[Update: You can download PDF copies of this three-part series here.]
I was recently shown someone’s list of the most pro-freedom films and was struck by how much I disagreed with almost every entry. It wasn’t that I had fundamental disputes with the author; I could see why he had selected them. But there are better reasons for their removal or replacement. For the most part the list was composed of two types of movies. One sort contained a bunch of fighting and a mention or two of freedom or America or some such. Generally the others were good stories that leave enough of their slates blank to have practically anything imposed upon them.
Really? Saving Private Ryan is a pro-freedom film? Apart from beginning with a reasonably accurate portrayal of beach-warhead combat, it’s primarily an anti-war film with a side-story excuse of a plot! Think that’s too harsh? Check out Mark Steyn’s take on it.
Braveheart made the list, obviously thanks to its portrayal of William Wallace as a ‘freedom-fighter’. Don’t get me wrong; I love that blockbuster, in spite of its ludicrous, shuffle-board historicity. But people take Mel Gibson’s portrayal of Wallace as accurate, even if the other people, events, places, times, plots, and so forth are all jumbled. Wallace was a freedom-fighter, but not in any sense we understand in modern times. He wasn’t fighting for the free market or the right to assemble or any right we would commonly recognize. The Scots weren’t interested in establishing a Greco-Roman democracy. They were fine with aristocratic feudalism, just so long as the aristocrats were Scottish, not English. Maybe it seems like nit-picking to let that dead-weight fact get in the way, but frankly, the list was pathetic! Commando and Team America? Are you kidding me?
So I have opted to compose my own list. My definition of liberty is plain enough from the context of the descriptions. Frankly, several of my selections were clearly made without any intention to offer what I see foremost in them. That’s both expected and humorous. If my interpretation isn’t what you saw, watch the film again, keeping in mind my comments. When distraction is sidelined, the subconscious message is a defense of freedom.
In that each of these illustrates different aspects of the same object, I have opted not to ascribe rank to the contents of my list.
Serenity – At the Mercy of the Meddlesome
To start off, I’ve picked a cult favorite. Serenity breathes with a texture that’s familiar and yet foreign, funny but serious.
From the very first scene, we see the tenor of the whole film. When fellow a student in River Tam’s elementary class questions why some people choose to live outside the government’s dictum, River speaks up; “We meddle. People don’t like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think, don’t run, don’t walk. We’re in their homes and in their heads, and we haven’t the right. We’re meddlesome.”
And from there it goes. The government does too much, no matter the reason. On one planet, the government’s experiments to design a perfected society killed off almost everyone with infinite complacency, and the rest were driven psychotic. It’s impossible to dissociate this segment of plot from the rise of generational welfare-dependency and the resulting crime culture.
Serenity is an intensely powerful film for illustrating, albeit in western/science-fiction, that mankind cannot be molded into perfection and that people should be very careful how they treat others, especially through government. Even if the intent is ultimate good, horror is the usual result of sweeping government action.
Malcolm Reynolds, the scruffy, rebel protagonist brings cheers when, revving up for a suicidal battle, he quips, “I aim to misbehave.” When the government is too big, just about everything is considered misbehavior. When the people don’t own themselves and are the property of the commune, the culture, or the state; their decisions become everyone else’s business. “Big government means small ‘everything else’” (-Mark Steyn)
By the end; beaten, bloody, bruised, limping, groaning, Mal finally manages to subdue the government’s assassin. Yet, contrary to usual Hollywood wrap-up, he doesn’t kill this agent. Rather he gives the man exactly what he believes in; Mal shows him the utopia he is working toward with each murder. The truth crushes the agent’s dreams and spirit, to the point where he leaves the employ of the meddlers.
If only the truth were so effective in the real world… Micromanaging the lives of others is morally reprehensible, logistically daunting, and economically stagnant. In the words of Ronald Reagan, if none of us are fit to govern ourselves, who among us is fit to govern everyone? The meddlers are just busybodies who can’t accept that other people control themselves and will always retain that right.
