2010-11-22

Three Great Films About Fascism

Ok, it's an odd choice.  Why fascism?  I like this topic because it is rarely discussed or avoided in modern academic circles.  When acknowledged, the issue is summed up as the prevailing system in WWII Germany and quickly dropped.  Also, the truly great films about fascism reach much further than political or national concerns and examine the personal effects; in other words, what it means to be stripped of individuality and any sense of the self, either temporarily or permanently.  Fascism itself makes people nervous and confused, particularly in the US, because socialism and communism can easily be ignited into fascism in a time of food shortage, disease, or any other national scare.  Many people in the US boast about socialist and communist practices as superior to those we currently employ, but no one dares touch on the potential danger of these forms of government when in the wrong hands.  I personally haven't heard the topic fairly and objectively addressed by those who support or oppose these policies.  Most of what I see are micro-clips of people screaming and middle school slander.

I think that everyone should see the following three movies if interested in getting a more in-depth understanding of this concept:

1984 - When I read this book, I found it difficult to relate with simply because of the theme.  The characters are so stripped of any distinguishing characteristics that they are cold, remote, and empty.  The film is worth seeing just to watch John Hurt's heartbreaking portrayal of Winston Smith.  His interpretation of Winston as the soft spoken writer, too smart for his own good, with a sickly body but nearly unbreakable mind, is truly haunting. One of the great performances in film.  Also noteworthy is the last performance of Richard Burton, who died the same year.

The Wall - In terms of visual imagery and good old-fashioned symbolism, Pink Floyd's 'The Wall' illustrates with a mixture of live and animated footage the semi-autobiography of band member Roger Waters.  With a father who died as a part of Allied forces when he was an infant, the album and film track protagonist 'Pink' as he descends into emptiness and eventually becomes his own worst nightmare.  One scene in particular depicts Pink as a boy, playing with a box of his father's military issued bullets he found in a drawer.  He places one on a train track, and as he jumps to avoid being hit, he sees a line of crudely boarded cars packed with people, like those that ran the lines to concentration camps.  As the cars pass, hundreds of tiny hands reach for him--all hands of children.  Pink has a vision of all the children only faceless, and himself as faceless, too.  Don't be like me and avoid this movie because you don't want to be a dirty hippie.  It is awesome.

Schindler's List - This is the most literal take on fascism, and my most obvious choice of the three.  Spielberg manages to show gruesome atrocity without ever resorting to exploitation of any kind.  Despite the graphic imagery, the film still feels reserved, restrained, even delicate.  What makes this movie ingenious is the clever use of Oscar Schindler as the main character.  Schindler is neither a Nazi nor a Jew, he is merely a citizen trying to make himself a success while chaos breaks out around him.  Because he is in the middle, removed from any direct responsibility, the remorse he feels at the end of the film speaks to the heart of anyone who has accepted injustice or looked the other way.  Through him, we see the perspective one who chose not to judge, only to realize too late that their own passivity contributed to evil, that they were involved, like it or not.  Arguably the best Spielberg film, and although it could be seen as self-indulgent, it has all the magic of the most beloved piece in the shop of a master craftsman.  

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