Wednesday, June 08, 2005

You want the truth? You can't handle the truth 

I only recently got around to reading Mark Steyn's review of "Revenge of the Sith" - which, as anything that Mark writes, is highly recommended, or indeed, as anything that Mark writes doesn't need to be recommended - and one paragraph jumped out at me:
The heart of its mythic pretensions is the transformation of Anakin, boy hero of the three 'prequels', into Vader, black-hatted villain of the first three movies. For Lucas, the revelation of this degeneration was supposed to bring the Star Wars story full circle and explain the primal forces driving the original film. And what does Lucas come up with? Well, Anakin's worried that his beloved Padme might die in childbirth.
This brought back memories of a discussion I've read somewhere a few years ago on the fact that Hollywood seems to be so absorbed by inter-personal relationships - particularly those based on love - that it cannot easily envisage other motivations for characters' actions.

This, of course, is not a problem in all the "revenge"-type movies, where the hero goes on a rampage to avenge the brutal deaths of his (usually) wife and children. It doesn't happen too often in real life, true, but at least it's easy to imagine an ordinary, law-abiding citizen in these circumstances picking up an M-16 and a machete for some "eye for an eye" action. But "love is all" starts wearing a bit thin when historical characters are in play. Thus, Joan of Arc (in Luc Besson's version a few years ago) becomes a fearless warrior after some marauding soldiers rape and murder her older sister. "The Patriot" is a very reluctant one, becoming a Revolutionary hero after the Redcoats kill his young son. And William Wallace in "Braveheart" only learns to value freedom (or "frreedoom") when the English authorities kill his Scottish lass of a secret wife. Historical reality is starkly different - for example, Joan's sister was killed by the fellow Gaulic Burgundians, and not the English invaders, and Wallace's wife was actually English and outlived him.

And now, Anakin also does it for love. Well, mostly; like Mark "Deep Throat" Felt, Anakin is also annoyed that he's being overlooked by his superiors, so there is also the element of wounded pride and thwarted ambition that pushes his over to the Dark Side. Lastly, there is a political element; Anakin, sort of, comes to believe that the Republic sucks, Jedis are the bad guys and Empire is a better option, but these sentiments remain underplayed, and one never knows how much of it all is merely a convenient rationalization for Anakin's "they don'’t appreciate me, so I'll show the bastards" routine.

To put it simply: in real world - particularly when we are talking about big picture politics - ideas matter, but Hollywood just doesn't seem to get it, opting time after time for emotions. Our best and brightest creators don't seem to realize that throughout history people who changed the world were driven not by a sense of loss, and often not by self-interest (such as greed or lust for power), but out of commitment to abstract ideas: liberty, equality, brotherhood, or love of one's nation or ethnic group. Maybe it's because of the bed-hopping nature of the entertainment industry, maybe it's because of its obsession with therapy and pop psychology, maybe it's a distillation of soft leftyism (remember, Iraq was all about oil, or in a movie cliche way, about avenging the 1993 assassination attempt on Bush Sr.).

No wonder that Hollywood which will not give us Anakin who becomes Darth Vader to bring (as he sees it) the order of the Empire to the anarchic and dysfunctional Republic, will also not give us celluloid politicians and soldiers who love America and want to share the bounty of liberty with the rest of the world.


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