Human 'Traffic'

Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman gives Steven Soderbergh's film on the drug war his Oscar nod.

BY: Paul O'Donnell

 
Robert Thurman, the first American to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk, is an author, translator, and professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies at Columbia University in New York. His insights into Hollywood may be aided, too, by his experience as the father of the actress Uma Thurman. We chatted with him about Steven Soderbergh's movie "Traffic."

"Traffic," a dramatization of the War Against Drugs, intertwines the stories of a Mexican policeman (Benicio del Toro), a drug dealer's wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and a man appointed to head the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (Michael Douglas). As the movie follows its characters to Tijuana,

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Cincinnati, San Diego and Washington, D.C., the drug problem becomes a seamless line of culpability linking hardened criminals and high school kids. At the same time, it is in that same human interdependence that solutions may lie.

You liked the movie?

I did. I had heard initially that it really didn't go far enough, but I think it went just the right distance for what the public can tolerate with the revelation of the absolute hypocrisy of this major government program and the stupidity of the government officials.

As my son pointed out, what was really true and cool about the movie was that it kept everything on the basis of the family. It all came back to the family, even with the big drug dealer, and Michael Douglas' character, too. When he walked out, again he placed family above everything else. Because this was the source of the whole drug problem: people getting lost from their actual root of life, their immediate personal relations. They get this cold manipulative thing going, and being completely lost, then turn to drugs to make up for the loss.

There was an interesting symmetry in the way the two families, the drug dealer's family and the drug czar's family, responded to the drug war hitting home.

They both fought for their families. The drug dealer's wife became very cold-blooded. She was like a tigress, and she was mad at everybody. As far as she saw it, her enemies were just a bunch of dealers, and if she could get them to shoot at each other, at least she could get her family back again.

But of course, she isn't going to be able to really restore the home and the community-harmony routine. It's not really going to work. It's built on a falsehood.

Even the hero, the Mexican policeman who was like a monk, who was into it for justice and honesty, had been inducted into a family. Remember, he said he felt like a traitor when he gave the DEA information. But being part of the family was what gave him the power to overturn them.

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