A Footnote to Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

A guiding thread runs through the recent Mission: Impossible movie. At times it represents a rupture, but in other instances it becomes the entire paradigm of the film. This point reveals itself as the constant fear of disavowal. From minor revelations (a supposed reason for Ethan Hunt’s imprisonment) to the complete thematic (“…if you choose to accept it”), becoming-disavowed is what the characters attempt to avoid at every turn.

Disavowed from what? The characters are caught up in a signifying apparatus that totalizes itself throughout the film. The mantra of those that hand out the missions is essentially avowal or death. Like all structures, this implies several dichotomies that the characters cling to as necessary. To be disavowed would be to recognize these oppositions as contingent, which suggests the death of the subject and the melting away of certainty. Some of these dichotomies are global, while others are defined by local events: success/failure, good/evil, west/east, friend/foe, functional/non-functional, and so on.

To give up on these basic (insofar as what is essential for the current signifying apparatus) distinctions would also serve to shake the foundations for any founding principle of metaphysics (e.g. subject/object). Becoming-disavowed involves giving up one’s subjectivity as much as it implies negating the Other’s objectivity. In becoming-disavowed, one loses one’s “agency” (literally, the characters lose membership as an agent of the government).

The anxiety of the death of the subject propels the characters to construct fictions that postpone the reality of disavowal. By the end of the film, “ghost protocol” has still been issued. This means that the characters no longer belong to any agency. Nevertheless, Ethan Hunt takes the role of the agency’s secretary and hands out the next mission to his team. This shows that one signifying apparatus will always be ready to replace another. And yet the threat of radical disavowal continues to infect these structures like the secret that is used to cover up a homicide.