Reel Politik: Great Conservative Cinema

By Smith, Michael | Policy Review, Fall 1994 | Go to article overview

Reel Politik: Great Conservative Cinema


Smith, Michael, Policy Review


Few institutions exert more influence over American popular culture than the wildly successful Hollywood dream factory. At the same time, many fret over the collapsing moral standards in our culture and accuse the film industry of being a relentless repeat offender. Earthquakes, mudslides, fires, riots, O.J. and Ford Broncos--can anything good come out of Southern California and its cinema empire?

The answer is a robust "Yes." There is still much to be admired in our movie-going society, films that challenge us to excellence, inspire us to heroism, shame our consciences, and stir us toward a life-engaging faith.

The following viewer's guide reflects some of the best classic and contemporary titles available, films that typify the traditional values of faith, family, and freedom. The guide is selective: You'll find films that 1) you have not seen before, or 2) that you have not seen since the advent of microwave popcorn, or 3) that you may not have considered from the, well, unique perspective of our reviews. We welcome your suggestions; write and let us know your own favorites.

ACHIEVEMENT

Relying on role models, moral courage, or faith, these bildungsromans have--at their core--characters determined to succeed despite vast opposition.

Elephant Man This haunting and beautiful film from director David Lynch portrays a doctor's (Anthony Hopkins) dogged efforts to rescue a disfigured man from the life of circus freak. But it exposes so much more: the narrowness of elitist values, the human spirit transformed through adversity, and the sustaining power of faith. By the time John Hurt's Elephant Man recites the 23rd Psalm, your heart is in your throat. A masterpiece on almost every level.

Man Without a Face A mysterious, disfigured recluse (Mel Gibson) becomes an unlikely mentor to a fatherless boy who wants to be a pilot but lacks the discipline and motivation. Together, the two discover the value of friendship and learn to sacrifice, compromise, and mature. Gibson's directorial debut works best at the male-bonding level, providing thoughtful entertainment.

My Left Foo With the help of family, a perceptive therapist, and his irrepressible will, cerebral palsy victim Christy Brown reminds us that human achievement has more to do with heart than it does with circumstances. Christy, played by Daniel Day-Lewis in an Oscar-winning performance, is nearly completely debilitated at birth and quickly labeled hopelessly uneducable. But Christy has a good left foot, and he uses it to paint, write, and otherwise give expression to his brilliant mind. Revealed through flashbacks, the film touchingly leads to a surprise and triumphant ending.

An Officer and a Gentleman The Navy tames a working-class playboy. Richard Gere stars as a symbol of American youth and independence (with motorcycle, of course) who learns to be a team player, with a little help both from his drill master and his girlfriend. The military routine marries his raw determination to self-discipline, duty, honor, and, by film's end, domestication. A dramatic display of the great forces that challenge a youth to grow into manhood.

The Right Stuff A look at NASA's fly-boys, whose eyes were fixed ultimately on the moon. The Mercury astronauts fight to keep control of their spacecrafts and their personal lives as scientists and the media threaten to reduce them to lab monkeys. In Chuck Yeager--"the best pilot anyone had ever seen"--we witness most clearly the unique American blending of competitiveness, guts, and Yankee ingenuity.

Rocky "It doesn't matter if I lose this fight. All I want to do is go the distance," says Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), an underground Philadelphia boxer who gets a shot at the title. Rocky is the big lug everybody loves, who visits pet stores and tries to be a role model for the kids, as best as a loan shark's goon can. While opponent Apollo Creed and the media exploit the event, Rocky trains alone, refusing to get caught up in anything but the task before him. …

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