Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Machete and The Baader Meinhof Complex

Movie Review: Machete and The Baader Meinhof Complex

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Machete (2010, Ethan Maniquin and Robert Rodriguez) and The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008, Uli Edel) are two recent movies set in imperialist countries, both depicting armed struggle against reactionaries.

Machete garnered criticism prior to its release, including campaigns by White supremacists to have the film pulled from Amerikan theaters, ostensibly for fear its depiction of Mexicans engaging in mass-violence against Whites would spark a real-life ‘race’ revolt. (1) The Baader Meinhof Complex is ‘foreign film’ dramatizing the real-life Red Army Faction, a clandestine group which beginning in 1970 waged armed struggle against the Federal Republic of Germany in the name of communism and anti-imperialism.

While the movies follow dissimilar plots, both deal with the topic of revolutionary armed struggle and reaction. It’s worth noting that we at RAIM-Denver are fairly familiar with the situation involving the national oppression of Mexicans on both sides of the militarily-imposed US/Mexico border, yet are largely ignorant regarding the factual details surrounding the RAF. Thus, our treatment of The Baader Meinhof Complex will be solely as a cultural product, and not as historical analysis of the real-life RAF.

In Machete, we meet the protagonist of the same name (Danny Trejo) as a federal agent of the Mexican state. Fleeing a powerful drug cartel, Machete ends up in Texas where, while searching for work as a manual laborer, he’s forced-hired into assassinating an anti-migrant state senator, played by Robert De Niro. It’s a set-up, however. The botched assassination attempt is pinned on Machete in hopes of building public opinion for even more anti-Mexican legislation, including an electrified fence along the border.

The Baader Meinhof Complex opens in 1967, showing a student protest against the despotic Shah of Iran. The students are beat by goons of the CIA-supported monarchy and by German police as they stand defenseless, backed against a wall. Soon into the film, Ulrike Meinhoff (Martina Gedeck), a sharp-worded, progressive journalist, Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibteu), depicted as arrogant, extreme and prone towards violent action, and Gundrin Esslin (Johanna Wokalek), a young blonde depicted as rebellious and verbally aggressive towards her parents, decide that words alone will not stop “Amerikan imperialists” or the fact that over “half the people in the world do not have enough to eat,” deciding instead to take up arms against the West German state and organs of Western capital. After going underground and running from the law, the group is apprehended and placed in isolation together as their trial begins. Subsequent ‘generations’ of the RAF arise, continuing the armed struggle but with the goal of freeing the original members. After several years and armed actions by various RAF unit, the imprisoned lead members, save Meinhof who previously died in what was called a suicide, lose hope and kill themselves as well.

People who like Machete for its thematic violence of the oppressed against the oppressor will also find The Baader Meinhof Complex interesting, though the latter is fairly longer and has slower moments towards the end. While Machete depicts plenty of over the top, high-action, fight scenes and climaxes with a ‘battle royale’ between the forces led by Machete and White supremacist militias, The Baader Meinhof Complex depicts a number of gun fights, bombings, bank robberies and even an ill-fated plane hijacking. The Baader Meinhof Complex is also explicitly more political. Cries of ‘Ho Ho Ho Chi Mihn’ are chanted at one gathering; students have Mao posters on their dormitory walls; references are made to ‘May ’68’ in Paris and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.; RAF members meet with members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Tunis and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Jordan; and there is a steady denunciation of the West Germany’s support for US imperialism and “fascism.”

Both movies have strong female lead characters. In The Baader Meinhoff Complex, Ulrike Menhoff is the the eldest founder of the RAF and in charge of propaganda. Esslin Gundrun, the youngest lead character and girlfriend of Baader, is nonetheless shown as passionate and as someone who was pivotal in getting things done within the group. Further into the movie, under the pressure of capture and confinement together, both begin to break down emotionally and increasingly argue with one another, reinforcing the view that women are emotional and weak while discounting the psychological pressure brought to bare on them by the reactionary state.

In Machete, the two female lead characters are initially foes. Lulz (Michelle Rodriguez), shown as righteous and socially concerned, organizes an underground “network” to provide services for oppressed migrants while Sartana (Jessica Alba), a naive, sycophantic ICE agent, harasses her and makes threats of criminal charges. The women come together as part of Machete’s quest for revenge. In the process, Lulz gets shot in the eye and comes back fighting even harder: if nothing else an allegory for revolutionary determinism. Sartana recants her previous position in support of imperialist legalism and declares to a crowd of migrants, “We didn’t cross the border. The border crossed us!”

