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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Oscar nods reflect troubled United States

If you’ve been depressed lately without knowing why, chances are you’ve been spending too much time at the movies. There is a specter haunting America, and this specter feeds on overpriced popcorn.

Two of the most talked-about movies in recent months ððð- “”No Country for Old Men”” and “”There Will Be Blood”” – just had their prestigious status cemented by multiple Oscar nominations. Aside from the success showered upon them, these films share another common factor: They speak to an undeniable wave of pessimism washing over the minds of U.S. filmmakers – and filmgoers.

Based on a U.S.-critical exposé by Upton Sinclair, “”There Will Be Blood”” is the story of a turn-of-the-century entrepreneur who lets everything he might have loved literally go up in flames on his relentless quest for oil and power. The Coen brothers, the screenwriting/directing team that brought us “”Fargo,”” are no strangers to disturbing subject matter; but their newest work, “”No Country,”” is practically devoid of the dark humor that lightened prior efforts. The bloody saga of a border drug deal gone wrong and the serial assassin murdering his way back to the lost loot is based on the book by Cormac McCarthy. The very fact of morbid author McCarthy’s swelling popular acclaim speaks to the theory that it’s not just artists, but the public that’s ready to take a look at the darker side of humanity. After all, since when did a guy whose body of work focuses on the inevitability of violence, featuring the type of character who gets his thing on with corpses in a cave, make it into Oprah’s Book Club?

So why so much darkness, even after the theater lights go down? Well, cinema (like any art form) can be an ideological barometer for the times in which we live. A quick glance at this year’s nominations in the Best Documentary Feature category shows that there’s plenty for us to be worried about outside the movies, with four of five films highlighting the brutal consequences of current U.S. foreign and domestic policy (three films related to the Iraq conflict and “”Sicko,”” Michael Moore’s critique of the health care system). In the much-lamented

post-9/11 world of heightened anxiety and bloodshed, filmmakers are reacting to our growing collective despair in one of two ways: They either offer “”escapist”” fare to help us forget our woes (the otherworldy “”Harry Potter”” series, “”good triumphs”” sagas ala the forthcoming “”Iron Man””), or they stick our faces right in the oily mud of a world where war is once again our nation’s reality. This year, the Academy seems inclined to honor those who chose the latter route – and they should be applauded for it.

“”No Country”” and “”There Will Be Blood”” – two of the best films to be nominated for Best Picture in many years – can be interpreted as direct commentaries on various problems grimly facing our country today. The post-Vietnam noir of “”No Country”” speaks to the continually problematic relationship between the U.S. and Mexico as well as the countless lives still being lost in the drug trade. Writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson’s “”There Will Be Blood”” chronicles the first black dances in America’s greedy and demanding courtship with oil, touching thereby on everything from global warming to rising gas prices. By taking a critical look at our recent past, both films point out how rapidly our nation developed, and how we suffer in the present for our past lack of foresight.

But the real reason these films are good (and worth seeing more than any piece of blockbuster escapism) is they cut straight to the heart of a country in existential crisis, revealing subtle truths in a way only art (as opposed to a newspaper) can. They are Nietzschean films that do for the philosopher’s work what McCarthy’s novels have done: Transpose it onto the American frontier, exposing our country not just as a nation of groundbreaking pioneers, but as the ruthless economic leader in a postmodern world where the ideas of progress and meaning that sustained Western civilization for centuries have all but broken down. If, as Nietzsche declared, God is dead – and here “”God”” can mean anything from Enlightenment visions of obtaining social equality to faith in the principles of the U.S. government – then society is more in danger than ever of falling into the hands of people like the sociopaths who stalk these films, men desirous of recreating the world along new or fanatically revitalized moral lines. Men who will kill for oil.

See these movies and take home the message “”No Country”” leaves for you. In darker times when you feel as if evil and injustice are not even worth fighting against, don’t lose your sense of efficacy and give up the struggle. If “”Fahrenheit 9/11″” didn’t influence your vote, maybe these films will.

Daniel Sullivan is a senior majoring in German studies and psychology. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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