The Sum of All Fears

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The Sum of All Fears is a best-selling thriller novel by Tom Clancy, and part of the Jack Ryan series. It was the fourth book of the series to be turned into a film. An interesting historical note is that this book was released just days before the Moscow uprising in 1991, which finally signaled the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Russian politics in the aftermath of the destruction of the Berlin Wall is a main element of the book.

The title is based on an anecdote recounted in the foreword: when you get a group of already hostile people together, their fears are amplified, to the point where the slightest misstep can set them on a course for war.

The movie stars Ben Affleck, Liev Schreiber, and Morgan Freeman, and is notable for changing the villains from Arab terrorists to Neo-Nazis while advancing the timeline to 2003.

Tropes used in The Sum of All Fears include:
  • Arab-Israeli Conflict: Forms the background for the terrorist plot, as the first part of the book is devoted to how the conflict gets settled, leaving the terrorists with nobody to fight... except America.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: The terrorists impersonate TV network service personnel to get their bomb (disguised as a commercial VCR) into the Denver Skydome. Their German terrorist accomplices get onto a Soviet army base in East Germany by donning Soviet officer uniforms, and pretending to be there for a surprise inspection.
  • Body Motifs: A rather odd one, given the book's subject. If a female character pops up at any point, her naked breasts will be described or referenced.
  • Death Equals Redemption: While not exactly a villain in this case, Harry Ricks apologizes to his XO for the way he commanded USS Maine shortly before they're hit by one of Admiral Lunin's torpedoes. Thankfully, it ends better for most of the rest of the crew.
  • Did the Earth Move For You, Too?: A throwaway joke made when the terrorists are digging up an unexploded nuclear bomb.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: A sizable portion of the novel consists of Elliot trying to ruin Ryan's career and marriage because he objected to her bad manners in Clear and Present Danger. It makes more sense when you figure out that she's a petty, vindictive bitch.
  • Expy: Bob Fowler and Elizabeth Elliot make a good Ahab And Jezebel allegory. On his own, when he listens to competent advice and doesn't have a Poisonous Friend whispering in his ear, he's still somewhat arrogant and out of his depth, but can be a halfway decent Reasonable Authority Figure. Unfortunately, Elliot does her best to corrupt him into being as venal, paranoid, and selfish as she is, and his nobler qualities greatly suffer as a result.
  • False-Flag Operation: The terrorists' plan in the event of their capture is to implicate Iran in the bombing, the idea being that if the U.S. were to respond in kind, by nuking Iran, the Muslim world would rise up against America.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: The novel was written prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, but set chronologically afterwards. Oops. Though Narmonov is pretty clearly written as a Gorbachev expy. It isn't so much a matter of assuming that the USSR would continue, but not being able to predict exactly how it would fall apart.
  • Heroic BSOD: Jack Ryan experiences a drawn-out, stress-induced breakdown - one of the few times in the series that he has not been up to the task at hand. This is due to finding himself working for a hostile administration without much in the way of support.
  • Hot Line: Played realistically in that instead of the stereotypical "red phone" with national leaders directly conversing, it's a teletype connection with translators on both ends. Using this form of communication causes the U.S. and the Soviet Union to edge closer to nuclear war because the U.S. President, after hearing reports of a possible coup d'état in the Soviet Union, believes he's talking to someone other than the Soviet Premier.
  • It's for a Book: While doing the research for the novel, Clancy was able to get the specifications for all the machinery needed to build a nuclear bomb delivered to his doorstep. He then pointed out in his author's notes that it's all commercially available within the U.S.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: John Clark uses this; also a case of Mutilation Interrogation by way of Fingore. It fails in that the badguys were planning all along to lie under interrogation to falsely implicate Iran in their bomb plot.
  • Jerkass: Harry Ricks, newly minted commander of USS Maine, is a hardcase engineer with a bad case of Miles Gloriosus when it comes to actual command. Elizabeth Elliot, Fowler's National Security Adviser, is worse, attempting to ruin Ryan's life on the basis of a petty vendetta and driving Fowler to the brink of nuclear war through sheer paranoia.
  • Life Imitates Art: It's mentioned that local wags near the Strategic Air Command HQ joked that the relatively new (at the time) Command Center was made so that the actual place matched up with the common Hollywood depictions of the facility, which were better than the original structure.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Both Fowler and Elliot go into full BSOD mode when they realize how close they came to starting World War Three. Fowler resigns his presidency immediately afterwards and Elliot gets taken to a mental hospital.
  • Rich Bitch: Elizabeth Elliot, made worse because of her relationship with President Fowler. She becomes his most trusted advisor but her paranoid insecurity causes her to lead him to the brink of nuclear war. She has a full on breakdown afterwards.
  • Shoot the Builder: When terrorists assumed that the bomb that the bomb was finished, they killed the nuclear engineer. They shoulda allowed him to triple check everything first.
  • Super Bowl: Where the terrorists plan to detonate their nuclear bomb.
  • Torture Always Works: Subverted. The terrorists lie about who their backer is, when they are subjected to torture. They had intended to do this all along.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Subverted. Unlike most other villains Clancy writes, the ones in this book are quite honest with themselves. Qati and Bock admit to themselves they just want revenge. Elliot makes no bones about her pursuit of power and her own vendettas, and even the characters who aren't so much evil as they just Jerkasses are quite honest with themselves about their own motivations.
  • Western Terrorists: The Warrior Society.
  • Willing Suspension of Disbelief: Lampshaded by various characters, who find it hard to do this over the sweeping political changes that drive the conflicts of the book.
  • Xanatos Gambit: The terrorists' plan has multiple outcomes, all of which work to their benefit. If U.S. blames the Soviet Union for the nuke, it's World War Three. If not, they've still killed a lot of people. If they get away, great; if not, they've got a False-Flag Operation set up to implicate Iran.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Subverted. The nuclear scientist hadn't actually finished the bomb yet. Because of that, the nuke's yield is significantly lessened, and provides the vital clue that keeps the US from launching its arsenal at Russia. Played straight with the terrorists' U.S. accomplice, whom they murder once the bomb is planted.
    • Played straight when they kill their American helper. The fact that his corpse is as close as it is to the stadium (and not completely charred) is one of the clues that tells them that this isn't a Soviet bomb.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Qati, the leader of the terrorist group, is dying of cancer. He views the bomb plot as his last chance to strike a devastating blow against America. His cancer meds are a Chekhov's Gun that clue Clark into seeing through the False-Flag Operation.

The movie contains the following tropes:

  • External Combustion: Subverted. Dressler is Genre Savvy enough to have his bodyguard start the car first, and the poor guy obviously knows why. This is why the assassin wires the bomb into the cigarette lighter in the back seat, since Dressler is a chain smoker.
  • Make the Bear Angry Again
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: In the film's finale, all of the major conspirators are discreetly hunted down and assassinated by Russian and American agents.
  • Scenery Gorn: Only lightly played - after Baltimore is nuked, the only long shot we see is of a mushroom cloud rising through the dusty fog kicked up by the shockwave. The explosion itself is mostly seen from the ground or helicopter level. But there are a number of scenes in the outskirts where generic streets are on fire, emergency vehicles are flying around, and chaos generally reigns.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: The villains. Here, they are noticeably all successful businessmen and politicians.