Sometimes you’re just too angry to produce thoughtful insights. It’s not something I’ve experienced prior to the Trump era and I’m finding the experience very unsettling. Robbed of the ability to write sober material, it seems like a series of listicles might be a good pressure valve.
Here’s a week’s worth of movies that summarize Trumpistan’s Year Zero.
Downfall – 2004
This is the World War II movie American needs right now.
When you read about Germans who supported the Nazis you may find yourself wondering, WTF were they thinking? How did ordinary, otherwise decent people convince themselves that what they were doing was good? Downfall places a nice, ordinary, human face on political horror.
Downfall begins in the final weeks of the Third Reich, focusing on the experiences of Traudl Junge, a naïve young secretary to Hitler. Soviet artillery is raining on Berlin and loyal aides are beginning to rethink their choices. Some flee, some cling to delusions of eventual victory, some embrace suicide for themselves and their families. A few begin to feel the weight of what they’ve done, but most remain trapped in denial, buffered by a sense of victimhood. Despite the movie’s darkness, one British commenter explained, “It’s a happy ending. He dies.”
The film sparked controversy in Germany for its relatively humane portrayal of Hitler and his henchmen, but that was the point. More than any other movie I’ve seen, Downfall paints the Nazis in human terms, as ordinary people, with otherwise ordinary moral lives, who committed their public lives to the promotion of evil. When you go home for the holidays, you might be able to persuade your Trumpian relatives to watch Downfall by calling it a World War II movie. It’s a prophetic warning for the Fox News cult if you can get them to read subtitles.
Detroit – 2017
A film about the urban riots in the 60’s portraying police as the bad guys is a cultural watershed. Detroit depicts the police murder of three black men at the Algiers Motel, along with the subsequent cover-up. Central to the story is the relentless humiliation endured by black residents of the city at the hands of a de facto occupying force.
Detroit seems to represent a turning point in Hollywood’s depiction of the black experience. There’s no civil rights victory here, no heroic white savior, no justice, no happy ending. While watching this, keep in mind a movie event that may be looming ahead next year – the release of Patriotic Treason, a biopic about John Brown, starring Ed Harris.
Ex Machina – 2015
A programmer wins a one-week visit with one of the most innovative and eccentric figures in tech. His prize comes with a challenge, perform an advanced Turing test on one of the inventor’s newest creations. What starts as a nerdy dive into gadgets and wizardry devolves quickly into an evolutionary morality tale.
Chasing Coral – 2017
An Australian marketing professional hit on an idea to make climate change more immediate and relatable. He reached out to the director of the documentary, Chasing Ice, and convinced him to make this film.
Using complex, underwater time-lapse photography developed specifically for this project, the filmmakers captured in sickening detail the coral die-offs in progress in the Pacific Rim. They manage to capture climate change in action through a relatable medium. This is climate change – the movie.
Junebug – 2005
A young man returns home from Chicago to North Carolina, bringing his new wife along to meet his family. Amy Adams delivers an outstanding and unsettling performance as the main character’s pregnant sister-in-law.
Early on it feels like Junebug might become another sentimental, charming ditty about the South, but then it takes some odd turns, flirting with allegory or magical realism. Characters are rendered in a lovingly realistic, sympathetic and nuanced style. However, the plot is strange, in places more symbolic than real. This may be an artistic device, or may be what reality looks like when examined through so many contradictory lenses.
Having made such a journey myself, this film is as realistic a representation of the gap between Southern and Northern life as anything I’ve seen. Imagine a Faulkner story rendered in an entirely realistic style, and you can imagine the troubling, hard-to-reconcile plot elements of Junebug. This is a great film for 2017, highlighting absurd and seemingly irreconcilable city mouse/country-mouse, conflicts tearing us apart.
Get Out – 2017
Get Out is further evidence that in 2017 we turned a corner in artistic depictions of race. A young black man goes home with his white girlfriend to meet her socially liberal parents. He quickly finds himself in “the sunken place.”
Any more description of the plot would ruin the film, but this is a darker depiction of white suburbia than even Blue Velvet. Get Out preserves a remarkable amount of humor, almost enough to make it a comedy. Almost, but not quite.
9 to 5 – 1980
Stay with me here. This movie deserves another look in the year of #MeToo. It was among the highest grossing films ever made back in 1980. 9 to 5 centers around a chauvinistic sexual predator who terrorizes his female employees, who then plot to kill him. It’s a madcap comedy.
Scroll back up through the other films in this list, then ask yourself this question: Would 9 to 5 be a comedy if it were made in 2017? For its time, it was a relatively progressive statement about women’s experiences and their potential power, but you could only make a successful film like that in 1980 if you softened its edges with jokes. This seems like a film that could be reshot today by Quentin Tarantino as a blood-soaked thriller, in the style of Kill Bill. Perhaps that’s what it should have been all along, had its creators enjoyed a freer atmosphere.
Do you have a list? Share it and post clips in the Off Topic forum. I created a new topic for it here.