Movie Review: Nationalism in Movies Film as a Form

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Nationalism in Movies

Film as a form of cultural expression-." The modern film is a genre of its own that expresses a huge variety of cultural experiences through a fluid continuum. Film expresses the entire gamut of human emotions and needs; from the tragic to the comic; from entertainment to education; from adult to the young child. Films have become cultural artifacts created by specific cultural needs -- from a sociological perspective as a form of cultural expression for that particular time and place, but even more -- from the imagination and needs of the writer, producer, or director. Moreover, this cultural expression shows how cultural and historical events are reflected and affect the individual. Even the most simple cartoon can become a social or political statement in the right hands. Film, then, is considered to be an important art form, a source for popular entertainment, a powerful tool for educating, and a way to indoctrinate -- some would say propagandize viewers. The fact that film combines so many art forms -- visual, aural, dramatic, creates a universal power and desire that often transcends time and place, and more certainly geography. Because film creates far more than the reality of the image, instead allowing the director to provide fantasies and extrapolations of reality in time, space, and chronology, film becomes something more than the possible (Braudy and Cohen, eds., 2009).

In a sense, then, as many film scholars have noted over the past century, film is really a cultural mirror -- and mirrors can be reflections or shapers. This is the classic "chicken and egg" argument though, is almost superfluous. Within the culture of the film artist, politics and expression tend to be more liberal -- more open to radical social attitudes and movements. Films that are primarily made for fiscal or mass-market production, however, tend to reflect the changing mores of society, what society sees as humorous, serious, or relevant, and the manner in which the causality becomes "real" for most of the audience. A popular film genre that reflects the mood of contemporary culture is often expressed in films that deal with war and violence. In one case, films that deal with the political idea of insurgency are a unique representation of the obvious polarity of cultural values -- and, in the many cases, the sympathies of the director focus on the insurgents -- a somewhat oft repeated, and rather Marxist, view of the haves vs. The have nots, the wicked colonials repressing the noble savage, and even the downtrodden wishing to regain hegemony (Frame, 2005).

For this essay, we will concentrate on five films that epitomize this complex, yet often repeated, theme: V for Vendetta, The Patriot, Lion of the Desert, Taras Bulba, and Michael Collins.

Insurgency in selected films -- For the purposes of our essay, insurgency may be defined as a political or social movement that is either protecting or vying for legitimacy as in a tribe, country, or political movement. It is a long-term political agenda that may use various tactics of warfare to accomplish its overall goal -- typically for self-rule or a return to a nostalgic past. And, in our analysis, the historical accuracy of the script is not at the top of the formal analysis -- instead, it is the message that the director conveys to the (hopefully) sympathetic audience that becomes the predominant theme. Built into this genre, too, seems the underling view that a different world is possible, and that the new world can be created, at least within the construct of the film or the imagined future once the final credits roll.

Within the selected films, it is useful to outline the manner in which the protagonist/antagonist relationship represents the major theme of insurgency, and what forms of warfare are typified.

Table 1 -- Representation of Insurgency

Film

Insurgency Issue

Protagonist

Antagonist

Point-of-View

Taras Bulba

(1962)

Control of Cossack land in Eastern Europe

Cossack Tribes

Feudal Polish

Pro-Cossack; seen as indigenous people fighting for their land and independence from foreign domination

Lion of the Desert (1981)

Control over Libya

Arab Tribes

Italian colonials

Pro-Arab; Italy seen as the aggressor, invading colonial nation bent on using Libya for commerce and warfare.

Michael Collins (1996)

Control over Irish hegemony

Irish Nationalists

Government of Great Britain

Pro-Irish; Britain controlling and dominating the Irish nation.

The Patriot

(2000)

American Revolutionary War

Colonial Army

Great Britain

Pro-Colonial; Britain controlling and dominating American colonies without representation.

V for Vendetta (2005)

Freedom fighters in dystopian future set in London

V, a freedom fighter seeking to effect sociopolitical change

A Big-Brother, fascist government ruled using constant surveillance and propaganda

Pro-V- seen as the legacy to freedom fighters all over; the right will triumph.

Implied political agendas- Although each of the films in our analysis was produced in a different year, from 1962 to 2005, they all find sympathy for the protagonist, the downtrodden, the weaker and, without exception, against the "State" or organized power, depicted as colonial, rather totalitarian, rigid, and without sympathy for anything but economic and social power and greed. Instead of a formal political agenda, with the exception of Lion of the Desert, the producers and directors seem to be following an emotive storyline that is designed to portray an archetype of the heroic while entertaining the epic storyline that transcends time and finds so much resonance in modern audiences. In Lion of the Desert, however, the agenda was far more overt. Produced and directed by Libyan Moustapha Akkad and funded by the pro-Arab, anti-Western Gaddafi government. Still, there are clear patterns and comparisons between the films. When asked about the films, the common response from the director was less political and more social/cultural -- most commented something to the effect that each story was not a political statement, but a statement about freedom from totalitarian rule, and for the ability for indigenous peoples to self-govern. The point-of-view of the powerful is not noted -- Great Britain, for instance, by rule of law, was the legal government over the American Colonies and the Irish Republic, and the type of warfare conducted would be called, in today's parlance, guerilla warfare and acts of terrorism.

Comparison/Contrast- Within each film there is a struggle for what the audience is led to believe are basic and divine rights -- each culture, from the Cossacks to the Arabs, are being exploited, typically for economic reasons. It is through this economic exploitation that the true heroism of the epic evolves -- turning what might have been a simple farmer or shopkeeper into an extraordinary warrior. For ease of audience understanding, however, the epitome of the archetype is channeled into the personage of a single protagonist, Taras Bulba, Michael Collins, Omar Mukhtar, Benjamin Martin, and even "V." We are told that it is because of the extraordinary tyranny that each of these common people becomes a warrior -- and without the antagonism of the rigid outside control, would have been content to till the land, remain a shop keeper, or continue with a peaceful life. However, each hero lacks a choice -- it seems as if they can ignore the calling and remain in their regular lives, but we know that because of the blood of insurgency, they cannot -- they must rise and become what the people need; a central figure that takes the best views of the inner revolution and transposes it outward so that the population can have something from which to rally. Indeed, within each of the films our hero acts unselfishly in both the micro and macro world; Taras agonizes over the love he has for his son; V saves Evey Hammond; Omar allows a solider to live; Benjamin separates his bloodlust and anger between the enlisted and officer corps of the British; and Michael… [END OF PREVIEW]

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