1970s, Carlos the Jackal, Dreams Never End, Edgar Ramirez, Film, Ian Curtis, Jonathan Franzen, Joy Division, legacy, mercenaries, narcissism, New Order, Olivier Assayas, Peter Hook, playboy, politics, revolutionary as rock star, The Left post-1968
Is it ever enough to live off anger and resentment? The feeling persists that it can only nourish for so long before the very thing that produced the anger in the first place , namely love, demands a hearing.
The alternative? Feigning indifference, dressing interest up as impartiality; that desperate faux-longing to sound and appear ‘fair’ or ‘balanced’. The swivel-eyed empiricism of a Dawkins or of so many acolytes looking for flex in an empty theatre of engagement.
But what happens when one is unbalanced, unhinged even, by passion, enthusiasm and, yes, love? Surely it is impossible to describe events at an intellectual remove if fully immersed in the thing itself? And while the notion of empathy might be imbibed as revelation by moneyed, middle aged skeptics like Jonathan Franzen, a more pressing question remains for those who don’t choose empathy as mid-career personal growth.
What if all your life you’ve tried empathy but been systematically rejected? Cast out of the main building, consigned to skulk the corridors, or lose yourself, literally dissolve into another sensory dimension variously described as eccentricity, madness, or if you’re lucky, genius? What happens to those stories?
The echo of Kurtz to Willard, sent upriver by Coppola, by history, to officially rescue the man from his own madness.
‘You’re an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill.’
Or the even purer distillation of self regard driving Edgar Ramirez’ portrayal of legendary international brigand, Carlos the Jackal, in Olivier Assayas’ five hour film epic, ‘Carlos’.
This is revolutionary ‘zeal’ as insatiable narcissism – the thirst for fame, power, wealth and women only occasionally slaked by the adrenalin rush of a high profile ‘mission’; the Peruvian playboy never happier than when able to luxuriate in his own image – the terrorist as pinup, as gun-toting rock star, admiring his dick in the mirror or the money and women splayed out on the bed next to him.
The fabulism is of course no less important than the women for this world-class self-mythologiser, largely depicted as a product of the post-1968 Left. Or at least that bit of it which swapped collective idealism for narcissistic violence. Hence the lack of embarrassment about early operational incompetence – three failed attempts to down an El Al jet with a rocket launcher at the airport! (The lack of airport security as telling a period detail as the sideburns or the sexual politics.)
Hence, too, his fondness for the pithy sounding one liner.
‘I embrace clichés because there’s always some truth in them.’
Or as in his opening salvo at the 1975 OPEC hostage crisis in Vienna.
‘My name is Carlos. You may have heard of me.’
And if the self-mythologising is his calling card, then it seems about right that many of his most significant actions should be accompanied on the soundtrack by the initially surprising inclusion of Mancunian band, New Order, and their haunting 1981 elegy, ‘Dreams Never End’.
Its familiar chords first sound during the terrorist mission that will induct Carlos into the global dissident big time. And it accompanies him across the globe on his subsequent itinerary of hijack and bombast as well as occasional spectacular success.
This was after all the band’s own requiem for their recently departed lead singer, Ian Curtis. A new beginning, a new name, for the local boys on the cusp of stardom. Their own big time. And with Peter Hook on vocal duty, the tune supplied its heartfelt response to the morbid earlier lyric of ‘Insight’, lent added poignancy by Curtis’ suicide. ‘I guess the dreams always end’.
In the end, for New Order, emerging chrysalis-like from the wreckage of Joy Division, there is at least the sense of a meaningful legacy. For Carlos, as man or myth, there are more complicated shadows.