There’s a scene near the beginning of the latest Mission Impossible film, Rogue Nation, where Alec Baldwin’s CIA secretary/buzzkill Alan Hunley suggests to a committee that Tom Cruise’s protagonist Ethan Hunt is hunter and hunted rolled into one rogue agent – a fantasist who invents shadow villains to defeat so that he can always emerge seeming the hero.
Ultimately, fantasy is exactly what Rogue Nation validates, in the Hollywood way – but once that speech has been made, once that idea has been implanted and the genie is out of the bottle, it becomes entirely possible to read against the grain, and to imagine the film(s) to be concerned as much with vividly realised, Fight Club-esque DID as with IMF.
After all, Sean Harris’ Solomon Lane is the perfect shadow villain, heading an orgainisation expressly dubbed the “anti-IMF” and matching Hunt’s every move before falling victim to Hunt’s final trap (which is also, via a precise symmetry, his own signature brand of trap). Does Lane, or even the female ‘double agent’ Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), actually exist, or are they fabricated to justify IMF’s funding and powerbase (and Hunt’s immense, delusional, endlessly undercover ego)? In the end both Lane and Faust conveniently disappear from the picture – and as soon as the phantom ‘rogue nation’ has evaporated, of course Hunt can once again emerge the hero – just as Hunley suggested.
Any way you read it, Rogue Nation is concerned with the chimerical, schizophrenic nature of global espionage. Maybe Hunt and his masks embody that.
© Anton Bitel