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IMF — Mission Impossible, Says Hollywood?

Should the International Monetary Fund be renamed the Impossible Mission Force? Hollywood thinks so.

May 26, 2000

Should the International Monetary Fund be renamed the Impossible Mission Force? Hollywood thinks so.

In this this second installment in Hollywood’s Mission Impossible franchise, Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt, a member of the elite (and fictional) Impossible Mission Force. What sounds like pretty standard Hollywood fare gets complicated when this organization’s acronym — IMF — gets thrown around in reviews of the movie. It may remind some readers of the other IMF, the Washington-based International Monetary Fund.

Of course, that IMF has recently made the headlines when thousands of protesters tried to disrupt its spring meeting in Washington. But in the movie, a “rogue IMF agent” has stolen a super-deadly virus and threatens to depopulate the entire planet. Some of Fund’s fiercest critics might well think: “I told you so!” Alas, the rogue agent is actually a member of the Impossible Mission Force, so the real Fund is off the hook — at least in this regard.

But seriously, is this rather negative depiction of the Fund an indication of how much its public image has suffered in recent years? Or is just an unfortunate mix up of acronyms? It may be a mixture of both.

In many regards, the characterization of the IMF as the “Impossible Mission Force” is right on the money. While IMF staffers do not (yet) wear talking sunglasses with built-in video screens, they nevertheless face tough choices when dealing with crises in emerging markets. Sometimes, these missions might indeed be best described as “impossible” — or the next-closest thing.

But there are also some aspects of the movie that could prove troubling for the Fund’s image. The logo of the Impossible Mission Force clearly identifies it as a U.S. government agency. That should give ammunition to those who charge that the International Monetary Fund is just a puppet of the U.S. Treasury.

Even worse for the Fund: in the movie, the role of the head of the Impossible Mission Force is played by Sir Anthony Hopkins, who may be best known for his chilling portrayal of the psychotic mass murderer Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.

One review of M:I 2 even states that Hopkins plays the head of the IMF in remarkably similar fashion to how he portrayed the cannibalistic Lecter — only without the iron face mask. One can only guess what kind of message that sends to movie audiences about the intentions of Horst Köhler, the current Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund.

By the way, your screen will self-destruct in five seconds.