Bright Lights Film Journal

America Loves its Big Dumb War

I just saw BOURNE ULTIMATUM but I don’t want to write about that. I want to write about the previews. There were about 10 of them. Here’s the ones I remember: Nic Cage in NATIONAL TREASURE 2, chasing after the sacred Harry Potter-esque tome that only presidents can read (it explains the JKF assasination and Area 51). In LIONS FOR LAMBS, Tom Cruise is the crafty senator chanelling his old war-trail buddy, Jack Nicholson: “You can’t handle the truth!” to Hillary-esque journalist Meryl Streep.

Elsewhere, Denzel Washington fuses GODFATHER-style family dynamics with TRAINING DAY ruthlessness as a crime boss of a black crime organization “bigger than the mafia” in AMERICAN GANGSTER. Russel Crowe is the cop with his eye on Denzel, though apparently you’re not expected to have to choose up sides. David Cronenberg, no less, directs EASTERN PROMISES, which has Naomi Watts replacing Mario Bello in a Russian-ized HISTORY OF VIOLENCE REDUX (except it’s the Russians… again, and this being Cronenberg, they are spoken of as akin to a virus). In a film called IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, ex-military man Tommy Lee Jones loses his son in Iraq, goes over to investigate and is swept up in inter-army intrigue and cover-ups. Lastly comes THE KINGDOM (pictured): starring Jennifer Garner and Jamie Foxx. They’re part of an elite squad of super-team Americans called in to catch a mad bomber in Saudi Arabia. Soon they’re all being kidnapped, trapped, stuck down alleyways filled with sinister vendors, etc. Hey, this is the one I’m going to see, ALIAS on the big screen, with Foxx? BLACKHAWK… BACK UP!

The morals on display in these long and bombastic previews turns out to be that we need crazy tyrants like Nixon, like Kissinger, like Sterling Hayden in DR. STRANGELOVE, like George C. Scott as PATTON, Brando as the GODFATHER, John Huston in CHINATOWN, Gene Hackman in FRENCH CONNECTION, Robert Shaw in JAWS: we need real characters unafraid to bloody up the joint. That is if we want to win the unwinnable, or do you want bombs in your living room? Do you want to get trampled on by the muddy feet of terror? The ominous bass synth chords gradually fade against the bright dawn of military trumpet fugues and slow motion flag folding and white-gloved salutes. Damn right, you don’t

But America is nothing if not proud of its ability to be antithetical at all times–always apologizing after every bloody accident, determined to keep at least the idea of peace alive, which is in fact one of its greater strengths, the reason even armchair radicals like me still love it. So folded in with the jingoism is serious angst over Iraq, it’s become America’s STD. We can’t get rid of it, we can’t cover it up. We were careless, we just dove in where we shouldn’t have and now we’re scarred for life. Now no one wants to get into bed with us.

The shame and angst over it all is coded, subtexted and re-molded into a thousand grand and golden shadowed shapes. At one point in the harranguing, Robert Redford directly scolds the American people for not rising up in protest over the war and that the political machine is intentionally breeding apathy. Damn straight, Robert. Should we storm the box office first? May 1968 in Paris, man, they took the movie money too. Because le cinema is for le people!

I say instead of big trillion-dollar coded apologies, let’s remake THE BIG LEBOWSKI with Ronny Cox and Chris Cooper. That’s the only war film I’ve seen yet where peace is actually achieved. The war is simply walked away from, and bowling is restored. The wise-beyond-wise Coen Brothers know what all our power-mad egomaniacal Hollywood bigshots don’t: You can’t bully your way into peace. You have to merely take it, because it means not holding on to anything.

America is like the abusive father who hits their kids because they flinch when he tries to hug them (he later sends them to military school, all because he wants to make out with Kevin Spacey.) For real peace you have to withdraw from the conflict, the way the son does AMERICAN BEAUTY. You have to bust the first move. You have to be really brave and put your sword down while the other guy’s is still raised, looking him square in the eyes as yours suddengly go all watery with soul-to-soul connection. You have to open your arms in a big wide hug and just trust that you’re already in heaven as you walk towards your brother with his finger still on the trigger.

When everyone is bowling, the little politicians that couldn’t will come out from their bunkers, screaming: “You can’t do that! Get back to work!” So will the protest leaders:, “These rocks aren’t gonna throw themselves! Get back here!” Gradually the bowlers will all start humming the Battle Hymn of the Republic, or “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” depending on if the director is Ridley Scott or Oliver Stone (with an uncredited John Milius retouch).

Until then, the new face of American Hollywood is carving from the celluloid is war-raveged in the most cowboyish of ways. His face is weather-beaten but stoic; and voted still sexy by polled older women; His hair grayed, his cheeks with attractively dabbed-in powder burns; his eyes shedding a fatherly tear, he looks up at a scorched painting of Abe Lincoln and slowly, gently turns it to the bullet-pocked wall. He says, “See you soon, Abe. I hope.”

I say this: America, get your kicks in while you can, cause the ghost of Gandhi’s comin’ to get ya.