Unfortunately, Machete does drop the ball regarding gender in a number of ways. In one notable scene of question (of many), Machete gives tequila to the wife and daughter of the man who set him up, sleeps with them and films it for his foe to watch later. While there is no doubt an element of humor simply for the outrage this must generate on the part of actual White supremacists, this scene is symptomatic of the film’s larger depiction of women, i.e. they are not treated as independent agents (with perhaps the exception Luz), but instead act as objects, things to be acted upon in one way or another by Machete or the male viewer.

In both movies nudity is prevalent. In The Baader Meinhof Complex, such is not so one-sided. In an opening scene, children and adults are shown nude at a beach. In this regard, that nudity serves not sexual purposes solely, The Baader Meinhof Complex is less reactionary. In another scene however, while the original RAF are training with Muslims in Tunis, they sunbathe nude in plain view. When told by the camp commander to cover themselves, they respond, “fucking and shooting are the same.” In the scene, Baader and Esslin are rightly depicted as crass, almost as if they are Amerikan vacationers. If fact, this is not an example of anti-imperialist fraternity nor spreading sexual liberation, but imposing the culture of a dominating society under the guise of such.

Revolutionary Violence

While there is much to say about the minutia of the films, the main theme of both is violence in name of the oppressed against the oppressor within imperialist countries.

In Machete, a work of fiction, the violence is over-the-top and gratuitous. In one early scene, the protagonist swings his machete in a circle and decapitates three people who were closing in on him. In another set in a hospital, he uses a ‘bone-scraper’ and several surgical knives tied to a belt to cut up several gun-toting men before using one’s small intestine to jump out the window and swing into the floor below. Likewise, the social setting in Machete is narrow, there being only politicians, main characters, hired guns, a few pigs, border militiamen, migrants and some cholo-type Chicanos. Missing from the picture are Whites- particularly the reactionary White masses, including so-called “workers,” or the imperialist state in full force. This, along with the movie’s revenge-based plot, allows Machete to be a movie with a happy ending, where Machete himself defeats the bad guys and ‘gets the girl.’ By the end though, despite the protagonist’s personal achievements, nothing has really changed. In an ironic twist, the right-wing politician played by Robert De Niro is shot to death near the border by White vigilantes who thinks he’s Mexican. Perhaps Machete will return in a sequel and broaden the scope of the struggle? We won’t hold our breath.

In The Baader Meinhof Complex, supposedly based on true events, the ending isn’t as happy. The members of the RAF, mostly student-aged and young adults, are driven by causes such as anti-imperialism and communism and are sympathetic to the plight and resistance of Third World peoples. They are outraged and disenchanted with the response of everyday West Germans to these phenomena, yet never come out and say as much, nor do they ever make the demarcation and write off West Germans entirely. When they launch their clandestine armed struggle, they envision it as being part of a world-wide revolutionary movement yet make efforts to not harm your average West German, seeing this as pivotal to winning public sympathy. After the founding members of the RAF are apprehended, others from similar backgrounds arise, carrying on the struggle and including “the release of political prisoners” as part of their campaign against German reactionaries and imperialism. This too is ill-fated, as these newer members are all apprehended or killed, leading to the climax that is the apparent suicide of the remaining lead characters.

While certainly not the ‘happy ending’ of Machete, the down conclusion to The Baader Meinhof Complex does leave us asking, “what went wrong?,” a serious question for revolutionaries in imperialist countries. Many would say RAF were ultra-leftist and their militant armed struggle freaked out the west German ‘masses.’ In truth, this is not the case. Rather, the RAF was ultra-“left.” Though their action appeared militant and extreme, it was always predicated on a perceived political alliance and unity with a portion of the west German population, all of which were part of a global petty-bourgeoisie and thus an unreliable ally (at best) to their struggle. The founders of the RAF would have done better to develop their writing capabilities under the direction of Ulrike Meinhof, coordinate real ties to foreign fighters, fall under their discipline when appropriate and develop alternative means of contributing to the global revolutionary struggle, not launch an hasty armed struggle in west Germany with the assumption that west Germans would support them.

The Network

More interesting than any possible Machete sequel or the First Worldist focoism of the RAF would be a film featuring She and the Network. In Machete, it’s stated that Lulz has been busy organizing migrants, helping them cross the border, securing housing and jobs and “making sure they play their part” once they’re settled. The operation is called the Network, and it includes a mythology about a militant female leader known only as “She.” When Machete makes his hulkish last stand, his success is aided b y the connections Lulz has already made.

