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'Furious 7' Is the Perfect Commentary on the Surveillance State

Los Angeles is burning, everything is burning.
Image: ​Universal

​Furious 7 is a huge film filled with huge people. It's a 137-minute tribute to Paul Walker filled with skydiving cars, over-the-top dialogue, lots of explosions, and, of course, no resolution. It's also, I'd argue, a shockingly prescient commentary on the surveillance state.

I'm finding it hard to write anything about this movie without first calling out at least some of the oh-my-god-holy-shit-fuck-yes-America moments in it, so let's just get them out of the way. Vin Diesel and Jason Statham are so fearless, so dumb, so eager to show the other that they are not-a-bitch that in two separate game of chicken, they just slam into each other. The Rock breaks a full-arm plaster cast off to save the day by flexing his bicep. Vin Diesel jumps a supercar between three skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi. There are dozens of these moments.


Image: Universal

That is to say, this is not a movie that you would expect to bring a morsel of intellectual value to the proverbial table, let alone have Something To Say about NSA spying.

I have no idea if that was purposeful—maybe it just so-worked out that the God's Eye is almost exactly like the ring from Lord of the Rings: Super powerful, but ultimately terribly destructive to whoever has it. My first thought is to suggest that screenwriter Chris Morgan lucked into it, but my first thought was also that it was a bad idea for Vin Diesel to gun a supercar out the window of an Abu Dhabi penthouse. Maybe they both just really know what they're doing.

If you haven't seen the movie and don't care about spoilers, here's what happens: A mercenary has kidnapped a US government hacker named Ramsey, who created the God's Eye, a program that has the capability to "hack every connected device in the world simultaneously."

The government can tap into the cameras and microphones of every phone, surveillance device, and laptop around the world to find anyone. In this case, they're looking for a very badass Jason Statham. The government gets Vin and the gang to save Ramsey, Jason Statham shows up a million times, as does the mercenary, lots of gunfights and car crashes ensue.

The God's Eye never does anything useful, because whoever happens to have it (it lives on a USB stick, of all things, and there is no backup?) is immediately targeted, blown up, killed, droned, hit with a lead pipe, et cetera). Abu Dhabi and Los Angeles will never be the same again. The FOIA requests that come as a result of the carnage wrought in Furious 7's final scene are sure to be plentiful; the responses HEAVILY redacted.

Isn't this kind of what we've seen with the NSA? Governments  ​continue developing more and more surveillance tools in the name of keeping us safe. Arguably, it's made us less so. The will of actual people is entirely ignored, in Furious 7, Los Angeles burns; here in real life, it's our privacy rights. No one in the government cares about the collateral damage, so long as the surveillance state is preserved.

Once one government has a surveillance tool, inertia and a surveillance arms race lead the rest of the world to follow suit. Was it any surprise that after the depth of NSA spying was revealed, we learned that the UK, Spain, Sweden, Ethiopia, Canada, and many other governments around the world  ​do essentially the same thing?

The God's Eye is a false prophet in Furious 7—whoever has it actually fares worse with it than they do without it. They become a target, a subject of ill will, overconfident and cocky. Can't we say the same of the NSA?