For the long holiday week-end, I went to the library and got an armload of movies. I'm amazed at how behind I am in my movie watching. I got In the Valley of Elah, thinking it had just been released last year. Nope, a few years ago.
I got that movie thinking it would be similar to the movie Missing, which I've written about here. It took me much of the movie to determine the similarities.
Both movies deal with fathers who have some of their most cherished beliefs ripped away from them. They're even more than disillusioned--one wonders how these men will carry on. Both movie fathers have their illusions ripped away because their sons have gone missing. They arrive on the scene thinking that they will save the day and find the missing son, and end up with a corpse and even more questions.
The two actors show the agony of this process differently. Tommy Lee Jones in In the Valley of Elah goes for the understated devestation approach with moist eyes, but no tears. There is one scene where his face transforms into a grim mask as he hears a confession, and it's amazing that he can transform his face into a series of slits. Jack Lemmon in Missing has a much more visible grief, one that I found excruciating because in the beginning he's so self-assured and confident, and he ends up so crushed and defeated in face, in voice, in posture--he completely inhabits that brokenness.
Many reviewers have criticized both films as being left wing propaganda or idealist in some way, but I didn't find this to be the case. When I first saw Missing, I was in high school and considerably less left wing than I would become in college, and these days, again, I'm not on the extreme edge I once inhabited. I admit that I might be unable to see the bias in these movies because of my tendency to leftist tendencies but I see the conflict differently.
To me, the conflict is more generational, rather than the left-right kind of divide. The fathers have one set of values, while the sons have a different set. The fathers' values during the course of the movie are shown to have value, even if the rest of the culture no longer shares them. In fact, I could argue that the broken societies in which the fathers find themselves point to the value of the abandoned values.
I also rewatched Charlie Wilson's War, another interesting piece of this portrait. How unlikely that Charlie Wilson would be able to do what he did. How amazing that the Afghans were able to get the Soviets out of their country. How sad that the story of Afghanistan follows the trajectory that we're seeing.
I was watching these arms smugglers in that movie and thinking of my idle daydream of becoming a deliverer of U.N. relief aid. I think of that ultranutritious nut paste that was created fairly recently that has saved so many lives--but have those lives been saved just to be transformed into cannon fodder?
The movies I've been watching would say yes. The movies I've been watching have been fairly negative in tone. I'm ready for a more hopeful message.