Today, the situation involving Mexicans migrants is dynamic. Historically, there has been a trend towards assimilation. However, as the numbers of Mexicans and Chicanos rise, particularly in the Amerikan ‘southwest’ (occupied Mexico), a situation may arise where the social basis for national liberation struggles becomes more readily apparent. Ultimately, it will be the type of work typified by Lulz, politicized ‘serve the people’ programs organized outside pre-existing power structures, which will advance and aid this struggle.

Again on Violence

One final note. We imagine many First World viewers will find the presentation of violence in both Machete and  The Baader Meinhof Complex to be off-putting in one way or another.

In Machete, the violence is unnatural, over-the-top, intense, frequent, etc. However, the same could be said with the Expendables or any number of Amerikan-inspired action movies. In Machete, the difference is that the violence is dished out by forces representing the oppressed against oppressors. Simply put: that is why it stands out, why it is good.

Many so-called “leftists” would reject the violence of the RAF on rotten grounds, whether pacifism, charges of being too extreme and “left,” or other liberal reasons. However, the violence of the RAF should be looked at critically and put in the correct perspective.

Nothing is more violent than imperialism. Every 2.43 seconds, someone dies from starvation- a form of structural violence. The violence in Machete by contrast is mild and restrained. Though ultimately misguided at a fundamental level, the same could be said about the RAF. The question is not whether in either movie violence was depicted in a gratuitous way, this answer being obvious. Ultimately, it matters against whom the violence is being expressed upon, and towards what end. And for this, we see no reason to broadly criticize either movie.

Notes:

(1) http://www.stormfront.org/forum/t737495/

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Filed under Culture and Art, Imperialism, Movie Reviews, News and Analysis, Occupied Mexico/Aztlan, Organizing, Youth

Antonio on Lowkey’s ‘Obama Nation’

[Last week, we posted the video, Obama Nation, the new single from UK hip-hop artist, Lowkey. The video itself generated some discussion which can be viewed below. Here is a comment by a RAIMer, Antonio, analyzing the content of the song:]

Lowkey is a British rapper, his mother being of Iraqi Arab descent. The title of the song is Obama Nation, pointing out that Obama is a war criminal like every other US president.

Lowkey correctly links the current imperialism of the United Snakes with its brutal colonial history and the national oppression and genocide inflicted upon the people here.

“Since 1945 the United States has attempted to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments,
In the process the US has caused the end of life for several million people,
And condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair.”

“Natives kept in casinos and reservations,
Displaced slaves never given reparations,
Take everything from Native Americans,
And wonder why i call it the racist experiment,”

“I see imperialism under your skin tone,
You could call it Christopher Columbus syndrome.”

He points out the brutal reality behind the ideals of Amerika and the illusions it propagates:

“The strength of your dreaming prevents you from reason,
The American dream only makes sense if you’re sleeping,
It’s just a cruel fantasy; their politics took my voice away,
But their music gave it back to me,
The land where the lumpen are consumed by consumption,
Killing themselves to shovel down food in abundance,
I guess a rapper from Britain is a rare voice,
America is capitalism on steroids,..”

“The world’s entertainer, the world’s devastator,
From Venezuela, to Mesopotamia,
Your cameras lie, cause they have to hide the savage crimes,
Committed on leaders that happen to try and nationalize,
Eating competitions? while the worlds been starving,
Beat up communism with the help of Bin Laden,”

“Every day you create more Nidal Hassan’s,
Kill a man from the military, you’re a weirdo,
But kill a wog from the Middle East you’re a hero,
Your country is causing screams that never reach your ear holes,
America inflicted a million Ground Zero’s,
Follow the dollar and swallow your humanity,
Soldier’s committing savagery you never even have to see,”

He correctly sees that there is no difference in policy with Obama.

I don’t care if him and Cheney are long lost relations,
What matters more is the policies, I lost my patience,
Stop debating bringing race into the conversation,
Occupation and cooperation equals profit making,
It’s over; people wake up from the dream now,
Nobel peace prize, Jay Z on speed-dial,
It’s the substance within, not the colour of your skin,
Are you the puppeteer or the puppet on the string?,
So many believed it was instantly gonna’ change,
There was still Dennis Ross, Brzezinski and Robert Gates,
What happened to Chas freeman? (AIPAC),
What happened to Tristan Anderson?,
It’s a machine that keeps that man breathing,
I have the heart to say what all the other rappers aren’t,
Words like Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan,
The wars on, and you morons were all wrong,
I call Obama a bomber cause those are your bombs.”

