Politically, this country has been a tad on the divided side the last few years. Ever since a certain Supreme Court intervention and four years of national tragedy and national travesty, mentioning your political affiliation is akin to announcing to the world which side of the ceasefire you belong on.
Appropriately, the world of the arts has reacted in kind, producing works of derision and political cynicism that capture the national energy of the moment. Rather than pretend that everything is okay, or that it is absolutely horrible, the world of popular entertainment has taken to declaring that everything is political, and their films and television series have been critiqued in kind.
Were one to flip through a newspaper's film review section, it's nearly impossible not to find at least one film that has a 'political message' meant to jab at the heart of the Iraq issue or to undermine the 'Stability of the American Troops' as the opposition will say it. Either side is enmeshed in a high stakes game of who is more observant of things that don't exist.
The answer is neither side. While wishful movie critics conjure up dozens of possible scenarios in the films they are watching, in which a director (who often specifically denies doing so) has instilled some political message or another, pundits and the like do the same thing, trying to counteract the effects. There isn't a single year since the start of the Iraq War that at least one major Hollywood Blockbuster hasn't undergone the scrutiny of which faction represents George W. Bush and which represents whatever subsection of people he's destroying.
It's a natural progression though, to project political angst and anger from the immitigable presence of the President and his administration onto the very accessible films that millions of viewers absorb every day. Star Wars Episode III, while a film that surely had many parallels to the situation in Iraq and here at home is clearly not a political allegory, if only because that storyline was set nearly 10 years ago, before anyone knew who George W. Bush even was, other than a failed baseball team owner and new state governor.
And yet the critics started a buzz, mentioning that the situation was very similar to our own and that Lucas was very harsh on the "evil side". Of course he was harsh on the evil side. It's Star Wars. I'm not by any means saying that I wish to support the administration or contradict the message that these critics took away from Revenge of the Sith (believe me I'm not). I am, however, slightly annoyed that every time a major blockbuster is released, meaning a film with lots of explosions and often times a war of some sorts, the immediate conclusion of every major film critic is that it is a political allegory of some sort.
It's a lazy way to categorize a film to automatically compare it to something so prescient in everyone's minds that they have no choice but to agree. The ability to look at something and make broad comparisons to a real life counterpart is not movie criticism, it is basic observation. I can do it too. I recently saw Bridge on the River Kwai. Recently, Seattle has been arguing over a particular stretch of highway and how to rebuild it. And voila, I've compared a 50-year old war film chronicling the plight of POWs in World War II to the infighting of a few council members and entirely too vocal citizens of Seattle. I'm a movie critic now.
Of course, saying that relying on the easy parallels is an easy out is not the same as saying that films are not actually tackling these subjects head on. As I mentioned early in, there is a rapidly growing political awareness in film these days. However, in films that attempt to make such statements, the allegory is slightly less subtle (and denied by its directors). Films like Syriana or Good Night, and Good Luck targeted specific political actions that have not worked well for this nation. Even children's films, such as Happy Feet, the otherwise happy tale of a penguin who only wants to dance, is under the surface an environmental call to action.
Film is one of those mediums that can reach every human being on the planet when done properly. Films are made with specific intent, and most of the time that intent is to make money. However, those moneymaking machines are projected with dozens of interpretations, hoping to create a public awareness for a message that isn't necessarily there.
Other films, those that are specifically created to portray a particular message, are not nearly as popular, regardless of how good they are. However, it is in these important message-laden films that I find the most poignant displays of free speech and derision, not in 300, a film that relays a specific, age-old legend, and absolutely does not support the failing doctrine of a president without the nation's trust.