June 17, 2020

Bank robberies, surfing and game theory – preferences and choices whilst parachuting

written by Hannes Lang
Bank robberies, surfing and game theory – preferences and choices whilst parachuting

Knowing the other player’s preferences and choices is essential to determine the greatest benefit of one’s own choices.

This is the second of two articles about game-theoretical strategies in the cult movie Point Break. The first article analysed the kidnapping scene, which shows that the game-theoretical strategy of eliminating one’s own options can be an advantage. In this article, the parachuting scene will also be analysed from a game-theoretical perspective, showing that knowing the other player’s preferences and choices is essential to determine the greatest benefit of one’s own choices.

It looks like Bodhi is at a disadvantage until a game-theoretical analysis of the situation shows Bodhi’s upper hand

After Bodhi and part of his gang manage to get on their plane to escape, and Johnny is forced onto the plane by Bodhi, they flee the country towards Mexico. Upon reaching the agreed location in Mexico, the remaining gang members, including Bodhi, take the last parachutes to jump out of the plane. Johnny takes a gun from the plane and jumps after them without a parachute. During the free descent, he manages to get hold of Bodhi, holds the gun to his head, and demands that Bodhi pulls the parachute.

Again, Bodhi and Johnny find themselves in a difficult situation. If Bodhi pulls the parachute, he and Johnny are saved, however Johnny still has the gun and is therefore in control. Having the gun also means that Johnny cannot pull the parachute himself, as he needs at least one hand to hold onto Bodhi and the other to hold the gun. If he doesn’t pull the parachute, both die. At first it looks like Bodhi is at a disadvantage, until a game-theoretical analysis of the situation shows Bodhi’s upper hand.

the decision tree shows that Bodhi has the upper hand

Bodhi’s and Johnny’s skydiving options

 

Bodhi knows that if he pulls the parachute, Johnny keeps the gun and stays in control of the situation. He can then arrest Bodhi and guarantee the safe return of Tyler. Bodhi also knows that if he does not pull the parachute and Johnny keeps the weapon, both die. He also knows that Johnny could drop the weapon and pull the parachute himself. Faced with the two options, Johnny will choose life over death, even if it means losing control of the situation.

At first glance, it seems that pulling the parachute is the safer option for Bodhi, however using backwards induction Bodhi knows that the deadly outcome in the “not pull parachute” scenario is unlikely. Bodhi hence concludes that if he pulls the parachute, he will go to prison, but if he does not pull the parachute, he will be free.

In the end, Bodhi refuses to pull the parachute and Johnny drops the weapon and pulls it himself. They both land safely and Bodhi escapes after letting Tyler go.

If you want the ultimate, you’ve got to be willing to pay the ultimate price

The next scene is a year later, when Johnny finds Bodhi at Bell’s beach. A huge storm has created enormous waves and a once in a lifetime surfing opportunity for Bodhi. Johnny is able to handcuff Bodhi, but then Bodhi begs him to let him ride one last wave:

“Look at it! It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, man! Let me go out there and let me get one wave, just one wave before you take me in. I mean, come on man, where am I gonna go? Cliffs on both sides! I’m not gonna paddle my way to New Zealand! Come on, compadre. Come on!”

 Johnny lets Bodhi go and walks away throwing his badge in the ocean. Implicitly the ending suggests that Bodhi dies surfing the massive storm, which is consistent with Bodhi’s statement earlier in the movie:

“If you want the ultimate, you’ve got to be willing to pay the ultimate price. It’s not tragic to die doing what you love.”

Game-theoretical strategies can turn a seemingly hopeless situation into a winning scenario

Bodhi and his gang do not act in a game-theoretical and rational way. The risk they take to finance their surfing lifestyles does not pay off. Even Bodhi can only spend less than one year of surfing after the last bank robbery, and is constantly on the run. Not to mention that he lost his friends.

Bodhi does show, however, that game-theoretical strategies can turn a seemingly hopeless situation into a winning scenario. In the first article, Bodhi showed that limiting your own options can show a strong commitment and be a strategic advantage in a ‘chicken game’ situation. In this second article, Bodhi showed that when having a gun to your head and free falling over Mexico, it is essential knowing your own and the other player’s preferences and choices to make the right decision.

Title image by Mickael Tournier on Unsplash