Cynical Idealism and “The Barrier”

ArthurTornIn many of the scenes in “The Barrier”, my hero, Arthur Macdonald comes across as a cynic, while in others he acts quite idealistic. I’ve come to think of his attitude as Cynical Idealism. I believe this must be a part of my own world view.

Initially, when he works on the development review project, Arthur talks as if he feels that the politicians and developers have self serving motives. For example, he seems to believe that the developer, Vincent Campbell, is interested only in his own good. Arthur accepts that Campbell has great influence over the politicians. He appears to accept that situation and even characterizes the work as playing a game.

With the traffic barrier project however, Arthur is more clearly idealistic in his approach. Repeated warnings from his boss do not cause him to give up on the project. He actively approaches other to recruit their support. He continues to look for ways to convince his boss to support the project.

One explanation for the contrast between the two projects may be the potential results of the two projects. The worst that can happen as a result of the development review project is that it will cost tax payers money. The worst that can happen with the traffic barrier is that people will die. This could be seen as a cognitive bias Arthur’s part.

Later in the movie, Arthur acts more idealistically on the development review project. As the project unfolds, he tries harder to defeat Campbell’s ambitions. Although, this could be seen as an emotional reaction to the abuse he gets from Campbell.

My initial interpretation is that Arthur has an internal conflict between cynicism and idealism. While he has become a cynic at the intellectual level, he still remains an idealist at the emotional level. In this view, Arthur began as an idealist, but his experience has convinced him to adopt a cynical attitude. This transition is not complete, and in the end may never be fully realized.

My final interpretation is that, while Arthur has accepted a cynical view of people and their motives, he still thinks of them in idealistic terms. That means that he still believes that he can accomplish his idealistic goals despite the base motives of others. He feels that he can even count on those base motives in order to reach his goals. A clear example comes near the end when he hopes that self interest on the part of the mayor will help him defeat Campbell. This is what I call Cynical Idealism.

Arthur’s mentor Ling Pang has an attitude similar to his Cynical Idealism. In her case though, she has allowed cynicism to play a larger role. That said, she still has a core sense of idealism that, at times, drives her forward.

Arthur’s colleague Denis Kennedy is more purely an idealist. He becomes very angry when he sees Campbell act in a self serving way. In fact, Denis’ idealism could be what pushes Arthur to become more idealistic later in the movie.

Arthur’s boss Brandon Baker is more purely a cynic. He tires to discourage Arthur’s idealism. Brandon is not a total cynic though, like when he back Arthur against Campbell  over the need for a traffic impact study. On the other hand, Brandon might just be going through the motions.

I can see the three other characters as representatives of Arthur’s internal struggle. Brandon as the cynical side, Denis as the idealistic side and Ling as the attempt to integrate the two. This insight may help me add more depth to the characters and story when I prepare the final version of the movie.

You can watch the preliminary version of “The Barrier” here: When the final version becomes available, it will be found on the same page.

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