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By the way, in case you were wondering why this is chopped up into little segments, it's because my brother-in-law advised me that more people would read my posts if they were broken up into shorter installments, and I grudgingly agreed that he was probably right.

So, Gladiator. Of course, this is a fantastic movie in many ways, one which I've enjoyed many times, but I can hardly see how it's a showcase of conservative political thought. Gardiner clearly disagrees, however, and his reasons are rather chilling:

"In essence this is a movie about confronting evil and destroying it. There is not an ounce of appeasement or the whiff of “engagement” in Maximus’s blood, only the desire to avenge the murder of his family and see justice carried out. It is the sort of uncompromising movie experience guaranteed to send pacifists and lily-livered liberals running for the exits."

Holy hexameter! That sentence ought to send Christians running for the exits. So uncompromising, bloodthirsty vengeance, rather than any more peaceful form of engagement, is to be the the order of the day? Well count me out. This is about as un-Christian an ethic as one could present, at least when put in those terms (though there are certainly more sympathetic angles to Gladiator). One desperately hopes that this is not indeed the essence of conservatism--an unswerving commitment to violence and revenge. Of course, this is also an absurdly simplistic distillation of the film, of which I hope we could say more than that it is about "good vs. evil"--as trite a summary as can be imagined. It is also about subversive opposition to the nation's rulers when they become too violent and oppressive, something which conservatives loudly condemned as "unpatriotic" during the Bush years, but which they now happily engage in now that Obama's in charge.

Next, Gardiner lists The Pursuit of Happyness, calling it "one of the most powerful tributes to the free market and the value of individual responsibility ever made." He goes on to gush,
"Smith’s character embodies the can-do spirit of Reagan’s America, and rejects the welfare state in favour of the capitalist ideal, while bringing up a young son on his own. The Pursuit of Happyness is an inspiring and often deeply moving tribute to the American dream, and one of the great conservative movies of this generation."

Once again there are two problems with this picture: 1) is it accurate? and 2) if it is, Christians should hold it at arm's length. Now, I've only seen the movie once, but it seems more reasonable to read it as the story of one man's determination winning out against the greedy capitalism that's repeatedly screwed him as it is to read it as a ringing endorsement of free-market capitalism. If Smith's final achievement of some measure of happiness in spite of all that has gone wrong is the American dream, then I'd wish for a better dream, one that didn't force one good man to fight the whole world to achieve success.

Which brings me to my second concern--a can-do individualism is light-years away from the Christian ethic of cooperation, interdependence, and care for one's neighbor. If this is conservatism, let us have nothing to do with it.

The sixth movie on Gardiner's list is The Dark Knight, which is, like Gladiator, an indisputably great film, but hardly seems to fit Gardiner's mold of conservatism. Unsurprisingly, Gardiner identifies its conservatism, similarly to Gladiator's, with the hero's unswerving opposition to the villain.
It is its depiction of Batman’s relentless war against the Joker’s campaign of terror, which marks The Dark Knight as a standout conservative film. The Dark Knight himself, played to perfection by Christian Bale, is unwavering in his determination to defeat his adversary, whatever the cost.

Now, The Dark Knight is a rich, subtle, and sophisticated film, and one can identify many themes in it, but when I see it, I find in general, a deep critique of Bush-era conservatism. In this film, as in Lord of the Rings (contra Gardiner), good and evil are not straightforward, and the war of the good guys against the bad is deeply ambiguous and morally perilous. We find that the "good guys" are deeply corrupt, and even the one shining white knight in the government determined to stamp out evil--Harvey Dent--himself becomes a villain through the relentlessness and remorselessness of his fight against the bad guys. The movie depicts the fact that the fight against terror creates as many villains as it destroys, both because it provokes new opposition like the Joker, which embraces violence in response to the violence of the law, and because it creates villains out of would-be heroes ("You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain"). Batman himself remains uncorrupt, yet this is a critique, not an endorsement, of forces like the US government, since Batman remains resolutely outside of the untrustworthy institutions of government, and refuses to fight terror with terror, to use deadly force against even enemies like the Joker. To be sure, the film does appear to in the end endorse victory through deception, rather than through the truth, and possibly of appalling surveillance methods (though these are portrayed as highly ambiguous in the film), endorsements which could certainly come across as endorsement of Bush-Cheney methods, though hardly of traditional conservatism or Christianity.

The last post shall address Gardiner's final four films: The Hurt Locker, Hotel Rwanda, The Lives of Others, and 300. (I have seen none of these, and shall merely cross-examine, and laugh at, Gardiner's rationales.)


Your brother-in-law was right about the shorter posts.

January 3, 2010 at 6:49 AM  

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