I wanted to like Les Miserables because I am so sympathetic to the underlying Christian mythos of the original Hugo story, but it took all my control to stay in the theater after about a half hour of this musical version of it.
This film lacked emotional texture. It was the same song over and over and over and over again. It was going for big emotions, but it was unrelieved, uninterrupted, strident, cliche-soaked pathos that became in my viewing of it over-the-top, eye-rolling comical by the end.
I checked metacritics after watching, and I was genuinely surprised that it got generally positive reviews with a rating of 64. Maybe this worked better in some of its stage versions, but this film version was a wretched, silly bore.
Spielberg's Lincoln, on the other hand, did work for me. It was a marvel of cinematic historical imagination. Daniel Day-Lewis was crazy good in the title role. Tommy Lee Jones's Thaddeus Stevens was a hoot. The dialogue was crisp and riveting.
Lincoln was our Bismarck. Both were all about blood and iron. This movie focuses mostly on the slavery theme, and it does so in a very compelling and interesting way, but the American Civil War was first and formost a war to maintain national unity. And Lincoln and Bismarck laid the foundation for their respective countries that insured that both would become superpowers in the next century. Was that really a good thing? I don't think so, and I wonder if a hundred years from now in a thoroughly browned U.S., when slavery and toxic racism become something read about in history books rather than experienced on a daily basis, whether Lincoln will be regarded in the same unambiguously postive light.
The Civil War, it could be argued, resovled nothing except maintaining a forced national union. Remind me again--why was that so important? Was it worth killing 600,000 plus? Are we happy that laid the foundation for the beast that we have become?
I've often wondered what would have happened the North just let the south go. Would the North have developed a less belligerent ethos and a greater kinship with Canada while the South became more third-world like with a greater kinship with Mexico? Would the North without the South have had a better chance of working through the contradictions of capitalism and evolved more easily toward European or Canadian style social democracy? Would the South have found it easier to confront the moral contradictions of slavery without the rigidifying resentment of its victim narrative?
I doubt the North would have handled the Indian issue any better--Europeans' 19th century record in dealing with aborigines the world over is pretty dismal--but I think that without the South more sane and humane policies would have been given a better chance.
Which brings us to Zero Dark Thirty. From everything I've read about it, it's about America at its worst. And for me everything that is bad about America right now is mostly about the way the mentality of the South distorts our national dialogue. The Southern narrative--its militarism, its racism, its faux Christian religiosity, its paranoia and sense of aggrieved victimhood--all of these represent what makes our politics so intractable right now. I know these are not just 'southern' characteristics, but they would play a more marginal role in our national discouse if the South were not a part of it. And if the North had evolved more along the lines of Canada, perhaps we would not have had a 9/11 and the national insanity that followed from it.
Am I being unfair to the south? Tell me why I'm wrong. Remember, it's not about individuals; it's about ethos and the group mentality that undergirds a political narrative. That's what I'm attacking, and while I am by no means exonerating the North from its many sins, I would argue that its menatality has given it a narrative that is better adapted to the complexity of the world as it is, and dealilng with the real world, not some fantasy version of it, is a prerequisite for developing a sane politics.