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on Monday, March 8th, 2010 at 8:53 am by Radley Balko
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75 Responses to “Monday Morning Poll: Oscar Edition”
The point you raised about the quality of Serenity vs Firefly is very good. When I voted for Serenity I automatically lumped Firefly as being part of the choice. I think a lot of people did this as the lyrics were for the show’s theme song. I think if having Firefly being part of the choice makes the case stronger, take it out and the case for Serenity being one of the best movies on its own starts to fall apart. That said movie about how the government trying to make people better turns them (literally) into monsters has to be considered pretty libertarian.
Agreed on all parts. Yeah, my vote was more for the series than the movie. But the movie definitely had its own pro-liberty message as well.
/still won’t forgive Joss Whedon for a certain character’s death near the end though
As long as we’re mentioning films that didn’t make the list, I’d include Fahrenheit 451, which had a strong impact on me growing up.
Also, when we talk about liberty in films, there’s always one speech that comes to my mind, from a movie that’s really not that good overall on liberty, but gets one part right:
For the record: yes, I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU. But the more important question is why aren’t you, Bob? Now, this is an organization whose sole purpose is to defend the Bill of Rights, so it naturally begs the question: Why would a senator, his party’s most powerful spokesman and a candidate for President, choose to reject upholding the Constitution? If you can answer that question, folks, then you’re smarter than I am, because I didn’t understand it until a few hours ago. America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free”.
Plenty of great movies on this list, but I’m surprised John Wayne isn’t getting more love for Shenandoah. A great film if you take it a face value, and the anti-authoritarian undercurrent is both blatant but blends well with the characters.
Soldier in charge of draft: Virginia needs all her sons, Mr. Anderson.
John Wayne: They don’t belong to the state they belong to ME! When they were babies I never saw the state comin’ around here with a spare tit!
Plus, how often do you see a treatment of the Civil War that is firmly pessimistic as to both Lincoln’s Liberators and the Glorious Lost Cause?
Brazil is also an excellent take on the basic 1984/Brave New World formula. I don’t know if it was deliberate, but at one point while listing off various buffoonish bureaucracies, which are all “Central ____”, “Central Banking” becomes the object of an extended gag without any hint that the phrase is in serious, real-world use.
Ok, it is official. I’m truly a libertarian geek. Not just a libertarian, but a geek too. The list of films discussed here is a big part of my “all time favorites list”, which is probably only shared in libertarian geek circles. Where else are “The Incredibles”, “Serenity”, “Braveheart”, “The People vs Larry Flint” and “Cool Hand Luke” going to show up on a list together. “Brazil”!? I thought I was the only guy left who had even seen that thing. Man, we are one strange group. No wonder our candidates never win elective office.
Cyto, or heck even the rest of you folk, you would probably also enjoy Thunder Road. I don’t think it holds its own with the rest of these films, but it does have its moments, stars Robert Friggin’ Mitchum, and makes for a nice evening’s entertainment.
I’m definitely going to have to check out The Lives of Others, so thanks for that rec.
Totally would have voted for V for Vendetta,but I have to say,when the time comes I’m ready to be a bad guy and I aim to misbehave. They can take my land and boil the sea,but they wont take the sky from me!!!!!
@Random Guy (47): I voted for Serenity too just because I love the Firefly ‘verse. But once I went back and re-watched the Firefly series for the third time, I’m pretty sure that Mal is as much a psychopathic killer as V ever was. I guess he seems less menacing because of his charming world-hardened naivety; derring-do; and compatriotism. But still, he seems to kill almost whimsically and without pause. It adds an interesting subtext, and it says something that I didn’t notice it earlier.
If Serenity weren’t there, I’d probably have gone for “Cool Hand Luke”. If “Seven Samurai” were there, I’d have gone for that right-off-the-top. Very powerful and bitter message about serving an apparent “just cause” and “common good”. Wow, it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.
From Red’s POV, I agree that hope is the central theme, and I agree that Red can be considered the protagonist. I was thinking more from Andy’s perspective, and I think that liberty is his central theme.
#65 – Tim, “I’m pretty sure that Mal is as much a psychopathic killer as V ever was. I guess he seems less menacing because of his charming world-hardened naivety; derring-do; and compatriotism. But still, he seems to kill almost whimsically and without pause.”
