Revolution #76, January 14, 2007
Check This Out
The Good German, The Good Shepherd . . . and “The Good American”?
Movies “Interrogate” U.S. World War 2 Myths
We strongly urge our readers to see The Good German and The Good Shepherd, two current movies, which both raise important issues and questions--while also being very gripping artistically.
The Good German, which stars George Clooney and Cate Blanchett, seems to have particularly enraged the majority of critics. See it now, before they succeed in driving this out of the theaters, and spread the word. The film is done in the style of the late 1940s Hollywood “film noir.” These films were typically, though not only, crime films in which a flawed detective would get into what at first might seem a straightforward case but which--as the plot developed--would turn out to involve bigger forces than he had suspected and motives which were wrapped in deception and very hard to figure out. Steven Soderbergh, the director, “pulls it off”--he adopts the lighting, the acting styles, and even the music of the era in a way that brings this genre (or type of movie) to mind. And Clooney and especially Blanchett consistently wrap you up in their characters. And rather than only being an experiment in style, there is a way in which the form helps to deepen and add dimensions to the content.
What makes the film so valuable and different--and we suspect what has really incurred the wrath of the establishment critics, especially the critic at the New York Times--is the way in which this genre is used as the artistic frame to tell a story of big-power (and in particular U.S.) intrigue in Germany in the days right after the German surrender toward the end of World War 2. In so doing it strikes one of the tenderest nerves in American politics and ideology. The role and motivations of the U.S. in what has been almost universally deemed to have been the “good war” (World War 2) has been for many years an ideological cornerstone of the American culture--and Hollywood has abetted this to no end, including with all the “greatest generation” movies of the late 1990s. Today it forms a “base assumption” of the political discourse--the constant comparisons of the “war on terror” to World War 2. Without giving away more of the plot and the many dimensions of this movie, let’s just say this gives a little different angle on the whole thing. And--given how integral the “dominant discourse” on World War 2 is to political assumptions and activity almost across the board in this country--the movie can’t help but touch on very current concerns and provoke all kinds of thinking. Again--see it, now.
Coming out at the same time is The Good Shepherd--a movie directed by Robert De Niro and written by Eric Roth, who apparently had tried for over a decade before he finally got a studio to agree to make the film. Matt Damon stars as someone who goes from Yale to the foundation of what would become the CIA in World War 2 up to the U.S. invasion of Cuba in 1961. Working in a totally different style than The Good German, De Niro and Roth have also made a movie that forces audiences to examine basic assumptions about American “goodness” and innocence--this time in regard both to World War 2 but, more principally, to the “Cold War.” The Cold War lasted from 1945 to 1989, and two trends in particular form the backdrop of The Good Shepherd. First, the U.S. used extreme violence against the oppressed nations of Latin America, Africa, and Asia, many of which were striving for national liberation in this period. Second, the U.S. contended with the Soviet Union as its principal rival. In the late 1940s and early '50s, the Soviet Union was socialist and, as such, formed the bulwark of worldwide opposition to the U.S. for people who were striving for either socialist revolution or national liberation. In the mid-’50s, with the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union, the U.S.-Soviet conflict transformed into one between two imperialist powers--even as the national liberation struggles continued to rage throughout the world. But throughout the entire postwar period the CIA was a key force in pushing forward U.S. interests in both arenas and doing so in extremely violent and ugly ways.
How they did this--and the ways in which things done then relate to things done today--interweaves with the story line of this powerful movie. And again, the root assumptions of who is “good,” of who has the “right” to do what . . . of who is moral and who is not and the relation between ends and means...of where the truth lies, after all, and how to get at it...all come in for examination.
To be clear: these movies are art, not textbooks, and they succeed as art. But as art they seriously address questions of history and morality at a time when those questions are up in society in a crucially important way--a time that in its own way is shaping up as decisive to the decades to come as the early, formative post-war period addressed in these movies.
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