We’ve been in a bit of a dry spell here at THiNC. Hate to say it, but it’s true. Seems like forever now that we’ve continued to watch, discuss, and explain fairly meh movies. Hollywood, in its fervor to spew hero movies at us, has left us a bit adrift in the wide world of great movies to make us think. But not today baby! Not today. Today I am bringing you a perfect 5 out of 5 on the THiNC. Richter scale. What?!? The rare THiNC. unicorn of 5/5 has been seen in the wild again? And it’s not Captain Marvel?!?! Agog!
Well, yeah, here’s the news, hot of the presses, the movie Captive State will keep you on your toes. It’s a movie full of characters that matter. It’s a movie made out of sacrifices and struggles. It’s a riveting struggle against an oppressive overlord that is almost certainly bound to fail. And thus it’s compelling nature.
For the love of all that is good and holy – just trust me on this one – Captive State is worth your time. You are on this site after all. Basically means that you have self selected into a group of individuals that love complicated movies that force you to think in order to fully grasp what is going on. Yes? Trust me, I’m always right. Watch the dang movie. It just came out in theaters this weekend, but because it is counter-programmed against Captain Marvel, I doubt it’ll be in theaters too long. Because the world can’t handle this level of awesome.
Next Stop Captive State Spoilers
OK, look – I like you. Maybe we’ve just met. Maybe you are new here – but you know what – I kinda like that glow you give off. Your smile. But if you keep reading, and haven’t yet watched this movie, I will drive to your house and fork your lawn. Please don’t make me do that. Because it’d be a lot of driving, and I have five kids now – and phew – they’d be sad with me gone all the time as I drive around the country forking lawn after lawn. Just don’t, OK? Thanks for that. Because from here on out, we are diving deep into the guts of this movie, to talk it through, so that in the comments we can discuss it, and talk about the greatness that is Captive State. OK? And I’m sure a lot of you that just walked out of the theater are wondering if anyone on the interwebs knows what the heck happened in this movie. So yeah, let’s dive in, shall we?
Starting the movie off, ten years after an alien conquering of the planet earth is a fascinating way to start any story. It’s like setting your story deep in the trenches of the civilian world of World War II (Cough Transit Cough) without giving any sort of backstory or setup. Sort of a setup like Red Dawn (the original, thank you very much) or maybe District 9…where there was an obvious need for an uprising, but that the world really wasn’t comfortable with that little detail. But if we look back through history, this is way more common than we would like to realize. Think of all the times that a foreign power took over a domestic community, and then the locals choosing to be OK with their subjugation. I mean, after all, the movie’s opening makes it clear that unemployment is down, the military has been disbanded, and generally, life is good in this new world of subjugation. So hey, why look a gift horse in the mouth?
But in Captive State, we are thrust, from the beginning, into the cell of a guerrilla resistance movement. We don’t initially realize what is happening, but the dots are slowly and methodically connected by William Mulligan (John Goodman’s character, made famous by his role in 10 Cloverfield Lane, of course) as he chases down the connections he has been cultivating the last two years. He seems to be hellbent on chasing this dissident collective in order to prevent another costly attack against their kindly overlords. And as he pulls at the thread he begins realizing that Gabriel Drummond (played by Ashton Sanders made famous by his role in Moonlight) might be the key to this uprising.
Who is this Gabriel Drummond though? In the opening minutes, we see that when the aliens first invaded earth, Gabriel’s father was determined to get them out of Chicago in order to regroup and counterattack. So much so that he ran barriers, and blockades, and ultimately came in contact with the aliens, which killed the parents. And there in the backseat was Gabriel, and his brother Rafe Drummond (played by Jonathan Majors, who I first encountered in the movie, We Are the Hostiles, which I adored) who were profoundly impacted by the encounter. So much so that Rafe leads the Pilsen uprising…the uprising that hurt the aliens, but also brought hellfire down and pulverized the entire community. It was also the uprising that supposedly killed Rafe. But actually, Rafe isn’t dead, he is busy leading a new cell-network that is going to take another crack at the aliens.
When Mulligan notices an ad in the classifieds section of the newspaper for a Phoenix Fire Systems – with a logo that he has see graffitied on the streets – he is certain that it is a system of communicating among the cell members. And sure enough, Gabriel (archangel anyone?) was passed secret information in a cigarette paper at work with the tracker identifier SRH DEC 1381-372 on it. Which was the tracker for Robert Watts. Which Gabriel passes on via the classifieds. After doing so, he is lead deep into Pilsen, where he is connected with his brother Rafe, again – who Gabriel had assumed had been dead since the previous cell attack. And it would seem that the plan for the cell was to hit the legislature’s visit to the Unity Event at Soldier Field. But Rafe tells Gabriel to run for it, to get his girlfriend, take the money he gave him, and run for it. But when Gabriel attempts to flee with his girlfriend Rula (played by Madeline Brewer of the brilliant film Braid, and the Handmaid’s Tale) she attempts to dissuade him from going, but alas and alack, he goes anyway. Only trouble is, when he arrives at the boat he was going to use to cross the lake, it’s been firebombed…and obviously by Mulligan.
