Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Two Bad Movies -- part two


So, if THE HAPPENING is an interesting idea with a failed execution, like most of Shyamalan's films (always excepting the superlative SIXTH SENSE), by contrast the second film, OBSESSION, is a competent documentary with a heinous goal. The idea here is not just to make you afraid, but to make you very, very, very afraid. So afraid you'd launch a few more wars, be glad to bomb a few more countries, be willing to have people kidnapped and tortured, so long as it might protect you from Scary Foreign People. While it gives lip service to the claim that it's not anti-Muslim, just against the wrong kind of Muslim, its entire thrust is indistinguishable to me, as someone who grew up in the Segregated South, from racism.

Among the most disturbing things here: a deliberate attempt to portray the Palestinians as Nazis, as much footage of child warriors as they could cram in, vicious anti-semitic rants from crackpot imams, and trying to blur all Muslims who oppose our foreign policy into a monolithic foe. Either the filmmakers don't know that Iran and al-Qaeda hate each other (which is hard to imagine) or, in their conspiracy theorist heart-of-hearts they just can't believe it, or (worst of all) they know what they're saying is untrue but it serves their purpose to say it anyway.

For me, the most interesting part about this film comes at the mid-point in which they briefly raise the obvious question: why do these people hate us so much that they'd kill themselves just for the chance of hurting us? And, having posed the question, the filmmakers immediately steer away from it to a safe, simple non-answer: they're deranged by hatemongers, so their actions don't make any kind of rational sense. It's as if in the aftermath of Nat Turner's uprising white Southerners had concluded that slaves attacked slaveowners because they were violent and irrational (which isn't far off from what they did conclude). A little basic history often helps us understand why our enemies do what they do; willful ignorance of the facts never helped a nation make itself safer.

And now they've made a follow-up film, THE THIRD JIHAD. I've not seen this, and probably won't bother (the first was bad enough), but the previews and excerpts available online make clear that its focus is on "homegrown domestic terrorism". So I suspect its unstated goal will be to make viewers accept whatever spying on Americans the government deems necessary as "a small price to pay" to protect us from "further attacks" -- of which it claims there have already been dozens, each foiled only by the vigilance of our Homeland Security.

The kicker here is that Senator Joe Lieberman appears in this one, lending his stature as one of this country's leaders to the anti-Muslim hate-mongering both films want to convey. Lieberman deserves every American's respect for having been a Freedom Rider back during the civil rights movement, but this is a truly shameful end for a career that started out with such idealism.


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