One thing wrong with the lyrics is its wavering on being anti-Amerikan.

He begans the song [thus]

“This track is not an attack upon the American people,
It’s an attack upon the system within which they live.”

The system itself is the enemy but the Amerikan people as a whole benefit from that system. He also states “I’m not anti-America, America is anti-me!.” It is correct that the policies of Amerika turn the masses of the world against it, but the logical conclusion is to go against Amerika and all it stands for. Lowkey likely has an audience in the social movements of the First World who attempt to pander to their exploiter nation’s majority, and try to show their patriotism. Revolutionary anti-imperialists must give the real message out, that exploiter nations and their people who support are the enemy.

In one of the verses he has a version of the Star Spangled banner sung in a hip hop manner. Whether it is to expose Amerikan hypocrisy, or to reclaim Amerikan ideals for the good, is unclear. Either way, the attempt does not come off successfully.

Like other politically minded hip hop artists in the First World, such as Dead Prez, the Coup, Immortal Technique, etc., Lowkey espouses leftist and often revolutionary politics in his music but errs in the direction of First Worldism, or pandering to a majority First World population. At the same time he espouses anti-imperialism he attempts not to offend the Amerikan majority. RAIM takes issue with him on this point. To oppose imperialism is to oppose its main exponent, Amerika. It is no mistake when those rallying around the flag rally for the atrocities committed under that flag. The Peace is Patriotic crowd fails. Those standing with the oppressed and exploited of the world should not play these games by identifying with this symbol of opression. Lowkey should take the logical conclusion that the history of American oppression continues today, and to end it means ending the idea and material reality of Amerika. It did not stray from its ideals in it imperialist interventions, it is what it is about. Amerika from its beginning has been like every other empire, based on conquest. Revolutionary artists need to transcend the meaning of Amerika and the First World and see it for the enemy that it is.

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The Expendables: An Action-Packed Thrill Ride for Chauvinist Pigs

The Expendables: An Action-Packed Thrill Ride for Chauvinist Pigs

http://www.antiimperialism.wordpress.com

The Expendables (2010, Stallone) is a reactionary movie in which a cast of pigs must go ‘behind enemy lines’ into the Third World. The plot was minimalist, and the characters, all played by big-name action stars, were largely forgettable. Despite this and in no small part because of its ultra-reactionary message, The Expendables debuted number one in Amerikan theaters, grossing 17 million dollars in tickets sales on its opening weekend.

In the movie, Sylvester Stallone accepts a contract from the CIA and leads to small band of mercenaries to the fictional Latin American island-country of Vilena. There, a rogue CIA agent rules via proxy and profits greatly from the production of illicit drugs. On a reconnaissance mission, Stallone and his partner are discovered, resulting in a high speed chase and the outing of their contact on the island, the daughter of a puppet general who nominally rules the island.

Ostensibly because Stallone feels bad about putting the general’s daughter in danger, he and his team return to the island to finish the job. After killing what seems to be hundreds of soldiers and blowing up the presidential palace, Stallone and his crew succeed in killing the rogue CIA agent and his henchmen. Rather than keeping the contract money, Stallone gives it to the general’s daughter before bidding her farewell.

The general message of the movie is not that ‘Amerika saves the day’ or ‘Amerika always wins,’ though both of these elements were present. Rather, the message behind The Expendables is that it is inconsequential and even heroic to travel to Third World countries, killing nameless, faceless brown people and causing untold destruction. The movie is one of tacit hate towards Third World peoples.

Other aspects of the movie are also problematic. Besides the general’s daughter, the only other prominent female is the girlfriend of a ‘protagonist’ character played by Jason Statham. She seems drawn to controlling and abusive, yet emotionally-distant men. She leaves Statham’s character for another man who physically abuses her, and returns to the ‘protagonist’ after he beats up the new boyfriend and his friends. The general’s daughter herself never acts as an independent agent. In both cases, women are portrayed as helpless, naive and in need of rescue. That said, compared to the above analysis regarding the movie’s view towards the Third World, this is a minor issue. In fact, the First World often cynically raises gender issues in its attacks on Muslim and other Third World countries. If the mercenaries were traveling to Iran or Afghanistan, for example, we imagine the film would have included stronger women ‘protagonists’.

