Netflix’s 2020 film Extraction is remarkable for many reasons: it is the directorial debut of Marvel’s famous stunt coordinator, Sam Hargrave, it has Thor running the streets (and sewers) of Dhaka, and, of course, the 12-minute long continuous fight scene. Despite its initial production title, Dhaka, not a single action shot is filmed in Dhaka. Critics have also commented on how Extraction is burdened by its “regressive white savior elements.” It is worth noting, however, that the film’s “white savior” is not just saving a person of color but, even more pointedly, a child of color.

The Australian soldier-turned-mercenary, Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth), is troubled by his guilt over his own child’s death. As his 6-year-old son was dying of Lymphoma, Rake voluntarily went on a tour of duty in Kandahar. Hounded by this perceived cowardice, Rake takes on dangerous missions hoping that he’s “gonna catch a bullet” eventually. His current mission is to rescue the son of an Indian drug lord from the hands of a Bangladeshi drug lord. The son, Ovi Mahajan (Rudraksh Jaiswal) is a timid and vulnerable fifteen-year-old who eventually ends up forming an intimate emotional attachment with Rake.

Similar to Extraction 2020 – Read our review

We do not see much of the taciturn Rake’s emotional state at all, save for the recurring blurry flashbacks, compulsive pill-taking and alcohol-chugging. He opens up halfway through his “extraction” of Ovi. In this conversation by Ovi’s bedside, Ovi comments that he is “like a package…in brown paper” for Rake. He also observes that his Indian drug lord father treats him much the same way: “more like a thing than a person.” Rake, having first admitted that he did think of Ovi as “a package” now backtracks – “I didn’t…mean it like that.” Rake’s relationship with Ovi helps him recompense for his past failures and, in the process, recover from his psychological trauma. However, this happens through his recognition of the brown child as not just a package, or a thing, but as a child in need of saving.

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

Netflix's Extraction Quickly Gets Tedious Because The Narrative Is ...

Ovi, the child caught in the vicious world of drug lords and crimes, has been reduced by his father and his father’s colleagues and enemies alike into “a package,” “a thing.” Even when Saju (Randeep Hooda) risks his life to save Ovi, it is not out of love or care but rather out of fear of Ovi’s powerful father. Starting as an eventual extraction “job” for money, Rake’s relationship with Ovi transcends commercial interests and becomes one that resembles a surrogate father-son relationship. When Ovi’s father withholds payment for the rescue, Rake refuses to leave Ovi behind just for the sake of money. As Rake’s friend, Gaspar, tells him to kill Ovi to save his own life, he fights Gaspar. The “white savior” restores humanity to the vulnerable brown child who has been shorn of his humanity in the third world by brown men.

Here, the “white savior” is not just saving the brown child but also saving him from brown men. As Gayatri Chakravarty Spivak has famously argued, colonial laws and reforms, such as the abolition of Sati (widow immolation) in nineteenth-century India, were understood by the British as “White men saving brown women from brown men.” Extraction shifts this paradigm of saving – from saving the arguably vulnerable bodies of women to saving the definitively vulnerable bodies of children. While the trope of the woman in need of saving might feel out of place in 2020, the child in need of saving is eternal. The child is always susceptible to perversities and criminalities of the adult world. Saving him takes on even more urgency when this world is universally corrupt. Thus, the military and law enforcement of Dhaka are also implicated in the mistreatment of children here.

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In the absence of cognizant adults to protect and nurture the child, the concept of childhood itself is under threat in the drug-riddled Dhaka of Extraction. Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli), the Bangladeshi drug-lord, recruits, mistreats, and mercilessly kills child soldiers. This representation of child soldiers as the most-exploited of the poor in drug and war-ravaged places has a tradition of representation in other “white savior” films as well, the most popular and immediately-recognizable of them being little Dia in Blood Diamond.

After killing two men on a motorcycle, Rake turns around to find an army of children marching towards him with guns, scythes, and other weapons. He reacts with an unbelieving “the fuck?” After he beats (but not shoot) them Rake reacts with a paternal “fucking shits!” He has once before let a child soldier go on account of his extreme youth. Rake, “in the worst smelling sewer of the planet,” is not only extracting a child but also restoring childhood to those from whom it has been taking away. He does this by recognizing them as children in contrast to brown men who see them as disposable bodies.

When we see Amir Asif for the first time, he is presiding over his men who are threatening and torturing the child soldiers in his organization. One of Asif’s men drags a child by his arm and throws him over the railing of the roof to set an example of what can happen to anyone who steals money form the organization. As Farhad (Suraj Rikame), the only child soldier to be named in the film, comes forward and names the child just now thrown from the roof as the thief, Asif intervenes. He asks Farhad to cut off two of his fingers as punishment for lying. While brown men mistreat children and mutilate their bodies, the “white savior” treats them paternally and nourishes the child’s bodies (as Rake does when he brings his dinner to Ovi).

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The white savior values brown children even at the expense of his own life. Rake thus lets Farhad (Suraj Rikame) go when attacked by the army of child soldiers in the street. Farhad, out of his misplaced allegiance for Asif, vows to kill Rake. Even as the indomitable white body is overwhelmed by the child soldier’s bullet, it does not lose its agency. Rake could have avoided this fate by having killed Farhad before. However, unlike the merciless brown man, the merciful white savior refuses to mutilate a child’s body. Thus, even when the child soldier kills Rake, it is Rake’s mercy that allows the child soldier to become the agent of this action.

As multiple critics have pointed out, the action sequences give the film a video-game-like atmosphere. In this regard Extraction is the appropriate portmanteau of extra action. However, the violence here is sanctioned in the name of the child. Bangladeshi lives must become collateral damage to save the brown (Indian), child. If sacrificing life for the territorial Big Other was not enough, the dispensable nature of Bangladeshi bodies is justified by their absolute moral bankruptcy, again through their relationship to children. The white savior treats these brown men no worse than how they, in turn, treat brown children. As the white man finds some sort of moral redemption through the brown child, the brown child and his abused vulnerability accentuate the corruption that plagues brown men.

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

Extraction 2020 is now streaming on Netflix

Watch the Extraction (2020) Trailer Here

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