Now, having seen what "conservative" principles mean so much to Gardiner, let's see what movies tickle his fancy. Here, then, is the list:
1. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
2. Black Hawk Down (2001)
3. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-03)
4. Gladiator (2000)
5. The Pursuit of Happiness (2006)
6. The Dark Knight (2008)
7. The Hurt Locker (2009)
8. Hotel Rwanda (2004)
9. The Lives of Others (2006)
10. 300 (2007)
If you're baffled by this particular selection, don't worry, you're not alone. Admittedly, the columnist does not seem to be as interested in quality of filmmaking as he is in how resolutely the film advances a conservative agenda, but even here, he shows himself strikingly unable to read what some of these films are actually trying to say, and instead simply yanks certain idiosyncratic "conservative" threads out of the larger weave of the narrative. Black Hawk Down, The Lord of the Rings, and The Dark Knight, for example, have much more complex and ambiguous messages, as I will get to. Aside from the oddity of some of these choices, they are also rather troubling, at least for Christian conservatives. For one, the common element in most of them (at least six) is violence and gore. If these are conservatives' favourite movies, why not skip movies altogether and just go for video games, where you can get all the violence and gore you want? Certainly, there is a legitimate place for violence and gore in movies, but it certainly does not invite a positive image for conservatives (and certainly not an image Christians should want to identify with) if that is the common element in their favourite movies. Moreover, not a single movie in this list is particularly Christian at all (even if Lord of the Rings the book was, the movies certainly were not). That would suggest that there is little natural alliance between conservatism and Christianity.
Now, we should let Gardiner explain himself:
"A central theme that runs through several of my top ten picks is the eternal conflict between good and evil, and why the forces of tyranny and despotism must be confronted and defeated. They include films that Barack Obama should watch as he contemplates appeasing the likes of Iran and North Korea, or turning a blind eye to mass murder in Burma, Sudan and Zimbabwe. They also provide important lessons for the president as he faces the Taliban in Afghanistan and the broader threat posed by al-Qaeda."
In other words, these movies are great conservative propaganda because they show us that the world is an evil place where superior force and aggression is the only solution, and any hesitancy to use it must be condemned. Clearly this is a deeply anti-Christian worldview. For one thing, Christians do not believe there is an "eternal conflict between good and evil," but rather, a limited conflict in which the decisive victory has already been won, which frees us from feeling like the whole weight of the struggle rests on us and on our might. For another, while Christians believe that the forces of tyranny and despotism must be confronted and defeated, they have modeled for them in Christ the way in which this confrontation and defeat is accomplished, and it has nothing to do with the methods of military aggression that Gardiner seems to favour.
Of course, aside from this concern, there is something rather incoherent and self-congratulatory in this presentation of what defines "conservatives," something that crops up again and again in the treatment of individual films. Do liberals not believe in a struggle between good and evil? Most of the ones I've read or encountered do. They just have a different idea of where the line between the two is, and how evil should be confronted. For example, they tend to class militarists and multinational corporations with the evil, instead of the good, and they are no less animated and vociferous in their waging of this contest between "good and evil" as many conservatives are.
Now, in the next post, I will interact with Gardiner's description of his Top 3 films: Master and Commander, Black Hawk Down, and Lord of the Rings