‘Bridge of Spies’ (2015): lessons on citizenship

Bridge of Spies (2015, Steven Spielberg) is both an entertaining thriller about the Cold War, and a meaningful lesson about citizenship.

If we are to treat Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies in the same manner children are taught to handle any story—like a fruit to be squeezed for juicy moral lessons—we do not have to look further than lawyer James Donovan’s (Tom Hanks) first scene for a bountiful first harvest.

In some dim, smoky venue that is definitely not a courtroom, Donovan, an American lawyer representing an insurance firm, discusses an accident with a claimant’s attorney. The incident under consideration involves a single vehicle crashing onto five motorcycles. The question they are debating is, does it constitute a single accident, or can the claimant seek damages for five accidents?

Donovan, confidently delivering his sober arguments, carefully points out that the person who was in the offending vehicle is not his “guy,” but rather a client of his actual guy, the insurance firm. It is as if he is persuaded that the first order of things in any legal discussion is the establishment of identities and affiliations. Then he makes the crucial point: if the accident were to be counted as more than one insurable incident, then all accidents would be liable to be arbitrarily counted; then insurance firms would lose money, the industry would be undermined, and nothing would be insured anymore; “No one would be safe!”, he ends emphatically.

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Another look at traffic

I live in one of the northern cities of the National Capital Region. For a month last summer, I commuted every day to a commercial center in Muntinlupa right at the south corner of the capital region, and it was a 20-km or so affair, one-way. 20 kilometers is not a lot, but for Metro Manila, no distance is ever short enough to be a comfortable, predictable ride. The biggest problem was that I initially trusted EDSA to be a reliable enough route for getting to my destination. I endured the resulting three-hour ride for several days, until I was driven by exasperation to take the MRT, which I’ve always known to be a hellish place to be in during rush hour. And it was, but it is a tolerable kind of hell in the morning, as I found out. It is the evening ride home that is always torturous.

There was one part of that daily grind that I came to appreciate, however. To get from EDSA to Muntinlupa, and vice versa, I took a bus that plied the Skyway. Skyway is an interesting indicator of the state of Philippine traffic: when the highway more popularly known as South Luzon Expressway reached its capacity and traffic jams started bogging down the route, they built a second road supported directly above the old pathway. (It’s a ‘grade separated’ system, as the civil engineers call it.) But to enjoy the higher speed limit and protection from jams afforded by Skyway, you’ll have to pay more than the already steep toll fee of the lower road.

It’s not the prospect of a Speed-type scenario of buses jumping across (or falling from) raised highways that I appreciated while cruising on the expressway, however. It was the inexplicable, shallow joy of watching the city pass by at 60 kilometers per hour from a bus window. The specific vistas offered by the Skyway include an international airport’s runway, a fish cage-saturated lake with a decommissioned coal power plant on its equally-congested shores, and an endless urban sprawl featuring malls, condominiums, and townhouses, some in construction and some starting to show signs of desolation. It’s not exactly a beautiful sight, because a concrete jungle has no intrinsic aesthetic value. It was probably just the diffusion of warm and cool colors falling upon the scenery—more often than not, it was sunset when I passed the road on my way back home.

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