Theater is well-known for staging political discourse. Shakespeare, whose political and psychological insights are still being understood in new ways, defined the canon of Western literature. He explored human nature through genres ranging from tragedies to black comedies, portraying the psyche with poetic acuity. While his plays and poetry put me to sleep in high school, I must admit that reading them now makes me realize just how relevant they really are. The Bard’s play-within-a-play technique allowed him to do something quite amazing. Building layer upon layer within a single story, the complex plots tease the audience, daring thinkers to keep up with the playwright. Shakespeare’s provocative ideals about art translated into modern cinema. For example, Apocalypse Now, popularly known for its anti-war stance, represents the government as a failure of colonial enterprise. If you pay attention to the philosophy of Col. Kurtz, played by performance master Marlon Brando, the “horror” seen in war is the effect of people acting like gods.
In order to cover up such crimes, a politician like Nixon gave us such convoluted explanations that we got lost in his maze. Remember Inception, how reality is caked with layers upon layers of dream? Watch it again and judge whether Cobb, performed by Leonardo DiCaprio, reached reality in the end. Or did he just get lost in a web of chaos and deception?
Feeling similarly lost? You might watch American Beauty with comfort then, since pretty much everyone in that story feels the same. Coming across as a typical family drama, the movie is actually a harsh critique on our culture. And that floating bag— justify to me how that can be beautiful, and I’ll give you my tuition savings. When I watch the movie I feel that nobody knows what’s good for them, because values— ranging from a disheartened war vet to upper-middle class yuppies— have crumbled. What is termed “beautiful” in the movie is pathetic, and subjective judgement is thus made arbitrary and null of any grounding in reality. This, or so much of the world will claim, is the poor taste of North American mainstream— if you don’t believe me, ask Noam Chomsky.
When it comes to poor judgement, see if you can figure out any of the characters’ intentions in The Ides of March. This film, whose title emanates from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, shows its viewers the reality of Machiavellian politics. Look at Gov. Mike Morris, played by George Clooney. His deceptions are so careful that he not only fools his staff, but the audience watching the movie.
While you might catch onto political slants in pretty much every movie, the following is a list of my top cinematic critiques of the political game:
The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer)
JFK (Oliver Stone)
Absolute Power (Clint Eastwood)
The Matrix Trilogy (Wachowski Bros.)
The Insider (Michael Mann)
Lions for Lambs (Robert Redford)
Enemy of the State (Tony Scott)
The Adjustment Bureau (George Nolfi)
Manufacturing Consent (Noam Chomsky)
The Godfather Trilogy (Francis Ford Coppola)
Before tuning into the presidential election, watch these movies, read the newspaper, and make some appalling connections.
– Marco Filice