Home > english > Two Strangers who Meet Five Times > Bioethics and Biopolitics: From Disturbing Strangeness to Encounter

Bioethics and Biopolitics: From Disturbing Strangeness to Encounter

by Eduardo Laso and Juan Jorge Michel Fariña with the collaboration of Susan Miller

This short film was shown and analyzed during the 15th World Conference of the International Chair in Bioethics held in Porto in October 2023, within the framework of the activities of the Bioethics and Cinema department.

It is a film that explores the relationship between bioethics and biopolitics. For example, how can one’s bio-ethical views be affected by conscious and subconscious political assumptions? The film initially portrays a scene of discrimination and ethnic-religious hatred. The final vignette concludes with a scene of palliative care for a patient with Alzheimer’s. Specifically, the film unexpectedly connects two disparate scenarios and that are ostensibly articulated by the Universal Declaration of Bioethics and Human Rights.

What is the story that the film tells us? What wisdom and insights can the audience achieve through this medium of communication? Over the course of a lifetime, Alistair and Samir will cross their destinies five times. Every time they meet, they will seemingly do so as two strangers, either because one does not remember the other, or because one of them pretends not to remember the other individual. Each encounter results in unintended consequences for both protagonists. The film’s director, Markus Markou, presents these encounters in a non-chronological manner, placing the first encounter between the fourth and fifth scenes. In this way, he achieves an effect of resignification that allows us, the audience, to think about the reasons for their conflict, generating an emotional impact on the viewer . Marko’s aesthetics thus contributes to an ethics of complexity bringing understanding to the drama between these two human beings.

Each of these nonrecognitions has different effects, which subsequently impact the possibility of recognizing the shared humanity between these individuals versus a mislabeling of the character a disturbing stranger. Presenting a short film in which a moving final reunion is reached between two subjects who treat each other with dignity after going through disagreements marked by discrimination, poses a certain risk. This technique is a mechanism for addressing the enculturation of hate and difference.

Alistair cannot stand the way Samir lingers at an ATM, and attacks him with xenophobic comments because of his Arab origin. Neither knows anything about the other, but the attribution of prejudices based on imaginary traits leads Alistair to prejudge Samir, whom he assumes to be a brutal and fanatical Muslim. The scene allows Samir to conclude that he is facing an aggressive racist, whom he prefers to avoid by moving away from the ATM.
The Latin term frater (brother) describes those who share the same symbolic marks, the same law. Fraternity is the opposite of the foundational homogeneous parity of racism. The racist strips the other of all fraternal traits. It supposes a discursive disaffiliation of the similar, thus denying one the status of neighbor, categorizing him as an absolute and permanently dissimilar entity.

In the third meeting, Alistair experiences the impact of his prior racist message: in a job interview he is introduced to the CEO of the company, who turns out to be Samir, who remembers the episode at the ATM. The words of hate spoken by Alistair return to him, closing him off from the job opportunity that Samir could have given him. Alistair pretends not to remember the event at the ATM, because at this point he wishes that episode had never happened. However Samir indeed does remember it very well, closing off the possibility of Alistair’s hiring. The unintended consequence of Alistair’s racism resulted in retributory discrimination. Samir’s position could be summarized as: “I cannot accept someone who is not willing to accept me as a human.”

The fourth meeting between the two occurs some time later. We see Alistair on the street now begging for alms. Life has hit him, but above all he became a victim of his own arrogance, which closed his opportunity to have a desired job. Chance brings him Samir, and then Alistair calls him, not so much to ask for money but to settle the existential debt he owes him. Alistair admits that he was wrong at the ATM, and that Samir did the right thing by not taking him into his company. Samir, who claims not to remember, eventually returns with enough money for Alistair to sort out his life.

They both discover something new about each other. Samir discovers that Alistair is not a fanatical racist, but someone who can take responsibility for his actions and words, admit his guilt, and finally recognize him as his equal. And Alistair discovers that Samir is not a resentful individual who enjoys the misfortune of others, but he is capable of the altruistic gesture of giving him money and advising him to take advantage of that opportunity to straighten his life. The movie illuminates the miracle of redemption, by revealing it is possible to overcome the imaginary aggressive tension between two strangers who assumed the other represented a threat. The recognition of each individual’s common humanity enabled a bond of healing.

A propitiatory gesture that, without them remembering it, takes us back to the first meeting between them, in which, as children, they could share a game because they simply recognized each other as companions, without the narcissism of small differences coming between them. In that children’s meeting, although both do not know each other, this does not prevent them from having fun together. For children, ethnic, class, or gender prejudices are not significant. It is adults who transmit these prejudiced forms of discrimination, as Alistair ’s mother does, by separating him from Samir “so that he does not get germs.”

The film proposes a movement: from intolerance towards enjoyment, by discarding the labeling of foreignness in order to attain the dignity of neighbor. The mutual recognition of each other’s humanity and disposing of hostility, Alistair’s own dignity is restores as he heals from his guilt and contempt. He now creates a new life- opportunity when Samir offers him an opportunity to recover not only from his financial but his spiritual poverty. His new life project focuses on assisting vulnerable people, one of whom, years later, will be Samir himself.

What is the function of forgiveness? Alistair admits to having committed an unworthy act towards Samir. This gesture of recognition of his act of discrimination grants Samir a place of dignity that had been denied to him at the ATM. And as a consequence, a change occurs within Samir, who performs the act of forgiveness, and gives him money which allows Alistair to escape his homelessness. In this way, a humanizing synergy is brought about in both, which takes them out of their mutual, aggressive specular-confinement.

Forgiveness is then an antidote to reflexive hatred of another person. It is not equivalent to forgetfulness, charity, compassion, altruism, or an act of love. In fact, Samir’s forgiveness does not initiate any bond with Alistair, since they will not meet again until old age, and then, only by chance. The money Samir gives him is not charity or mercy, but is a metaphorical way in which he forgives him through action, thus restoring his own dignity, and eliminating the symbolic debt between them. Forgiveness suspends the narcissistic mirror dialectic of aggressive tension with the other (e.g., resentment, contempt, hatred), and grants the other stranger their own place of dignity as a fellow human being.

The fifth and final meeting is the represents the return of what Samir fostered in Alistair, who has become a person able and willing to help him in the last years of his life. At a certain moment, Samir in spite of his Alzheimer’s, seems to recognize that gentle assistant, whom he once fired and then helped. The stranger has gone from embodying the threatening imminence of enjoyment to becoming a support system through which to experience his remaining life. This meeting, unlike the previous ones, promises to be long-lasting, without the obstacles of prejudice.

This now kindred relationship is transformed into other similar the place of neighbor, promoting the passage from imminent threat to that of a bond with which to supplement the interconnected knot of a life.




This forum is moderated before publication: your contribution will only appear after being validated by an administrator.

Who are you?
Log in
Your post

To create paragraphs, just leave blank lines.

Film:Two Strangers who Meet Five Times

Original Title:Two Strangers who Meet Five Times

Director: Marcus Markou

Year: 2017

Country: Great Britain

Other comments by the author:
• The Invader