The portrayal of people of color is also questionable. The main non-White protagonist is played by Jet Lee, a Chinese martial arts actor. Jet Lee’s character is docile. Throughout the movie he asks for a pay raise and it is implied he makes less than his colleagues. These requests are met with annoyance and dismissal. He’s portrayed as contributing less to the team’s success. Jet Lee’s character helps promote the Amerika’s ideal oppressed national: subservient and loyal, yet marginalized.

The most prominent people of African descent throughout the movie are a group of pirates in the opening scene. After demanding more ransom money, Stallone’s mercenary team massacres them. One ‘protagonist’ character, played by Dolph Lundgren, attempts to hang one of the African pirates but is stopped by his teammates. Though the scene opens a mini-arc revolving around the character’s fall from grace and reform, the racist undertones are apparent and shocking. The mercenary team does include one Black guy, but his role is marginal at best.

The portrayal of men is also extremely one-sided. They are shown as fighters: big muscles, gun and knife toting, ready for action, etc. In some scenes, contrived dialogue is supplemented with hulkish, contrived poses. The Expendables, though hardly alone, helps promote an imagine of men as warriors whose main value is being able to kill, harm and intimidate those Amerika is set against.

The imperialist media often hypes Third World culture which explicitly (and rightly) promotes hate against the oppressor. However, movies such as The Expendables promote an implicit hate of the Third World and its broad masses. The drama and petty motivations of a handful of pig mercenaries is shown as significant whereas the Third World people they rampage through are not. No moment is paid to question what happened to Vilena after the mercenaries leave, though the movie supposedly ends on a happy note as all the conflicts amongst the pigs seem to be resolved. In short, according to the movie, Third World people are worthless and Amerikan pigs are valuable. While it’s not as direct as the revolutionary slogan, “Hate Amerika,” the reactionary message presented by movies such as The Expendables opens the door for great violence to be inflicted up the majority, Third World masses.

Like much of Amerikan culture, The Expendables has nothing to offer revolutionaries and the new world we seek to create. Along with Amerika itself, movies such as The Expendables will be swept away, perhaps viewed most often by and studied by academics, who will remind future generations just how chauvinist, militarist, hate-filled and reactionary Amerikans really were.

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Movie Review: Clash of the Titans

Movie Review: Clash of the Titans

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Clash of the Titans (2010, Louis Leterrier) is a reactionary film which promotes compradorism and lackeyism in the main, as well as white supremacy and patriarchy.

In the movie, people abandon the gods of Greek mythology, thus incurring their wrath. Perseus (Sam Worthington), the mortal son of Zeus, is chosen to lead a campaign to stop an impending assault by the ancient monster, the Kraken, on the port city of Argos.

Perseus’s journey is long. It is assumed he’s fighting the gods themselves. However, by the end of the film we see Perseus siding with one faction of the gods, represented by Zeus, against another, led by Hades. Rather than overthrow the gods in the entirety, Perseus reinforces their lofty position and remains on earth as a demi-god amongst men.

The “gods” of Clash of the Titans can be seen as representing what the masses must revolt against: capitalist-imperialism and the First World itself. Perseus thus is akin to any number of supposed rebels who cut deals and hold back the whole struggle. As in the film, such people are aided by that which they nominally stand against and rewarded with positions of authority for helping preserve the overall system. By the end of the movie, like many of the struggles of the past, nothing has changed. In fact, Perseus’ campaign ends the revolt against the gods and returns  people to their subordinate position. The main character is revealed to be not a rebel but a more effective lackey. Despite the film’s seemingly distant setting and apolitical nature, such ideas defeat social revolutions and subjugate people under continued imperialist exploitation.

The film is reactionary in other ways as well. All of the characters are White, alluding to an overall chauvinism on the part of the filmmaker and audience. Likewise, for his task of only opposing a faction of the gods in service to another, Perseus is awarded Io (Gemma Arteton), a youthful-looking girl who previously guided Perseus but was killed over the course of the journey. All and all, this film is irredeemable.

In the First World, social conflict is non-antagonistic, thus reformism and cutting deals makes sense. However, for the Third World masses, social struggles are matters of life and death. Selling out is an act of treason to oppressed peoples. Underneath Clash of the Titans is a political stance which lauds the ascendency of compradors and the continuing oppression and abject poverty of billions of people. There is no good faction of imperialism or the First World for the  broad masses. It must all be overthrown.

