Conservative cinema?

This week, National Review issued its list of the 25 best conservative movies of the last 25 years. (Unfortunately, it’s not all on one page; you have to comb through all the entries to find them.) It’s about what you’d expect; the only surprise is the placing of the genuinely wonderful The Lives of Others (which was apparently the late William F. Buckley’s favorite movie) at No. 1. It’s hard not to be charmed by a list that tries to find a conservative lesson in Ghostbusters, but reading this list reminds me of what baffles me about modern conservatism (or pseudo-conservatism). I’m genuinely hard-pressed to identify what it is they believe in, since everything they celebrate seems to come into conflict with something else they celebrate.

Reading the list, you learn that conservatives hate and fear the state:

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil portrays a darkly comic dystopia of malfunctioning high-tech equipment and the dreary living conditions common to all totalitarian regimes. Everything in the society is built to serve government plans rather than people. … Terrorist bombings, national-security scares, universal police surveillance, bureaucratic arrogance, a callous elite, perversion of science, and government use of torture evoke the worst aspects of the modern megastate.

But you also learn that conservatives love their state, at least when it’s beating the crap out of other states:

A welcome glorification of Reagan’s decision to liberate Grenada in 1983, the film [Heartbreak Ridge] also notes how after a tie in Korea and a loss in Vietnam, America can finally celebrate a military victory.

A righteous state like America has every right to wage war. To question this is beyond the pale:

Most movies about the Vietnam War reflect the derangements of the antiwar Left.

We also learn that liberals hate freedom and never want to fight for it:

Braveheart taught that freedom is not just worth dying for, but also worth killing for, in defense of hearth and homeland. Six years later, amid the ruins of the Twin Towers, Gibson’s message resonated with a generation of American youth who signed up to fight terrorists, instead of inviting them to join a “constructive dialogue.” Liberals have never forgiven Gibson since.

That said, conservatives aren’t too clear on what this “freedom” thing means. One might assume that it included, at the very least, respect for the law, respect for privacy, and respect for a free press and a diverse public opinion. But no, a true conservative hero would violate them all:

The Dark Knight (2008): This film gives us a portrait of the hero as a man reviled. In his fight against the terrorist Joker, Batman has to devise new means of surveillance, push the limits of the law, and accept the hatred of the press and public. If that sounds reminiscent of a certain former president—whose stubborn integrity kept the nation safe and turned the tide of war—don’t mention it to the mainstream media.

We’ve heard a lot of interesting defenses of George W. Bush, but I believe this may well be the first time anyone’s ever likened him to Batman.

Curiously, although NR conservatives presumably take pride in the successes of America’s free market, they get positively apoplectic about the most prominent (and certainly the most successful) example of unfettered American capitalism — something that every single liberal in America, moreover, associates with capitalism and capitalist values. I refer, of course, to Hollywood:

Forrest Gump (1994): It won an Oscar for best picture—beating Pulp Fiction, a movie that’s far more expressive of Hollywood’s worldview.

300 (2007): During the Bush years, Hollywood neglected the heroism of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan—but it did release this action film about martial honor, unflinching courage, and the oft-ignored truth that freedom isn’t free.

An “oft-ignored truth” that just happens to be the theme of every action movie ever made?

It’s a shame NR didn’t decide to extend the list beyond the last quarter-century; one can only guess at the results: Casablanca? For a Few Dollars More? Metropolis? Planet of the Apes? Elvis Presley’s Clambake?


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5 Responses to “Conservative cinema?”

  1. Evan Lisull Says:

    As far as Batman is concerned, I like to think that I was ahead of this bandwagon, arguing in a somewhat deranged fashion that the movie was really just one big defense of the War on Terror. Cyber-monitoring, torture, lawless pursuit of anarchist enemies — it’s all there.

    Personally, I’m just glad that “Red Dawn” made any list. Even this non-interventionist conservolibertarian can appreciate the battle cry of, “Wolverines!”

  2. mattstyer Says:

    I thought like Justyn that this film is a weird mish-mash trying to put some square pegs in round holes.

    Anyway, I thought the Dark Knight was a lot less topical and more timeless in a sense – a morality play on the nature of good and evil, cast in Nietzschean light.

    This guy has a good take on it:

    I don’t quite agree with the second to last paragraph or certainly his ending conclusion (because I’m not Nietzschean), but I do agree that it is a wonderful piece of pop-art. And it is basically conservative, as Nietzsche was in many ways. My friend and I saw it independently and we both thought “Beyond Good and Evil” right away.

  3. From Under the Sun « The Arizona Desert Lamp Says:

    […] At the Civic Spirit, Justyn Dillingham points out the conflict within the National Review’s list of top […]

  4. Daniel Greenberg Says:

    The Dark Knight was kind of blatant. So was 300. I would typically prefer as many Clint Eastwood movies on the list as possible, but I guess I’ll settle with 2.

  5. Connor Mendenhall Says:

    It’s a shame Jack Abramoff’s “Red Scorpion 2” didn’t make the list.

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