Movies, Smart Characters and Game Theory

August 24th, 2012 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized

Do you ever watch a movie, and an otherwise smart character (or characters) does something monumentally stupid, or at least stupid enough to keep the plot going? Most of the time I overlook these momentary lapses of reason because it’s all just entertaining fun, but it’s hard not to notice when so much of the movie hangs on intelligence to begin with. The film Limitless, starring Bradley Cooper, is one of them. I love this movie by the way, one of my all time favorites. Cooper’s character, already enhanced with an IQ above 1000 from the drug NZT-48, makes the stupid mistake of borrowing money from a Russian mobster to margin his already 500%/day established day trading growth rate. He borrow’s $100,000. But he already has $7,000 and it’s growing at 500% per day. That means he’ll already have the same $100,000 in less than 36 hours anyway, so why the rush? The answer is the writer would have to use far smarter plot devices to match the characters 1000 IQ. If you’re going to write about a guy with a 1000 IQ you need to have a plot that does better at reflecting that.

There’s another movie, which shall go nameless, where two crews come to heads. Both crews are armed to the teeth, with their numbers about equal. One of  the crews is chasing down the bad guys for the government. The other crew is working  long and hard to score $100 million in a plutonium sale. Who has more loose, the Mercs-for-hire failing to capture the bad guy, or the bad guy loosing a $100 million deal of a lifetime? So the two crews have come to head in a valley, with the bad guys holding one of the good guys hostage. Remember, they are all equally armed. The good guys are all friends, the bad guys are just there doing a job for money. The bad guy tells the good crew to drop all of their weapons or he’s going to kill the hostage. Given this situation, what do you do?

In the movie, all the good guys drop their weapons, as they do in most movies. In this case it’s a bit surprising  since the Mercs have already been in a lot of  similar life and death situations and should understand the basics of game theory, at least intuitively. But that’s now how they act in this movie. The acquiesce to the bad guys demands.. The bad guys then kill the hostage anyway and walk away. The bad guys could have done worse and simply killed all the good guys, since they were all now disarmed.

Here’s what the good guys could have done:

The leader of the good guys could have asked all of his crew to immediately point all of their guns at the leader of the bad guys. Then say, “All of my guns are aimed at you. Go ahead, kill the hostage, then try and kill us, you might just succeed  But here’s the thing, regardless of how this plays out, and who wins in the end, YOU ARE GOING TO DIE. The choice is yours…. take your time.”   Obviously, the bad guy, unless he has lost all attachment to his life, will give the hostage up and walk away. And that would be the very best he could hope for. But since the whole movie depended on that atrocity, we wouldn’t have the movie, unless of course the writer studied game theory and came up with a smarter plot with smarter characters.


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