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RAIM Global Digest, Issue 3

RAIM Global Digest, Vol 2, Issue 3

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Movie Review: Shutter Island

Movie Review: Shutter Island (Martin Sorsese, 2010)

(www.raimd.wordpress.com)

[spoiler warning]

Shutter Island, the cinematic thriller by director, Martin Scorsese, adapted from a novel by Dennis Lehane, presents a choice between two narratives. Reality is skewed in the movie. Tension unfolds in an purposeful, ambiguous way, forcing the audience to choose between reality and delusion, normalcy and ‘insanity.’

–Plot Summary–

The story takes place in 1954, during the Cold War. World War II veteran and US Marshall, Teddy Daniels, (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner, Chuck Aule, (Mark Ruffalo) go to the Ashecliff Hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer), a patient who seems to have vanished from a locked room. Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), the head psychiatrist, explains that Rachel was institutionalized after drowning her three children. She believes, however, she is still at home and her children are still alive. Dr. Cawley refuses to share any of the patients’ files and implies Rachel may be dead. The island is surrounded by steep, jagged cliffs and crashing waves, the nearby lighthouse was already searched and a heavy storm is rolling in. However, inside Rachel’s room, Teddy finds a hidden note with the message “who is 67?” The meaning is unclear and Teddy begins investigating further.

That night, early in the movie, Teddy has a dream about his wife, Dolores (Michelle Williams), who died in a fire two years before. In the dream, Dolores tells Teddy that Rachel is still on the island as well as Andrew Laeddis, the man who started the fire that killed her.

The next morning, Teddy interviews patients from Rachel’s group therapy sessions. While Teddy’s partner is briefly away, one seemingly ‘normal’ patient writes him a note that says “RUN.” Shortly after, Teddy tells his partner, Chuck, the real reason why he’s investigating Ashecliffe. According to Teddy, Andrew Laeddis, the arsonist who killed his wife, got off for the death. A year later, Teddy says he saw a newspaper article in which Laeddis was found to have burnt down a school and sent to Ashecliff, where he vanished. Chuck asks Teddy what he intends to do once he finds Andrew Laeddis and mentions killing him. Teddy explains he’s had enough of death and recalls his traumatic part in the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, including an extra-legal mass execution of the Nazi guards. Instead, Teddy says, he wants to find out the truth. From a colleague he heard that Ashecliff was funded by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Teddy says he met a former patient, a student named George Noyce (Jackie Earle Hawley), who killed three people after being at Ashecliff for a year. Teddy thinks the staff is conducting experiments on the human mind. He tells to his partner he’s there to find proof, go back to the mainland and expose it. His partner says they should be careful and agrees something isn’t right about the place. “What if they wanted you here?” Chuck asks Teddy. They agree to find the proof and get off the island.

Back at the hospital, Teddy walks into a conversation between Dr. Cawley and Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow), the chief of staff at the hospital, about how they should prepare the violent patients of Ward C in the event the electricity goes down during the storm. Teddy notes Dr. Naehring is German, implying he was a Nazi recruited through the Office of Strategic Services. Through briefly listening to the conversation, Teddy picks up on the fact that there are 66 patients at the hospital. Remembering the note he found in Rachel Solando’s room, Teddy asks the hospital administration who Rachel thought the 67th patient was. Cawley claims he doesn’t know but says Rachel was found near the lighthouse  Teddy can ask her himself, Dr. Cawely says.

During the interview, Rachel has no recollection of being missing. She still thinks her life is normal. Teddy is introduced to her as a police officer who’s investigating ‘communist subversives passing out literature.’ She claims Teddy is her husband and embraces him, but shortly after becomes upset, stating that her husband is dead and shouting, ‘who the fuck are you?’

After interviewing Rachel, Teddy’s dreams continue. At Dachau, a young girl who is seen throughout Teddy’s visions tells him, “you should have saved me, you should have saved all of us.” Teddy briefly talks to Laeddis and his partner, Chuck, before finding Rachel and helping her re-drown her children. He supposedly wakes up and has another delusion: his dead wife, Dolores, walks in the room and tells him Laeddis is still alive and on the island. She tells Teddy to find Laeddis and kill him.

Teddy wakes up and due to the storm, many of the patients have escaped. Teddy and his partner decide to go to Ward C to investigate. There Teddy gets separated from his partner but runs into George Noyce, the former patient of Ashecliff Teddy had previously interviewed. Noyce tells Teddy the whole thing is a game and says he’s afraid of going to the lighthouse.

