Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Questions in the Shadows

Awards Season will wrap up this coming weekend with the spectacle and ceremony of the grandaddy of them all, the Oscars. I mention them because a few of the nominated films have provided incredible food for thought lately.

Out of all the major Oscars contenders making the rounds, three have managed to lodge together in my head as almost a single entity: Argo, Lincoln, and Zero Dark Thirty. While completely different in many aspects, the one major thread running through all of these is the spotlight on the United States government and the hurdles overcome, many times from within the government itself, to accomplish tasks of prodigious proportions. More to the point, all three were a narrative focusing on how the actions of individuals can impact the outcome of the system, thus altering national policy and even impacting foreign policy.

The two films of this group depicting the CIA, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, form a syzygy with completely different tones and outcomes. While both offer a sobering view of the image of Americans abroad, Argo was a bit more comfortable to watch while Zero Dark Thirty was a film that needed to be seen but not necessarily enjoyed. While Argo maintained some character exploration and left the viewer with a bit of warmth in their heart, Zero Dark Thirty almost used the hunt for Osama Bin Laden itself as a main character to bleakly accentuate the question, "Where do we go from here?" I will long remember its final scene, and as far as endings go, it is one of my all-time favorites.

As for Lincoln, Spielberg delivers the genius and vision of Abraham Lincoln, no matter the slight massaging of actual history that was used to tell the story. The film was an incredible portrayal of the ultimate power of the American presidency combined with its most humbling limitations. At once an exegesis of Lincoln's personal life as well as an analysis of the workings of mid-19th century politics, Lincoln cast a microscopic view of a pivotal point in our nation's history.

In this sense, Argo, Lincoln, and Zero Dark Thirty all combine to provide the United States of America a long look at itself in the mirror. The questions of "how did we get here?", "who are we today?", "what is ahead of us?", and "how we are perceived by the rest of the world?" all may be in the background as the Oscars wash around us this week. But as awards season flows away, as the lights turn off and the red carpets are put away, these reflections will linger, if not loom. Hopefully we, both as a people and as individuals, can confront these ideas: digest them, be encouraged by our successes, acknowledge our failures, and help create a better world to live in.

1 comment:

Fiona Dinwiddie said...

What a beautiful thought-provoking column. It is always interesting to see if Hollywood whitewashes American history. In all 3 of these movies, there was some criticism of the government. Even in the sometimes schmaltzy Lincoln, we saw "the great emanancipator" trade votes for patronage jobs.

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