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Film / Unthinkable

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Unthinkable is a 2010 thriller film directed by Gregor Jordan, starring Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Sheen, and Carrie-Anne Moss.

An American Muslim man releases a tape claiming he has planted three nuclear weapons in three separate cities and will detonate them unless his demands are met for U.S. military withdrawal from the Middle East. The FBI agents looking for him are contacted by the military who say that they have found the terrorist. To get the information they have resorted to torturing him. With time running out they are forced to enlist "H" (Jackson), a radical "special interrogator" who will use any means to force the locations out of the terrorist. Moral dilemmas ensue as H goes further and further with the means at his disposal.

This film provides examples of:

  • Being Tortured Makes You Evil: When Agent Brody asks H's wife, Rina, how she can stand to live with and have a family with H considering how he is "not normal" and dangerous by any moral standards, she discloses a dark secret about her past. She once had a family in Bosnia, but three men came to her home and raped her in front of all her family members. They then murdered all her family members with her young son being the last one killed. These men were her neighbors who she admitted were seen as "normal" and known by her personally before the incident. It's pretty clear the experience caused her to become indifferent/borderline sociopathic about what H does or what she does to others, only caring about her own family at this point. What she didn't reveal, according to H, is that after the three men were captured by authorities, she killed their wives and their children in front of them and then she killed the men when US troops arrived.
  • Broken Aesop: The movie deliberately takes no stand and remains ambiguous as to whether H was right - the viewer is free to form their own opinion on the relationship of ethical and moral values and extreme situations and whether the suspension of said values is justified. Unfortunately, the extended version of the movie thoroughly undermines said premise in just forty or so extra seconds - by showing, after the final scene where the children are led away by Brody, that the fourth bomb is indeed real. The screen fades to black as the timer reaches zero, so it is still somewhat ambiguous whether the bomb really explodes, but it seems to be strongly implied... thus pointing out that Younger indeed lied, and implicitly showing that The Extremist Was Right after all - had H tortured Younger's children, the man would have likely broken and the attack would have been prevented.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: The interrogator "H" specializes in this sort of "questioning."
  • Downer Ending: It ends with the terrorist confessing the locations of the three nuclear bombs he has hidden in three different cities in the US. In the extended version, an FBI bomb squad finds one of the bombs and defuses it and are all celebrating. Then the camera pans to a fourth bomb hidden in the same room which counts down to zero, before the screen fades to black.
  • Driven to Suicide: Near the end, Mohammed gets free and grabs an agent's gun, shooting himself after asking Brody to look after his children.
  • Failed a Spot Check: H has to point out to the assembled experts that the precise descriptions of the bombs and the stolen nuclear material mean he had enough to make four bombs, despite only admitting to three.
  • False Dichotomy: The entire plot is build on one, since it presents only two extreme ends of interrogation techniques - torture to death or casual conversation with an established psycho, with absolutely no middle ground between them.
  • Fingore: H begins by cutting off the tip of the terror suspect's finger and it is later shown that he has pulled out all of his fingernails.
  • Hypocrite: Steven makes it all too clear he is totally willing to murder millions of people (including children) if he doesn’t get what he wants. When his own children are in danger, (namely, put in the same room as H) he gives in pretty quickly.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Only this time the bad cop is a Torture Technician with zero regards toward live of the person he interrogates. Or his family.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: "H", the protagonist of the film, is an ex-Army interrogator who uses extreme methods to get a terrorist to talk, which go up to and include cutting off the man's fingers, electrocuting him, and killing his family in front of his face. His methods end up being viewed as crossing the Moral Event Horizon for the counter-terrorism unit assisting him, causing them to run interference.
  • A Million is a Statistic: A homegrown terrorist and aspiring mass murderer has scattered several nuclear devices across the United States and rigged these to explode, which would kill millions of people. A Torture Technician attempts to force the information out of him by any means necessary, with the film questioning the validity of such. While this "dillemma" will seem downright farcical to most people, a better case is presented when the interrogators are considering torturing the man's two innocent children. Later on, the female FBI Agent who's taken the strongest stance against the interrogator's actions trusts the terrorist at his word and causes the deaths of 53 people. Despite this, she plays the trope horrifyingly straight when she openly voices her preference to let thousands of children all be killed to preserve the lives of his.
  • Mutilation Interrogation: Samuel L. Jackson plays an interrogator specialized in Enhanced Interrogation Techniques who is called in by his CIA handlers to torture the whereabouts of hidden nuclear bombs in the United States out of a Muslim American terrorist. The first thing he does is to violently hack off his captive's thumb, prompting a What the Hell, Hero? reaction from his colleagues. He later proceeds to do remove the nails from the rest of his fingers.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: After H kills Mrs. Younger, he's seen crying in the bathroom.
  • Never My Fault: After Steven kills 53 people with a bomb and it is firmly established the nuclear threat is real, he goes on a fanatical rant which can be partially summarized as him blaming pretty much everyone in the room but himself.
  • Papa Wolf: One of H's redeeming qualities - he seems to genuinely love his children and is willing to go to great lengths to protect them - including taking prisoner and possibly planning to kill federal agents, as seen in the beginning of the movie. He does not extend this to other people's children, however.
  • Post-9/11 Terrorism Movie: The film focuses on the psychological toll that extreme interrogation techniques have on its practitioners, and whether or not it being a part of their job makes them "good" guys or not.
  • Title Drop: Towards the end of his interrogation, H, a torture expert working for the US military, says "What I am about to unthinkable".
  • Torture Always Works: Zigzagged. Steven doesn't break when being tortured directly; he let himself be captured knowing he would be subject to such brutality, and is leading the authorities on throughout all of it. H threatening to torture his family does work, but Steven still held back some information. Had H been allowed to follow through, Steven likely would have cracked completely.
  • Torture Porn: Nuclear bombs are set to go off, and it's up to Samuel L. Jackson to torture their whereabouts out of the man who planted them.
  • Torture Technician: H is an unscrupulous one, while also on the military payroll.
  • The Unfettered: "H", an interrogator who specializes in Cold-Blooded Torture. After he is set to work on a terrorist who claims to have planted nuclear bombs in several American cities, he at several points tells his handlers that it is important that his subject believe that he "has no limits." As it turns out, he really doesn't.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: He may be evil in his torture, but H is simply doing this to save millions of lives.
  • Western Terrorists: Steven Arthur Younger is a nuclear weapons expert and ex-military man who has converted to Islam and changed his named to Mohammed Yusuf Atta. He planted three nuclear bombs in three different US cities. The FBI and other agencies must get him to tell them where the bombs are - they achieve this by relying on a lot of Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique.
  • Wham Line:
    • "Bring me the children."
    • “You’re not even gonna tell ‘em about the fourth bomb.”
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Brody in particular gives this to H and the people who utilize him several times. It’s all turned on its head by the end when H lays into them for potentially allowing a fourth potential bomb to go off, arguing that they’re all being ‘selfish’ because they refuse to do things that will keep them up at night even if it means Steven will win.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Invoked by "H" to make the captured terrorist believe that the torture expert truly has no lines he wouldn't cross to get the information out of him that H needs to save the lives of millions. He brings in the terrorist's children and pretends to take them to a separate room to torture them to death, which is enough to make his subject crack. H doesn't go through with it, but leaves it ambiguous whether he would really be prepared to do something that extreme.
  • Written by the Winners: H gives a speech to Younger about he is able to do the terrible things he's done as long as it yields the results his people want. If he paves the way for victory, then his people have the moral high-ground regardless of the atrocities he commits.