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Hollywood’s Twisted Psyche

It always comes down to depictions of people as victims of Evil Forces.

By 12.22.04

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As conservatives gain ground politically, it makes sense to start looking at what makes Hollywood such a bastion of liberal thought.

Michael Medved has written extremely well on this subject, dissecting how Hollywood would rather follow its own ideological proclivities than make money at the box office. But the problem goes deeper. What concerns me is the underlying ideology in Hollywood that ordinary people are incapable of acting or thinking for themselves but are constantly being deceived and misled by shadowy forces beyond our control.

I confess I go to movies as little as possible, but the kids tend to drag us there. The last time I agreed to go it was for Men in Black, some space-alien fantasy that was absolutely nauseating in its ersatz realism. The last scene I remember was a pregnant woman trying to give birth to a space alien in her car. She was desperately clinging to her Lamaze breathing while the giant thing with tentacles was coming out of her. In the last shot, the car is rocking while the creature's tentacles are feeling their way outside the car windows. Everybody in the theater was laughing like crazy. After that I said no more.

I DO TRY TO ACCOMMODATE my kids, however, so the other night I agreed to sit down and watch on DVD The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is supposed to be a romantic comedy. I admit I was intrigued by the promotions, which showed a couple in a Victorian bed on the beach. Could it be that someone had done something fetching and whimsical? Stupid me.

Eternal Sunshine is a cross between Love Story and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The premise is that there's a doctor somewhere on Long Island who can erase specific thoughts from people's memories. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are a couple of lonely losers who have a mild romance -- until she decides everything is all wrong and has the doctor erase him from her mind. When Carrey finds out she no longer remembers him, he goes to the doctor to have his memories of her erased as well.

From there, things quickly degenerate into a computer-geek, video-game imagery as a young intern chases Carrey through his own memory tracking down every last trace of Winslet. There's an attempt to throw in a little Freudianism -- at one point he's a little kid under the kitchen table hiding from his mother. But basically, it's just a mess.

So there's no romantic comedy after all. Instead, we're in Manchurian-Candidate land, where Big Business and Big Science are brainwashing American citizens. Of course there's a little problem with the plot. These people volunteered for the treatment. So how do we get back to the poor-ignorant-people-victimized-by-corporate-America routine?

Don't worry, it happens. Slowly, the doctor and the intern become sinister masterminds, manipulating poor Jim against his will. The doctor is eventually exposed as a Bad Guy because he tries to put the moves on the intern's girlfriend. She discovers she's been brainwashed as well and finds the tapes of everyone's erased memories.

Carrey and Winslet meet again and once again decide they like each other. Then they get the news that they've been brainwashed and -- and what? Will they recognize that it was their own impatience that pulled them apart? Is the brainwashing a metaphor for modern couples' unwillingness to make commitments?

Don't stick around to find out. Weird Science's evil machinations have been overthrown and everyone lives happily ever after.

As usual, this movie achieved all kinds of critical acclaim -- "a simple love story," "a moving portrait of a modern relationship," "a thoughtful meditation on love and relationships." Huh? This plot is warmed-over Bride of Frankenstein. The whole point is that people are victims of evil forces.

WHAT AMAZES ME IS that when Hollywood does stumble over itself and make a real live human movie, liberal critics are apoplectic. A few years ago my wife took me to see Family Man -- one of that endless series where people wake up and find they are somebody else. In this instance, Nicolas Cage is a Wall Street honcho just breaking off a commitment-less Manhattan relationship with his lawyer-girlfriend. He encounters a mysterious black mugger who puts him in a trance. He wakes up married to his old college girlfriend played by the sweet Tea Leoni and living in New Jersey. They have two kids, a mortgage, wrestle with diapers and plumbing and neighbors they don't particularly like but have to see because they live right next door. Cage, of course, feels strangled by all this, but gradually grows to like it and realize it's real life. When he finally wakes up, he rushes off to the airport, catches Leoni just as she's leaving for a job in another city, sits her down in an airport coffee shop and says, "Listen, I have to tell you about something . . . "

There it is. How do you tell contemporary career-mongers what life and family and happiness are all about? Well, at least they're trying.

What astonished me is that a few weeks later the New York Times Week in Review ran an entire "news analysis" lambasting Family Man for trying to resurrect the "long-standing pieties" of Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. "Just when you decide certain cultural slogans have fallen into hopeless disgrace, they switch sides and get pawned off on us as new and improved," wrote "news analyst" Ms. Jefferson. The movie's message, she said, was that "threatening beings -- poor black men, strong-minded women -- will settle down and find their proper place in your world." This was just "spiritual comfort food for movers and shakers who are rich, white and male."

Ay-yi-yi. The cultural gap here is much wider than we have anticipated. If celebrating home and family in New Jersey is just a way of expressing male chauvinism, then Spotless Mind probably is a sensitive portrait of contemporary romance.

The common theme, of course, is that ordinary people can't decide things for themselves. If you try obsessively to forget about someone you really like, then it must be because some weird doctor is making you do it. If you choose a family over a career, then you are only being misled by "cultural slogans." It's the same logic that has the Democrats running around asking, "How did the Republicans ever fool the American people into voting for them?"

Conservatives are winning the hearts and minds of the people in the political arena. It's time to start doing the same thing in the cultural arena as well.

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About the Author
William Tucker is news editor for RealClearEnergy.org.