created a mad sort of nihilistic attitude in Chelsea; imperviousness to pain and a robotic, automatic Terminator-like advance on the prize.
It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you win. And it has also generated an ethic whereby the only people Chelsea players trust is their messiah and their mates. Anyone outside the circle might intrude on the mantra, they might introduce a weak ideology into the mix; such as the fact that supporters pay to be entertained, sportsmanship matters and fair play is to be lauded (or some other corrosive bilge).
Are we prepared to act as an unwilling accomplice though, and drive them to the presentation ceremony and open the fucking car door? Such weak displays as we showed yesterday suggest we don’t really feel like we can turn their own gun on them, let alone ours. What Max does, in triumph, is to confront the assassin again. The first time he crashes the motor and they both make their escape. The cops apprehend our man and he sinks to his knees, happy to see the establishment take over and his nightmare come to an end. And then he sees that tasty bit of stuff on a notebook PC that Vince left behind in his upturned cab. He cuffs the cop and sets off after Vince, stealing a mobile phone and breaking a window in the process. He then commits a further felony by shooting Vince in the head. (I’ll leave it there in case you had planned to watch it – I don’t need this movie plot any more, but there is still a good bit to come – I’m not a complete arsehole).
We need to wrest some initiative from the madmen in blue. Before it’s too late. And it will take a change in mind-set. It will take a lot of heart and we may have to overturn a few tables and upset a few people who have been moaning in ecstasy in their armchairs every time Arsenal make three passes in a row. We may have to perform a few acts of daylight robbery. We may have to bust into a fortress or two without permission. But we must start off after the madman, wounded and disoriented as we are. He is now only one floor away from the girl. And she should rightly be ours. There isn’t a moment to lose.
APOLOGIES TO ANYONE WHO HASN’T SEEN THE FILM, AND INDEED TO THOSE WHO HAVE.