Teddy tries to go to the lighthouse, but high-tide prevents him. Instead, Teddy discovers a cave and to his surprise the real Rachel Solando (Patricia Clarkson). She explains she was a doctor at Ashecliff who was institutionalized after questioning shipments of psychotropic drugs and experimental surgeries. She says she was called insane: “reasonable protests are called acts of denial.” According to Solando, mind control experiments are being conducted at Ashecliff to create ghost agents for the Cold War. Rachel warns Teddy the same may be happening to him, but kicks him out of the cave for fear the staff will find her when they come looking for him.

After entering the lighthouse, Teddy finds Dr. Cawley and the plot twist is revealed: Cawley says Teddy is Andrew Laeddis. Cawley tells the protagonist he has been at Ashecliff for two years, ever since killing his wife after she drowned their three children. ‘Teddy Daniels,’ ‘Rachel Solando’ and the investigation is all a delusion he’s created to avoid the painful truth. Chuck appears, claiming to be Teddy’s primary care physician, Dr. Sheehan, the man previously thought to be Rachel Solando’s vacationing physician. Dr. Cawley displays a picture of the young girl from Teddy’s dreams, and tells him it’s his daughter. Cawley says they’ve been unsuccessful in getting him to accept reality with the treatments they’ve tried. Cawley says they let him play out his detective fantasy with the hopes it would bring him back to reality without ‘relapsing’ into believing he’s Teddy again, as had previously happened. “You’ve been running around this place for two days. Where are the Nazi experiments?” Cawley asks. Speaking in humanitarian terms, Cawley says he hopes this therapy will be a breakthrough in psychiatry, one which will forgo the need for more drastic measures. If Teddy doesn’t come to terms with the fact that he’s really Andrew Laeddis, the next step will be to give him a lobotomy.

Distraught, at first the protagonist denies it but then has another vision, this time seeing Dr. Cawley’s scenario play out: an alcoholic with a manic-depressant wife, he comes home to find his three children drowned and shoots his wife, Dolores. He thinks he is Andrew Laeddis and not Teddy Daniels. He believe Cawley’s story.

In the last scene, the protagonist appears to have ‘reset,’ again thinking he’s Teddy Daniels investigating disappearances at the hospital. Dr. Sheehan, who is sitting next to the protagonist, quietly shakes his head while looking at Dr. Cawley and Dr. Naehring, themselves watching anxiously. The movie ends in a moment of high drama. Before going with the staff for experimental brain surgery in the lighthouse, the protagonist looks at his ‘partner’ and asks, “which is worse, to live as a monster or die as a good man?”

–Analysis–

In Scorsese’s Shutter Island, the audience is forced to choose between two narratives. Is the movie a fiction about Teddy Daniels, a US Marshall who, after investigating Cold War-era, mind control experiments on Shutter Island, falls into an elaborate conspiracy in which he becomes a victims of such experiments? Or, was the story an elaborate fantasy of Andrew Laeddis, who killed his wife two years previously and created the delusion of Teddy Daniels to shield himself from the truth?

During the period in which the movie is set, the Office of Strategic Services and CIA did experiment with drugs such as LSD on US and Kanadian citizens, recruiting Nazi scientists to do so. Through MK-Ultra, the US government secretly sought to implant thoughts and memories and to control the mind, hoping to create agents for Cold War operations.

From the movie’s opening scene we notice something is amiss. Daniels wakes up ill on a ferry to Shutter Island.  He can’t find his cigarettes and is given one by his new partner who he’s meeting for the first time. Throughout the movie, we see Daniels smoking other people’s cigarettes and taking medicine and beverages the faculty at the institution give him. He goes to Shutter Island specifically to investigate mind control experiments and possible connections with HUAC and Amerika’s Cold War policy. Unfortunately for him, he finds what he’s looking for.

Scorsese’s ambiguity, i.e. that he can make the audience question what is real and make them think Daniels may be Laeddis, is a testament to the ongoing delusion of Amerikans today. The choice Sorsese’s offers in the movie translates into real life. Is there something sinister underneath Amerika’s facade; or, is Teddy Daniels- an analogy for anyone who seriously questions and challenges Amerika’s dominant pretenses- abnormal in someway, unstable, delusional, paranoid, etc.? This is precisely the question one must answer while watching Shutter Island.