I have to respectfully disagree. In both the series (what I’ve seen so far) and the movie I felt Mal showed proper and well-reasoned restraint with the Operative, the mole from the first or second show(at least initially), and the older female “fence” and her crew from the first show (again initially). When he did kill there were solid humanitarian / libertarian reasons for it (the mole once he was holding a gun to the doctor’s head; and the guy he kicked off the transport during the Reaver raid in the movie come to mind). Just because he did it with conviction and without hesitation is not a result of psychopathic tendancies but rather ingrained principles. As he said to the doctor, and I paraphrase: “If I’m going to kill you; you will be facing me and you will be armed.”
To me its not so much about the violence, but the context of the violence. In Firefly Mal and his crew are outlaws, the only reason the audience identifies with them is because they are protagonists. But they most certainly aren’t revolutionaries (any more), the pro-liberty message of the show and movie generally comes from the fact that the government, the good guys, are just as bad if not worse than the outlaws. This makes its message a little more true to life.
However in V the main character is a stated revolutionary. But he is the Che Guevara breed of revolutionary, sticking around long enough to tear down one government and doing nothing to ensure a better one takes its place. I think thats the difference, in V for Vendetta the main characters actions subverts the pro-liberty message, while in the Firefly verse the pro-liberty message is more a product of the setting and rarely spelled out in a black and white philosophy (with the exception of Mals speech in the movie).
But even putting that aside, I still haven’t seen an ideal pro-liberty message in a film. Almost every time a pro-liberty character emerges they had to first be victimized by the state. This always reduces the story to a more simplistic plot of revenge, which is disappointing because it makes it appear as though no one can stand up for liberty on principle alone. In Hollywood no one cares about freedom until they have been robbed of it, which as true as that may be to many real-life people, it still undermines the general idea that liberty can be reason enough in itself to support. Which is a point I feel is very critical for civil rights struggles. A motivation stemming from revenge is irrational and will undermine a struggle and corrupt its goals. The pursuit of liberty must come from principle in order to be clearly defined and attainable.
I agree, Serenity isn’t the best pro-liberty movie. But I also think that to be effective as art, a pro-liberty message has to be couched in the ironic negative outcomes of trying to achieve a collectivist good. A direct pro-liberty message would just come off as cheese and/or propaganda. Hence, my picks of Seven Samurai and Cool Hand Luke.
re: Malcolm Reynolds: yes, he shows restraint at times but he’s very inconsistent (since it’s Joss & co., I credit this to a nuanced character as opposed to sloppy writing). In the Train Job, he outright executes Niska’s surrendered (=unarmed and helpless) bodyguard by kicking him into a turbine intake (!) for giving him some lip. In the pilot, he threatens to throw Simon out the airlock into hard vacuum. In the movie, he summarily executes the survivor of the ship that destroyed Haven monastery. In Ariel, he suckerpunches Jayne in the head with a crescent wrench and again intends to leave him sucking vacuum before (again, impulsively) sparing him after Jayne’s confession and plea.
OK, in the latter two cases it’s hard to have much sympathy for the target but it’s still hardly “I’ll be facing you and you’ll be armed.” The former cases are just blatant. And after all that killing, he DOESN’T kill Niska for some reason (although maybe he was just too groggy from the torture to manage, I dunno).
I just have to conclude that Mal is crazy, and no one minds (neither the crew nor audience) because he’s so charismatic and capable. I suspect that if the show weren’t cancelled, Mal’s situational-morality would have become much more prominent as part of the planned arc which would lead Book to “resign” from the crew and settle down at Haven before the timeline of the movie.
Anyway, Mal:crew::V:Evie. The major difference is that Mal doesn’t have a plan, and just does the “right” thing mostly by reflex.
V for Vendetta is wonderfully anti-authoritarian and unabashedly anarchist, but libertarian it ain’t. Alan Moore is a master at painting shades of moral gray, and the bad side of V is that he’s an unrepentant murderer of innocent bystanders (the book is much less ambiguous than the the movie about this), and a sadist who imprisons and tortures his one “friend” to make her the same kind of emotionally scarred, heartless killing machine he is (in the book Evie assumes the role of V herself after his death). Alan Moore’s V is more akin to the bomb-throwing anarchists of old, deliberately creating chaos as a means of creation and renewal, than any hypothetical libertarian revolutionary.
Watchmen is probably the better libertarian tale, and better overall. He’s called it a “meditation on power”, which is an apt description of how his well-intentioned superheros are corrupted by the power they have over others. In the end, the only consistent “good guy”, who refuses to compromise and accept killing innocents for the supposed greater good, is the Ayn Rand-inspired maniac Rorschach. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?