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So, we come to Gardiner's last four films. As I said, I haven't seen any of these myself, though I know a bit about two of them. So I will primarily confine myself to remarking on Gardiner's descriptions and the shallowness and appalling priorities they display.

#7, The Hurt Locker. This, I understand, is a recent portrayal of the Iraq War, and one which, by all counts, is a very well-done film. Also, by many counts, it is by no means as pro-war and pro-America as Gardiner seems to think (he seems to think here along similar lines as he did for Black Hawk Down), but in any case, the most troubling thing here is Gardiner's rationale for his endorsement:

"What is refreshing about the film is its willingness to portray the US military presence in Iraq in an overwhelmingly sympathetic light, and the al-Qaeda-backed enemy as barbaric and fundamentally evil. There are no shades of gray in The Hurt Locker, and this is a strikingly patriotic motion picture that has been embraced by an American public weary of the anti-Americanism churned out by Hollywood in its portrayal of the War on Terror."

Aside from the fact that his last statement is simply false--the film was a total failure at the box-office, ranking 128th among 2009 releases--this is one of the most ridiculous sentiments I have ever read in a movie review. So we're supposed to think of our enemies as "barbaric and fundamentally evil" and to place ourselves in an "overwhelmingly sympathetic light" without any "shades of gray"? Not only is this blatantly un-Christian, it is also irrational and unrealistic--the world doesn't work that way. There are shades of gray...the good guys are usually riddled with bad motives and bad decisions; the bad guys are often motivated by laudable and sympathetic goals. To call them "barbaric" is to dehumanize them in a way that can be used to legitimate any kind of behaviour against them, Nazi-style. To think so uncritically of one's own forces is naive and unwise, certain to lead to an embrace of any number of atrocities. This kind of talk is just foolishness.

#8, Hotel Rwanda. This too, from what I understand, was an exceptionally fine film, but its conservative credentials are dubious. According to Gardiner, we are to embrace this film because "it demonstrated the impotence and moral bankruptcy of the UN’s leadership in the face of genocide as well as the limits of multilateralism, and ultimately made a compelling case for the use of force by the free world to act against evil."

Wow, is that all that conservatism has left to stand for? Opposition to the United Nations and multilateralism? I've got my share of criticisms for the United Nations as well, but that hardly makes me a model conservative. And while multilateralism certainly has its limits, any sensible person should agree that it has less than unilateralism, and is certainly a more Christian course of action.

#9, The Lives of Others. This East German film won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2007, but, like Hotel Rwanda, its claim to fame as a "conservative" film seems to depend on an isolated and arbitrary criterion--namely, its opposition to Soviet-style communism. This is just silly; almost anyone on the political spectrum is quite aware of the evils of the totalitarian East German regime, and a film that exposes them does not thereby plant itself firmly on the right. Humorously, from Gardiner's description, the bad guys in this movie sound more like the Bush-Cheney government than any leftists I know: it "is a damning indictment of the totalitarian surveillance society run by the Secret Police in East Germany. Set in East Berlin in 1984, the film tells the ultimately redemptive tale of a conflicted Stasi officer tasked with spying on a dissident playwright." The most totalitarian surveillance regime in US history was inaugurated by the Patriot Act, and the dissident playwrights of American culture have generally been hard leftists.

#10, 300. You have got to be kidding me. You mean the comic-book style violent action extravaganza that came out a couple years ago, based on the Battle of Thermopylae? Wow. This really proves that all a movie needs to do to be a "conservative" masterpiece is to be bloody and militaristic. Gardiner's first line here is particularly fatuous: "Any film that prompts howls of indignation from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his brutal acolytes in Tehran deserves recognition." I'm sure that American Pie and its sequels would prompt howls of indignation from Tehran, too, but that is hardly a reason to recognize them as great films. The conservative lesson to take from this film is this: "As he contemplates how to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat, Barack Obama should ditch his failed appeasement strategy and take some tips from the Spartans about standing your ground in the face of an evil tyrant." Never mind that, in terms of relative power and the history of the conflict, Iran is much more analogous to Sparta and the US to Persia than the other way around. It's rather juvenile for us to pretend like we, the United States of America, most powerful empire that the world has ever seen, are the hopelessly outnumbered, overmatched heroes standing our ground and facing certain death in the face of an enormous enemy force that wants to conquer and colonize our homeland. But, the Iranians might reasonably enough identify with the Spartans in their long struggle against the U.S.'s military ambitions.

Gardiner lists for "Honorable Mention" the following 10 films: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (Andrew Adamson, 2005); Cinderella Man (Ron Howard, 2005); Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood, 2008); Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007); The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson, 2004); Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, 2006); Tears of the Sun (Antoine Fuqua, 2003); United 93 (Paul Greengrass, 2006); We Were Soldiers (Randall Wallace, 2002).

Although this list is slightly better, now I, as a Christian, am insulted. In the previous movies, Gardiner made no pretense of identifying conservatism with Christianity, even if many Christians have themselves foolishly done so. But by throwing in Narnia and The Passion, and the pro-life Juno, Gardiner lumps Christian values (which were admittedly completely stripped from the film version of Narnia) together with his bloodthirsty pagan militarism. In any case, this listing, aside from Juno and The Passion, shows the same idiosyncratic selection of values--a vague but uncompromising conflict of good-vs.-evil, a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps individualism, and a gory appreciation of martial bravery.

Wow, that was all rather too easy. But people actually believe this kind of thing, so presumably someone has to take the time to tear it to pieces. One hopes that we are finally reaching the point where conservatism has become so shallow, self-refuting, violent, and pagan that Christians will stop hitching themselves to its wagon and stand up for the Gospel.


Hollywood hollywood, what a perpendicular town, it's worse than Zabol

January 6, 2010 at 9:56 AM  

I saw The Hurt Locker in theatres (and re-watched it yesterday evening). I cannot imagine a more egregious and gross misreading of a film than the one Gardiner offers. It is rather he who is barbaric if this is the sort of analysis he concludes after walking away from such a picture that unflinchingly displays the horrors of combat and imperialism.

Chris Hedges wrote, "The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug." And this quote opens the film, and it's the addiction that the film examines. The brilliant (and unsettling) thing about The Hurt Locker is that easy answers aren't offered. There aren't good guys -- and the worst is the united states soldier who admits (to his infant son, no less) to only loving one thing: the adrenaline rush of war.

I've known people like this. And I weep for them.

January 12, 2010 at 9:50 AM  

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