Cross fade back to Rafe, who is busy pulling his cell together to make the hit on the Legislators. But their number one concern is their trackers, that everyone has in their necks. So they perform surgery on everyone in the crew, and then distribute the trackers stolen from corpses that hadn’t been legally written up as dead, which allowed them a level of anonymity moving in and around the stadium. The goal being to plant the invisible bio-material (semtex/plastique equivalent) on Mr. Watts for when he greets the Legislators. Obviously it doesn’t go exactly to plan, but they eventually pull it off, vaporizing the Legislator delegation that was coming in peace and all civility to address the stadium. But now? The Legislators send in the trackers to hunt down and kill the perpetrators who are seriously considering just pulverizing everything in the cell’s neighborhood.
Fast forward a bit, past a suicide to avoid capture, and the capture of Rafe, and it looks like the entirety of the cell is paying for their hit on the Legislators. Well, Mulligan, intent on finishing his efforts to root out the cell, uses Rafe to flip Gabriel to send a message in to the Phoenix in order to get to talk to number 1, the leader of the rebel alliance. But when Gabriel goes in to speak with her, the house is ransacked, and Jane Doe is killed. And Mulligan, true to his word, frees both Gabriel and Rafe.
And just like that, the Phoenix cell is splintered and destroyed. By betrayals within and terrors without, the uprising is no more. Or is it?
When Mulligan is brought before the Legislators to learn what happened, he tells of how they rooted out the guerrilla network and killed number one. And in so doing they found a stash of tapes recording compromising conversations between number one (who was a prostitute) and various important human dignitaries. The most important of which was Commissioner Eugene, the head of the human liaison effort to the Legislators. Who, mid-recording, gets up from his seat and runs for it. Which, conveniently, escalates Mulligan to Commissioner.
And in the biggest surprise and right hook of the movie, we see Commissioner Mulligan geared up and ready to descend the shaft in order to meet with the aliens in person in order to get his orders…while completely covered in explosive materials. Wait, WHAT?!
The Explosive Ending of Captive State Explained
Alright. In order to explain the ending of the movie Captive State, we need to go back to the beginning and start over again. And the most important relationship to remember, was that Mulligan was a police detective, who was partners with Gabriel and Rafe’s father. Remember their father’s last words, which were, run, regroup, and counter attack. Now, assume that the rest of the movie was an ode, a memorial solely to him. And it was all headed and coordinated by people close to him and their family. A history teacher (number 1), a fellow detective, a physician, a newspaper editor, etc., etc. all pulling together in order to create the network necessary to hit the aliens when they least expect it.
Now, it’s the opening weekend, and I’ve already watched it three times. So you are going to have to trust me when I saw that this movie holds up under re-watching scrutiny. But you have to assume one thing…and that is that Mulligan is always playing his part. He is always assuming that he is being overheard, or over watched. So when Mulligan is hassling Gabriel it’s all for his own good. And heck, Rula, Gabriel’s girlfriend, she is a plant from the department to keep an eye on him. Gabriel is literally as lost and clueless as we are, but he is guided and manipulated by the cell in order to bring about the demise of the cell. Gabriel is manipulated in order to bring about the Trojan Horse gift buried deep in the mine shaft #3 of the closed sector in Chicago.
Now, looking back on the ending, we know that the empty gun, sitting next to number one, was just to give the officers an excuse to shoot her. And the struggle and fight with the hunters was preordained as well. All to give the appearance of the cells complete collapse. Better yet? Commissioner Eugene could very well have been completely setup. Maybe he was a John of Jane Doe. Or maybe he had never been there. But it was definitely intentional that they planted his voice on the tapes to play in front of the aliens. And why would they do that? Solely to escalate Mulligan into the Commissioner’s role in order to give him safe passage down into the closed sector.
A Few Thoughts About Captive State
I was struck the other day by the brilliance of the French movie Transit. The movie was about a modern day reenactment of the World War II evacuations and sacking of France. But I was just shocked, all over again, of the capitulation and coordination of Vichy France. The way in which they bowed to Nazi Germany’s every whim. (Sarah’s Key is a gut wrenching deeper dive on this topic if you are interested (either the book or the movie)). This movie similarly explored this horrible human tendency. To scrabble for the scraps and to kick and scrum your way above the other destitutes among you. But that it takes a truly exceptional group of people to stand against this tide of self preservationist tendencies that most humans have.
Most people fear change. Whether it’s change against a tyrannical oppressor, or change to New Coke. People hate change. It’s a maxim. It’s a literal truth. And the overwhelming force of inertia involved in overthrowing the known is nigh on impossible. Which is why we still celebrate George Washington and his men crossing the Delaware on Christmas day in order to kick the Brits in the teeth. We sing their songs and tell their stories not because they are easy, but because they were horrifyingly difficult.
Which is why I absolutely loved this movie. It was a rag tag group of people that lived and then died for their beliefs in order to stand for a bigger truth. They died to bring about freedom from the oppressive world order that these aliens had forced upon humanity.
Never mind the fact that this movie did wonders with a 25 million dollar budget. And as a modern David, standing against the tide of a Captain Marvel Goliath, it is assumed to get crushed. But not on my watch! Once more into the breech my friends, once more!!
Edited by, CY