Like the scripted intrigue which ensnares Teddy, Amerika’s culture is a charade which both covers up for and reflects that which it ultimately serves. In the movie, Dr. Cawley frequently couches his work in ‘progressive’ pretenses even though he is an active accomplice to horrible crimes. Similarly, Amerika promotes itself as ‘progressive’ while simultaneously acting as the greatest global purveyor of violence, both direct and structural.

Teddy, the individual dissident, is pushed to accept a dominant narrative through immense social pressure. In Amerika however, such ‘programming’ isn’t the result of a well-coordinated conspiracy, but a function of imperialism: the bribery of empire’s citizens with stolen wealth.

For anti-imperialists, Teddy Daniels final words are compelling: “Is it better to live as a monster or die as a good man?” Perhaps this should not be taken as a literal choice between selling-out or dying in a blaze of moralistic glory. For us in the First World, being a monster and being perceived as a ‘good person’ are in many ways synonymous: both reflect acquiescence to the system. Thus, once we know the truth, the choice becomes different. Will we succumb to the pressures of First World society and play along, i.e. living as what we know to be a monster? Or, will we continue to inquire and resist, deny the system our active complicity and refuse to be a ‘good person’ by Amerika’s standards?

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Movie Review: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

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Movie Review: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

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G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a Hollywood action movie packed with CGI-enhanced martial arts; explosions; sci-fi hi-tech weapons; chase scenes and topped off with near superhuman ‘good’ and ‘bad guys.’ Typical of Hollywood-type action movies, the plot centers around preventing the bad guys from attaining global dominance. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, like another summer blockbuster, Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, is one of many movies that promotes militarism and by extension imperialism.

The story opens with a weapons dealer, McCullen (later revealed as bad guy, Destro), showing off a new high-tech weapon, the Nanomite warhead. The weapon, loosely based on emerging technologies, is said to be able to destroy “any and all material in its path.” The first to procure this new weapon is the United States. The main protagonist, Duke, is charged with leading a NATO force to deliver four of the warheads. The audience is never challenged to ask why the U.S. wants or gets this weapon, let alone four of them, nor what would happen once it gets them. Instead the plot predictably begins when the warheads are stolen by the ‘bad guy’ Cobra force.

Unlike the G.I. Joe toys and cartoons, the new live-action G.I. Joe force is multinational, consisting of the “top men and women of the best  military units of the world.” Prior to the theft of the Nanomite warheads, it is unclear what purpose such an elite military force might serve. The two male protagonists who join the G.I. Joe force after the start of the movie, Duke and Ripchord, seem more interested in running around in suits which give them superhuman strength and speed than serving any humanitarian or even patriotic ends. At the beginning of the movie, Ripchord expresses interest in joining the U.S. Airforce simply so he can pilot military jets.

As the movie develops, the G.I. Joe force must stop the Cobra from destroying Washington D.C., Bejing and Moscow. The leader of the Cobra force is the Cobra Commander, a former friend of Duke’s who wants to use the Nanomite technology to attain global power. The Cobra Commander is aided by Destro the weapons dealer, a small army of mind-controlled fearless soldiers, and the Baroness, a former love interest of Duke’s who is also mind-controlled throughout most of the movie.

In the real world, where both high-tech weapons capable of small and vast destruction and various elite, multinational, sometimes private military units exist, bad guys like the Cobras don’t. In the real world, millions of people die from starvation and malnutrition, not violent conspiracies to usurp global power. The system responsible for these deaths, imperialism, also creates conditions whereby oppressors join the military for the ‘thrill’ of using destructive weapons, flying fast and blowing things up. However, these people are not heroes.

Today, in the real world, most state militaries and elite multinational  forces serve to maintain the imperialist system which starves millions. Taken out of the context of imperialism and global class systems, there is no need for elite military units. Action movies such as G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen create ridiculous fictional stories in which imperialist militaries are portrayed not as the protectors of global class structure, but as playing a positive role for humanity. ‘Ordinary,’ relatable characters such as Duke and Ripchord, who, in real life would play a mundane role in a profoundly awful system, are seen as both more significant and depoliticized: they’re “in the middle of the action” and supposedly saving the world. Amerikan and First World audiences, who are not routinely subjected to imperialist threats and aggression, might find themselves envious of such adventures and abilities. And whereas First World movie-goers, people who economically benefit from imperialist militarism, can’t join or cheer for the G.I. Joe force in real life, they conveniently can the U.S. military, NATO, Blackwater (now called Xe), the IDF and various other imperialist military organizations.

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