Michael Clayton: Reality of our Times

“Truth can be adjusted” states the opening line on the posters of the movie Michael Clayton.

What can happen when greed consumes the collective conscience of all, leaving little space for truth to breath and no space for morality to be preached? “Michael Clayton” showcases just that. The story starts with The narration of a renowned legal lawyer Arthur after an emotional breakdown when he confronts the moment of truth, the stark reality
that how his work has ruined the lives of many people over the years. Michael Clayton is ‘a miracle worker’ ; an established lawyer working in a big law firm who can bend truth to suit ones choices but presently he is facing financial crunch due to a failed entrepreneurship endeavour.

He is summoned to help his former friend Arthur who suffers a mental breakdown during a deposition related to U North, a front runner chemical company which entangled in a lawsuit over an alleged defoliant chemical poisoning causing deaths to many people in an old suburb. The breakdown happens when Arthur finds out that company turned a blind eye towards the dangers of the chemical substance in order to keep the profits bottom-line intact and is indeed guilty of all charges pressed against it. He turns rebel and tries to build a case against U North by helping one of the victim’s kin Anna. The ambitious successor of the company Verne could not digest it and orders hit men to silence Arthur. Michael eventually finds out the truth and nearly gets killed before bringing Verne to justice.

The most engrossing part of the movie is the interaction of Arthur with Henry, Michael’s son, about a book. The
book title is “Realms and Conquest”. It is about various warrior characters that are out there with different skills. They do not know whether the other warrior character is their friend or foe, neither can they reveal their identity lest they get into trouble. This story seems to intrigue Arthur who starts believing firmly that this story is an analogy drawn to the real world about lawyers.

They are in different positions; some are powerful than others just like Arthur who has given his best years of life in defending a giant MNC U-North. They are in dilemma whether they can share their true thoughts, their true sense of
ability put in use for benefits of all or they are just like every other empty suit.

Arthur realizes that in his best years of life he has done nothing but protecting a “poison excreting monster”
MNC U-North. In those 8 years hundreds of people died or kept dying because of the poison released from the chemical factory. He feels that by protecting the vested interest of such company by his law skills he has not only helped to
keep justice at bay but also have become a party of such horrendous scheme. He has become Shiva, the mythological Hindu god of death. The day he realizes this truth in one of the depositions he does the unthinkable act of stripping
himself in front of plaintiff Anna, revealing his guilt and projecting his shame.

In the movie, Arthur realizes the mistake he has made over and over in last 8 years. His morality grapples with
the professional cloak he has been wearing in his star career and eventually wins. He tries to make Michael understand the situation of choice he is facing. Michael is a skilled lawyer who grew under Arthur and hence he is a confidant
too. But Michael couldn’t understand the predicament faced by Arthur. But Arthur gets over with the ethical dilemma and scribes “This is not Madness” over the wall before fleeing from his hotel room. Michael does not get Arthur’s
point till the moment he witnesses a scene which makes him gape.

He witnesses 3 horses standing in a serene place during a drive. The 3 horses stood just like the one he had seen in the book Realms and Conquest when he searched Arthur’s apartment after this death. He realizes everything written in the book was not just fiction, if the picturesque scene of the 3 horses standing can be real then so is the analogy of the warriors as lawyers in the real world. When his car, which was parked nearby explodes he gets the point which side of the situation he is in and then, at the crossroads he makes a decision to follow the path of truth, the unadjusted truth.

Although the movie is a take on American legal system, it comes as a body blow to conscience of everyone. The movie raises several questions. Is defending someone even if it is at fault, justified? What happened in the movie is no fiction; we had Bhopal as an example. India, a country which has witnessed one of the worst industrial disasters in Bhopal can actually see the parallel drawn in the film. Weak legal system which is till now unable to nab the guilty responsible for the Bhopal disaster can also be termed as Shiva, the god of death. This system failed to fix the responsibility properly neither punished the guilty thoroughly. And just like the depiction of movie, several Arthurs worked throughout the clock to choke the compensation package meant for victims.

They were present in both sides, colluding with one another for many years which saw hundreds of immediate death and even more victims which perished in writhing pain lasting for years. Union Carbide, just like the fictitious U North chose profit over people. Who can imagine shutting and maiming safety features of a chemical plant to save more money? This was not just any ordinary chemical plant but the one which stockpiled chemicals with the potential of killing thousands lest anything goes wrong. Every industry knows there are certain areas of operations where compromise cannot and should not be made hence state of art safety systems are developed and sold worldwide. Ducking this responsibility brought the disaster to the residents of Bhopal.

The movie ends with Michael being successful in bringing the guilty back to justice with a visible expression of satisfaction over his deed. Meanwhile, Bhopal still awaits its Arthur and Michael who still have chance. Perhaps they overlooked the three horses which could have had reminded them that truth always remain a truth.
Truth cannot be adjusted.

Anshul soni