Torture, Compromise, Revenge: Hollywood Reflects a Divided America

by on February 5, 2013 · 0 comments

in American Empire, Culture, Media, Military, War and Peace

Zero Dark Thirty image

Screenshot from the movie Zero Dark Thirty. (photo: Columbia Pictures) RSN

By Frank Rich / RSN – New York Magazine / February 4, 2013

Not long after President Obama delivers his State of the Union address this month, Hollywood will offer
its own annual summation of the national Zeitgeist, the Oscars.

They’ve lately been an irrelevancy: Best Pictures like The King’s Speech and The Artist have been footnotes, nostalgic European footnotes at that, to America’s kinetic pop culture in the day of Homeland.

Not this year.

Whatever the explanation – and little in show business happens by design – the movie industry has reconnected with the country.

It has produced no fewer than four movies that have provoked animated, often rancorous public debate: Zero Dark Thirty, Argo, Lincoln, and Django Unchained, a film that pushes so many hot buttons you can’t quite believe it was made. All are nominated for Best ­Picture. All toy with American history.

Though none can muster the commercial might of superhero franchises like The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, all are box-office as well as critical hits. And all are worth seeing, whatever their failings.

To some observers, those failings include the many factual liberties the films take with real-life events, from the breathless, utterly invented Tehran ­airport finale that delivers American hostages to safety in Argo to the manufactured suspense grafted onto the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in Lincoln. But none of these movies purports to be a documentary, and in Django, Quentin Tarantino mocks any pretense to factual fidelity with his first, erroneous title card declaring that 1858 is “two years before the Civil War.”

However inaccurate these films may be about the history they dramatize, both they and the arguments surrounding them add up to an accurate picture of our own divided America as it stands at the dawn of Obama’s second term. And though Obama appears in only one of the four – in a bit of archival 60 Minutes video in the background of a shot in Zero Dark Thirty – the political context and climate of his presidency are present in them all. These movies may or may not be for the ages, but future viewers looking back to see what our age was like may find them invaluable.

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