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Adam from Themes and Memes is our guest to talk about the 2015 action comedy American Ultra.  We start by trying to define this film, which is an intense mixture of cartoonish ultra violence, CIA covert operations, romance, comedy and horror, looking at the dissociating nature of this blend.  The intentions of screenwriter Max Landis and the director Nima Nourizadeh are discussed and we ask whether they were reaching out to the CIA or trying to flatter them by making MKULTRA seem cool to stoners and young people.  We go on to look at the prominence of female and often maternal characters in modern spy fiction, particular in CIA-assisted productions and ask what difference this makes to how these films and TV shows portray the CIA as a whole.

We also examine a bizarre weed-based marketing campaign for the film at the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con and ask whether like the Pentagon and NASA, the CIA now sees Comic-Con as a key networking and recruitment opportunity.  The conversation rounds ofs discussing the director Nima Nourizadeh’s father Ali Reza, who bears all the hallmarks of being a CIA asset (complete with mysterious name changes and working for Voice of America).  The presence of footage of Langley and the prominent use of the CIA logo suggests that at the least the CIA were aware of American Ultra and approved use of these for the film, so we ask whether they were involved in the making of the film and if so, why.


American Ultra

Activating American Ultra (making of)

American Ultra offering free pot at Comic-Con

Spooky London: how Britain’s spy agencies are using new and unexpected methods to recruit the next generation

Centre for Iranian and Arab Studies – Companies House


Iranians unite in grief at service for Shah’s son


  • victoria says:

    cool conversation, some excellent insights, very much enjoyed!! pleased to see mkultra addressed here & in the previous podcast. imo both george clooney & max landis are trauma based mkultra victims — programmed puppets/tools… there are countless such in hollywood, its inudated with, & in that regard, the cia has its fingers throughout.

  • jim says:

    I appreciate your unraveling of the connections between intelligence and popular culture, but i think you could also do a good job with geopolitical analysis.

    • Tom says:

      Do you mean me or Pearse? Pearse already does a geopolitics podcast – Porkins Great Game.

  • Jarrod says:

    To the point about Max Landis’ possible role in steering youth culture…John Landis, his dad, had a hugely influential effect upon the youth culture of the previous generation…his first two successful movies as a director were Kentucky Fried Movie and Animal House, which pretty much launched the “gross out genre” of film/comedies, a trend still very much prevalent in Hollywood today (think Judd Apatow) which has contributed to our current culture of decadence and lax taboos. Animal House, of course, was a National Lampoon’s production (a culturally influential entity in its own right) and featured misfit youths “sticking it to the frat-boy snobs and dean’s authority”, a theme which echoes the 60s counterculture a decade earlier- which we know had help from intelligence agencies. Also Animal House was produced by Ivan Reitman, and as a fan of spotting occult symbolism in films, I can tell you that Reitman’s movies are some of the most occult laden out there, especially Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II, but even a movie like Twins.

  • Alita says:

    As a propaganda film of any kind this movie failed horribly because it FLOPPED so hard domestically. I don’t know about overseas but Kirsten Stewart is box office poison outside of the Twilight franchise.

    I freaking died at you saying Kristen Stewart is a mind controlled slave! When she actually puts in effort it shows, because she can act, but she seems like she just shrugs and bits her lip through most of her performances. Like she’s being forced to perform against her will.

    I thought, and still think, that the problem was that she was closeted bisexual/lesbian and trying to force herself to play heterosexual love interests, have PR fauxmances with her costars, were what was wearing her down. I didn’t see this but if you ever saw her in Runaways she had more sexual chemistry with her female costars, and displayed more charisma playing Joan Jet in that movie than she ever did in any of her other films. If you believe the tabloids …she’s pretty openly in a relationship with a woman so maybe that’s helped her be more confident as an actress.

    I didn’t watch the film, had no desire to watch it since I had no clue what the film was even supposed to be about. Glad I didn’t watch it based off of what your excellent analysis and what’s I read about it on Vigilant Citizen. The description of mind control and cartoon violence is really…off putting to me. There’s no way you can make brainwashing someone into an assassin a lighthearted romantic action comedy like they seemed to be trying to do. If it was a more serious film though, people would take it more seriously and maybe look at all the information that’s out about MK ULTRA and start to believe it more. And I don’t think whoever made this film wanted that. Whatever they were trying to do didn’t work.

    • Tom says:

      The movie did flop and pretty hard too, but I wonder if most of the desired audience downloaded it for free. It certainly isn’t a difficult film to find online.

  • Carl Turner says:

    Lol i couldn’t even watch this because i don’t have credit card. Found another link though in case someone needs it: