First of all, the reason why I watched the film Duplicity, is simply because it was directed by Tony Gilroy, who did the otherwise excellent film, Michael Clayton

 I was mildly surprised by Duplicity and even more intrigued by its “virtual” message (thank you, Zizek).  Both Clive Owen and Julia Roberts’s characters are ex-government secret agents (MI5 and the CIA) who decide to go private.  That is to say, they take their intelligence skills and connections to infiltrate public corporations in order to make a buck. 

 What’s fascinating about this film is that all that one would once expect from government espionage and spy-thrilling action has now simply migrated to two competing companies who, evocatively, do not produce weapons or advance software intelligence systems, but mere consumer goods, such as lotion.  We’re suddenly pulled away from the sublime (secret agents with extravagant lives) and now have inside look into the merely bathetic (frozen pizza, as one example from the movie).  

 What’s happening here and more importantly, why did this movie work so well?  Maybe were meant to get the message that the real scandals, the real intelligence reconnaissance has not to do with government agencies and realpolitik as a whole, as we no longer have nation states locked in a zero-sum game, but as the ultimate privatization and ubiquity of corporations.  Again, not the corporations that make advance weapons systems, for that would be too easy, but the firms that produce meager things that increasingly possess a mystical control over our lives – shampoo, soap, deodorant, etc. 

 In thinking through this movie and the privatizing of intelligence and espionage, specifically not between two nation states but business, Milbank’s Being Reconciled proves to be insightful.  He writes that if the production of goods loses intrinsic value, as it surely has within capitalism, this means that amongst those who produce, “no one is to be trusted, but instead must be endlessly spied upon, and measured against a spatial checklist of routinized procedure that is alien to all genuine inculcation of excellence.”  And herein, I think, demonstrates Duplicity’s genius as a film.  Gilroy has merely traced the logical outcome of savage capitalism; no more trust, no more intrinsic goods, and certainly no governments to stand as a prevailing force.  As a spy, why would you want to work for government when all the money and real action is to be had in the private sector?

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