Equilibrium – For All It’s Worth
Starring Christian Bale and Sean Bean, Equilibrium was probably meant to take a swipe at the Catholic Church. Robin Williams once quipped a phrase that sums up Hollywood’s opinion of the Vatican’s message, “If it feels good, stop.” Good for a laugh, but not a terribly solid argument. Isn’t Williams’ real message, ‘If it doesn’t feel good, don’t start’? In any case, the uniforms of the government enforcers are unquestionably mystical, though it’s also clear that Equilibrium’s style and feeling draws heavily from The Matrix which had been released three years prior.
Whether they knew it or not, the producers managed to create an undeniably anti-communist film. Bale and Bean are tasked with hunting down and destroying all sources of emotion; for it is emotion which is deemed toxic to world peace and the stability of the state’s totalitarian, rank-and-file stricture; a command culture which has encompassed the entire world. Chemical suppressants of all emotions are mandated and savagely policed. To top it off, almost all the works of art, literature, music, film are banned and burned.
Thus, to seek absolute security in existence, the people of the world gave up all reason for existing. Many found this life, peaceful though it may have been, to be heart-achingly wanting of… what? Something… Anything non-robotic, for that is what mankind had become. Do we destroy peace if we become, once again, human? Is it worth that?
For my own philosophy, I have to follow the film’s protagonist who eventually abandons his chemical regime and drinks in the full measure of the worth of living. Thus empowered by hitherto-unfamiliar emotions, he joins the cause of the underground and takes on a government that, for the sake of ending all war, has destroyed mankind with a thoroughness modern communists only dream about.
Ben Franklin is well known for stating that freedom cannot be relinquished to acquire security. The moment the former is given up, any hope of maintaining the latter becomes an illusion. Freedom is the right to make one’s own choices and true security is a preservation of that right. Thus does communism disable the right to make your choices because the preservation of the state remains superior to any individual authority. In theory the state as a whole may remain secure, but no individual, even the highest officials themselves, can have a prayer of safety against the government and its various factions. See Soviet Russia and imagine whether the Communist Party would have jumped at the chance to rid their population of emotions, thus reducing everyone to state-controlled automatons.
Equilibrium portrays a communist society in its best possible light. Well-fed people void of souls. Real communism is very similar, just without the food.
John Adams – Freedom to do the Right, Difficult Things
This one was hard to wrestle onto this list, because it’s actually a miniseries. It’s my list, so it’s on here.
Where to start! This series is worth ten views if only for the stellar performances recreating figures that are both human and historical; George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, and others. Everyone looks strikingly alike the characters they play.
Too often, history on the book-page can appear inevitable and linear, when its unfolding actually required great striving and chance to arrive at the results we read. John Adams portrays a very bleak and tough period in American history during which America was a colony, fought for independence, became a federalized nation, and built a tradition of peaceful transfers of power (according to the rules of the Constitution). The series is also very honest in showing the political maneuvering that is as much a part of history as anything else. Its sacrifices to the format are minimal and do not stray far.
A digression for a moment; if Mel Gibson can be accused of anything with his two big ‘historical’ blockbusters, it’s the over-sanitization of the characters. Benjamin Martin (from The Patriot) doesn’t own slaves. William Wallace (from Braveheart) was anti-monarchy.
Contrary to this normal Hollywood, assumption-of-simplicity toward the viewers, John Adams really layers thick the contextual material which becomes even more powerful as one increases his knowledge of the period. John Adams wasn’t merely a lawyer, delegate, diplomat, and President. His daughter had cancer. His son drank himself to death. His friend and ally, Thomas Jefferson, became a bitter political enemy (though the strength of it could be hardly shown in the series, because people were of more controlled manner in those days).
Eventually the two reconciled and both died old men, on the very same day, July 4th, 1826; precisely fifty years after the passage of the Declaration of Independence they had collaborated to produce. Had no records of this virtual impossibility been kept, such a script would have been rejected as absurd. Yet, it did happen, and one might be led to think providence was making a statement about the endurance of the American nation, with regard to our reverence for its foundation.
The sets are stunning, the costumes magnificent, the acting superb, and the material honest. This is a must-watch for any lover of freedom.
Keep a sharp eye out for Parts 2 and 3 soon to follow, and be sure to check out Sunlost!