A while ago I took a course called “Politics and Film.” The goal of the course was to be able to answer the question “What are the politics of…” just about any film you see. This summer, in a heated political climate, it seems that question came roaring back in unexpected ways. You just can’t get away from partisan politics in an election year. Even during the summer. Even at the movies.
So what follows is a breakdown of the political leanings of some of the summer’s most escapist fare. Sure, anyone can guess the politics of Farenheit 9/11 or The Manchurian Candidate (they’re both, of course, Libertarian). But the following films are a touch more subtle about their agendas. If these films were registered voters, whom would they elect?
Oh, and since I give away the endings to just about every movie that came out this summer, I guess this is kind of a spoiler alert. Read on at your peril.
Shrek 2: Kerry
You have Shrek, the honest but ugly candidate (Kerry), democratic party symbol in tow, vying for the affections of Fiona’s suburbanized parents (swing voters) who are also courted by the dumb but appealing Prince Charming (Bush), pimped by The Fairy Godmother (Karl Rove) to be more appetizing. To make himself more appealing, Shrek teams up with an attractive, younger companion, Puss-In-Boots (Edwards) and tries to affect his own makeover. In the end, though, looks, charisma, social status and all that crap aren’t nearly as important as celebrity support (e.g. voice by Mike Myers), so Shrek wins.
Oh, and Donkey is, I don’t know…Ben Affleck.
Spider-Man 2: Bush
Spider-Man 2 teaches us that sometimes, to do the right thing, you have to give up the thing you love. You have to sacrifice your dreams, your goals, your personal agenda. And by that I mean, of course, your civil liberties. That’s right, Spider-Man 2 shows us that by sacrificing those things that may bring us personal happiness we can defeat the forces of evil and strike a blow for the common man who, as Aunt May reminds us, needs heroes. With great power, comes great responsibility, and, as it happens, great restrictions on personal freedom.
If that isn’t enough, take a look at the bad guy, the so-called “Doctor” Octopus. He’s researching alternative energy sources! That’s how he ends up with 8 limbs. If he’d just stick to fossil fuels, none of this would happen.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Kerry
As if there were ever any doubt. We’ll forgo the fact that some Christian groups have denounced the Harry Potter books as endorsing Satanism. Instead, let’s take a look at this so-called “Professor” Lupin. (Okay, he’s actually a professor. I’ll stop that now.) He’s a werewolf. And by werewolf, of course, we mean he’s gay. Remember how last summer being an X-Man meant being “different”? I was just waiting for one of the other professors to ask Lupin, “Have you tried NOT being a werewolf?” And, of course, he’s forced to resign at the end because the frickin’ wizard PTA decides that they’re “uncomfortable” with one of “his kind” teaching their kids.
But this isn’t just about gay werewolf rights, this is about criminal rights. The unjustly accused Sirius Black (as in most of the U.S. prison population), whom we might as well just call Mumia, plays a key role here, as do the dreaded prison guards the Dementors, who prey upon your fears. Does that sound like anyone we know? That’s right. Homeland Security. They hover around the school for the protection of the students, but are far more dangerous than the criminal they hunt.
And Azkaban? Abu Ghraib! Come on, do I have to spell it out for you?
The Day After Tomorrow: Gore
In this film, the price we pay for the Supreme Court’s decision is nothing less than worldwide destruction. When will we learn?
The Bourne Supremacy: Kerry
The bad guys are oil magnates, so this one’s kind of a no-brainer. But what really makes this progressive is Bourne himself. He kills only when absolutely necessary. He admits the truth about his own complicity in the death of another character’s parents to her face. They cut the scene where he actually wrote a book denouncing his past, but Jason Bourne is, in fact, Richard Clark.
I, Robot: Kerry
The fatal flaw of The Three Laws is that our civil liberties will be taken away for our own good by the very public servants charged with protecting them. And Dick Cheney is a robot.
The only thing more specious than going to war over oil is going to war over some chick who don’t want your ass in the first place. But they do it.
Van Helsing: Bush
Don’t be fooled by his Catholic ties. Van Helsing is all Bush Republican. He unilaterally invades a foreign country to make a pre-emptive strike against a ruthless killer. And that scene at the end where he comes back with that banner that says “Mission: Accomplished” really kind of nails it on the head. Okay. I made that last part up.
The Village: Kerry
Again with the civil liberties. Here, it’s even more plainly drawn. A group of people reacting to a traumatic event in their lives (read: 9/11) decide to protect their children by lying to them and curtailing their personal freedoms in an extreme fashion. They invent monsters to scare the children into staying reticent. There are even big yellow flags which might as well say “Terror Alert: Elevated” on them.
The bad guys are corporate. You do the math.
Don’t let the hitman (terrorist) push you around, even if he does look like Tom Cruise. Kick his ass for America! Also, keep your cab clean and take pride in your work. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps to pursue your dream and save the hot D.A. who’s helping fight the war on drugs. Get tough on crime!
Yes. It’s about women’s lib. Or is it? Really, what does Christina Applegate accomplish? She joins the boys club, but she doesn’t really change it. They’re still idiots and they’re still reporting on stupid shit. This is about becoming one with the corporate machine, not bringing it down.
Alien Vs. Predator: Bush
This film is one big justification of the policies that led to the current crisis. Back during the carefree days of the cold war, America (and a lot of other countries, actually) made deals with less-than-trustworthy dictators, criminals, and other fun folks to stem the tide of communism. Remember how the mujaheddin were the good guys in The Living Daylights? Do you even remember The Living Daylights? It was the Bond film with that guy who was there for, like, two films. No, not George Lazenby! He was only in one. Never mind.
Anyway, we made some deals with some devils and later it came back to bite us in the ass. Well, what was the overriding philosophy behind this strategy? “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” This line gets repeated ad nauseam in AVP. Lex, the remaining human survivor, decides to team up with the remaining Predator to fight the Aliens. Never mind the fact that the Predator and his boys are responsible for the deaths of half her team and his species brought the Aliens to Earth in the first place. But in the heat of the moment, surrounded by bloodthirsty hordes, who ya gonna call?
In the end, the Predator dies saving Lex and the Predator mother ship comes down and all the Predators gather ‘round and one of them gives Lex a spear in a gesture that basically says, “Lady, you’re all right!” Unfortunately, in the real world, when you team up with killers, they usually just kill you.
The Terminal: Undecided
Although Spielberg produced Kerry’s convention biopic, The Terminal remains the only truly bi-partisan film of the summer. And that’s because it’s set at an airport. It can’t afford to pick sides. Which is sort of the point. If there’s one thing Americans are justifiably touchy about post-9/11, it’s airports.
So we have the overly strict head of security who cracks down on a Russian immigrant, then gets a patriotic bitch slap from his superiors about how that’s not the American way. This satisfies the Kerry contingent by harshing on a Cheney clone (seriously, Stanley Tucci looks like his younger brother in this one) but it puts a good face on Homeland Security, founded by the W.
We also have the xenophobic fantasy that the immigrants we see, by and large, remain in the airport, and even when they do get out, quickly go back home and don’t bother us anymore. They love America, but somehow never burden it in any way. This satisfies isolationists on both sides of the aisle.
So, there you have it. The movies want us to pick sides. But I say, don’t get drawn into that. Do your own thinking. Then follow your conscience. Then rent The Candidate and regret your decision.