Every story has a moral to it. Whether cautionary or inspiring, to hold our attention it must present the actions of characters in a way that provokes us to say to ourselves– “I don’t want to act like that” or “I want to act like that”.
Oppenheimer looks like it will deliver a vivid, visceral cautionary history lesson about the birth of an essential component of our moden global era– nuclear deterrence. We will find out why a brilliant white man intentionally chose to transform an energy production process into the planet’s deadliest weapon.
I was raised on war pictures. Later, I watched Dr. Strangelove and got it. I enjoy good satires. I read Tom Clancy novels in high school. I recently read 2034, a scarily realistic forecast of the start of WWIII. So, the last thing I need is another lesson about the folly and hubris of white man. I don’t need to see, yet again, why it’s a terrible idea to untether science from emotion and apply it to a logical construct called the “greater good”. This imagined doctrine has been used to justify the unleashing of every evil from transcontinental slavery (we are civilizing beasts) to genocide and theft (they are not doing anything with the land) to invasion of sovereignty (they are harboring terrorists and WMDs, so we will destroy the country and rebuild it until we get tired of the effort) to mass incarceration (rehabilitation for dealing and using drugs is acheived at the same time as societal punishment through a combination of deprivation, loss of rights, and factory work that is for the enormous profit of private companies). Greater good has never and will never exist.
So I will skip the expensive kindergarten lesson, Mr. Nolan. Most of us actually paid attention to our teachers.
I’ve decided to skip Barbie, too. I was hoping it would be like The Lego Movie, a film that seemed to be about silliness, but was actually imaginative, hilarious and sweet. Adults need constant reminders to play again; that it’s essential to health; and, that imagination and creation is a human mindset, not a child-like mindset. What adults don’t need is another reminder that women are fully human and that gender itself is a white male societal construct designed to control others. The more I heard Will Ferrell yell “We need to put Barbie back in the box”, the more I realized I’ve been struggling my whole childhood and adult life to break out of boxes. So thank you no thank you, Greta Gerwig, I don’t need that weekday afternoon cartoon lesson, either.
What I did appreciate recently at the box office, though, was getting thoroughly and whole-body entertained by Tom Cruise & Co. in Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning Part 1 (Let’s call it “DR1”). [Vague, mild spoilers ahead] Admittedly, the entertainment has mostly to do with watching Cruise fling himself off a mountain, tumble around city streets inside a toy car, and battle his way onto, through, on top of, and out of a moving train.
The moral of the story, though, allowed me to enjoy the thrills without an inward groan. DR1, more so than previous films in the MI franchise, is premised on all nations being power-hungry and seeking control. If given the opportunity, they will go to extreme lengths to gain, or hold onto supremacy. Here, one easy-to-guess superpower sabotages the military tech of another easy-to-guess superpower, which inadvertently creates something worse than a nuclear weapon. Every nation is now racing to control this “weapon” to possess the ultimate deterrent and install themselves with superglue as the permanent king of the global hill.
This seems historically and currently right. So I rooted for Ethan Hunt. I put aside that he’s a white guy and instead saw him for what he represented— a person encircled by a few trusted friends branded as rogue for doing the good thing, vilified for not working to solidify power, hunted for daring not only to eliminate a threat but expose, punch and shoot the ones who created the threat in the first place. I am thrilled watching Hunt in action because that’s what I’d do. I just wouldn’t continually fling myself off something tall to do it.
It’s the same reason I loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I wasn’t rooting for Frodo as a small white guy. I rooted for the little, the underrepresented, the devalued, the underestimated guy who was the only one willing to fight power by destroying power instead of trying to wield it.
It’s also a Snake Plissken message, the reason I was mind-blown by the end of John Carpenter’s Escape From New York. It’s why I was thrilled four months ago when Miles Morales rebelled against the white patriarchal concept of hero creation in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, that heroes are forged from unprocessed trauma. Miles discovered the cliche for the dogma it has always been— manipulation to use trauma and harness collective expression to control and grow power. Miles is becoming a real hero, something beyond the broken reactionary hero.
It’s also why I started out loving the Indiana Jones franchise. Through fumbling, action, and antics, Indy sought out a weapon and then, for reasons he figured out along the way, “re-lost” the weapon the bad guys wanted. In my youth, I was more concerned about the results and less about the process. Now, process is critical. So, I won’t go see Dial of Destiny to watch a white dude fumble around and justify good results as noble intentions.
The summer blockbuster movie tradition is offered as a time to enjoy the ideal pairing for our popcorn. Much like the easy choice of whether or not to add butter flavor (never), we can choose to pair our movie snack with something familiarly artificial and toxic, or something sugary but still mildly fresh and nutritious. I suggest having a serving of Impossible this weekend.
— July 20, 2023