The Counselor: Nietzsche at the Movies, or Shakespeare without Redemption

Crime thriller. After watching The Counselor, you get the feeling that you need to take a shower. And not because it was a guilty pleasure, but simply because you’ve wallowed in a nihilistic worldview for an hour and half that ends in despair and offers no way out of evil.

It tells the story – and not a very clear story – of a greedy lawyer, the Counselor, played by Michael Fassbender, who gets in way over his head when he gets involved with drug traffickers and his deal goes awry. He is portrayed as a man who has finally found true love with the beautiful Laura, played by Penelope Cruz and buys her a diamond he cannot afford, which is the symbolic impetus for him stepping over the line into big illegal money.

A couple of his criminal “friends” tell him not to do it because he is too naïve to handle it. (This is not the same as a moral injunction to do the right thing.) Of course the deal goes wrong when someone steals the shipment from Fassbender’s connections, and all those connected with him are hunted down to pay.

The thing about it is, I went to this movie because of the A-list director, Ridley Scott, and the A-list cast of Fassbender, Cruz, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem and Cameron Diaz. I was disappointed. Sure, because of Cormac McCarthy, it had some of the most lyrical existential dialogue ever in a thriller or crime movie (albeit, some of it out of place and self-important). But in the service of a nihilistic worldview, such lyricism becomes verbose mockery. McCarthy’s cynicism here amounts to self-righteous platitudes.

There is a scene where the ruthless Cameron Diaz visits a priest for confession only to mock him. But the scene was out of place and confusing and didn’t make much sense other than to show her mockery of religion. And that same religious commitment in the innocent Laura made her ignorant and a victim to the strong.

On the surface, I should like this movie because it is kind of a two hour movie version of Breaking Bad. That is, there is heavy lyrical poetry spoken throughout about how our decisions make us who we are and our actions have consequences. (I forgot my note pad, so I didn’t get any of them down. But I probably wouldn’t have been able to anyway, because there was so much of it and quite complex at times). But what I picked up from it was the added notion that we cannot undo the bad choices we’ve done. There’s no going back. No second chances. Our choices set in motion an inevitable ending of despair and death.

Now, on the one hand, for those without God, I would quite agree that there is no hope, just death in this life (I would add: Judgment after that). And yes, the world of crime and evil never ends well, and even ends in destroying innocent people, which is a moral truth in the right context. But a story that ONLY shows the dark and the evil and shows no good in contrast, no hope for redemption spurned, no possibility to change, is a story that communicates there is no hope or redemption.

That is nihilism.

That is not worth an audience.