If you follow cinema and politics as closely as I do, you should be able to see the analogies and allegories, the figurative dancing upon the literal, contained within movies that convey, in a much more entertaining way, the ills that plague our societies. With each passing day, I cannot help but think “I’ve seen this movie before.”
In many ways, politics is the art of repackaging, of making the recycled seem original. How many heist movies have you seen where the protagonist says, “Just one more job, and then I’m out,” and in how many rom-coms have the protagonist’s best friends fallen in love?
How many times have administrations, lead by reformers, “Washington outsiders” been just as wracked by scandal as the outgoing administration, and how many times have we seen further discord and dysfunction be the result of our elected officials attempting to perform “the will of the people?”
Tropes serve as signifiers for movie audiences, as a shorthand or cheat sheet so observers can easily follow plot and character developments. I’ve written before of the disdain audiences and critics typically hold for movies that do not exhibit common story-telling devices, but amorphous images and dialogue allow audiences the freedom to project their own meanings and significance. Put another way, for both government and movies, when it isn’t just business as usual, we more freely inhabit spaces where we have more control over our interactions with either entity. When there is less overt direction, our imaginations flourish.
Daniel Plainview’s opening monologue in There Will Be Blood contains the following passage:
Now you have a great chance here, but bear in mind: you can lose it all if you’re not careful. Out of all men that beg for a chance to drill your lots, maybe one in twenty will be oil men. The rest will be speculators, that’s men trying to get between you and the oil men to get some of the money that ought by rights come to you. Even if you find one that has money, and means to drill, he’ll maybe know nothing about drilling, and he’ll have to hire the job out on contract. And then you’re depending on a contractor, who will rush the job through so he can get another contract just as quick as he can. This is the way that this works.
I thought of this scene from what is certainly one of the best films of the past decade just after the election of Donald Trump, and the continued GOP majority control of both houses of Congress, and was again reminded of it during the recent failure to repeal and replace Obamacare.
If you know anything about the health insurance and medical billing rackets, and have been following the past seven years of intrusion into what should be a very private affair by politicians and bureaucrats, you’d notice the parallels between the above soliloquy and the ongoing Obamacare saga. If you know nothing about those rackets and Obamacare, then just take my word for it and believe what I say, I know what I’m talking about.
If the shenanigans surrounding Obamacare taught us anything, it would be that there will be partisanship, though partisanship need not be expressed in a binary fashion. There were so many tropes, signifiers, and foreshadowing that I knew that no Democrats would break ranks, and I knew that there’d be a rift between the more conservative/libertarian wing of the GOP and moderate Republicans regarding repeal and replace; the Democrats succeed via herd mentality, whereas the GOP seems to almost thrive on internecine conflict, and while the Tea Party big banged itself into existence due to Dubya’s spending sprees, it really gained traction following the passage of Obamacare (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?).
Anywhat, where was I again? Oh, yeah, Logan and the X-Men franchise.
So, as I was saying, movies so often mirror politics that we non-mutant scum just take it for granted. Aside from sci-fi flicks from the 1950s and the ’60s reflecting the Cold War, a movie series that most effectively tackled a major contemporary social and political issue were the X-Men movies’ allegory of civil rights issues.
The franchise started off well enough: the first movie dealt with mutant registration, the second with confiscation, and the third with conversion. The less said about the first two stand-alone Wolverine movies the better, though they had their share of “social issues” (I spent a lot of time looking for an emoji of Wolverine’s claws to use there instead of quotation marks, but somehow, something so uselessly esoteric does not exist). Then there was First Class (collective identification), Days of Future Past (militant resistance), and Apocalypse (um…Egypt?).
And so, unlike everyone I know, I didn’t really like Logan and like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, midway I just wanted the goddamn thing to be over. Not because of the gore and f-bombs, but because everything was somehow even worse.
I realized a few days later why I felt that way: civil rights for everybody are better now than they were in the past, whether we’re talking about for women, the LGBTQ community, non-Christians, or for people of any colored variety (that’s right, I wrote “colored,” deal with it). We no longer live in the days of Jim Crow, or state-sponsored oppression of anyone who isn’t a straight, male WASP. But, in the X-Men film franchise, things keep getting worse for mutants, and this is not an accurate reflection of the world we live in.
Charlton Heston, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans and Roddy McDowall would shake their rubber faces in disgust.
And that’s the way it is, as far as you know.