Movies and politics: The Host and The Lives of Others

The Korean-Japanese production The Host tries to be a lot of things: A Sci-fi/horror movie, a screwball comedy, a family melodrama, and a political satire directed against the United States, well, Bush's America. The director Bong Joon-ho argued that "It's a stretch to simplify The Host as an anti-American film, but there is certainly a metaphor and political commentary about the U.S." Let's see if you can figure out the metaphor here: The movie starts in the year 2000 at the U.S. Army base in Seoul, where an American mortician orders a Korean subordinate to dump dusty bottles of "dirty formaldehyde" into the sink and this disgusting toxic stuff ends up in the Han River(this part is based on a real event)and gives birth in 2006 to a Monster (yes, this is also a "monster movie"). Most of the movie revolves around the adventures of the Park family as they fight against the Monster. But the Americans show-up again. They are trying to "liberate" Korea from The Monster and the alleged virus The Monster is spreading. But contrary to the U.S. intelligence reports, there is no virus, and the American actions, including the use of their chemical agent "Agent Yellow" produces more death and destruction. I understand from press reports that Kim Jong-il has seen the movie and he is giving it thumbs up. Yo, Kim. So do I. Maybe we can be next Ebert & Roeper.

It seems that Kim isn't the only chubby and pompous reviewer whose taste (in films) I seem to share. John Podhoretz in a review in the Weekly Standard calls The Lives of Others "an immensely rich and gripping film about the moral awakening of two men." It is. In reminded me of some of Costa-Gavras great political thrilles that were critical both of righ-wing regimes backed by Washington as well as communist regimes backed by Moscow. But then J.P.Normanson goes on and on bashing the "cultural elites" for supposedly giving a cold shoulder to the movie. Why have they behaved this way:
The ideological struggle against leftist totalitarianism was something that did not arouse the interest or enthusiasm of cultural elites in the West during the Cold War. Far from it; from the 1960s onward, the default position of the doyens of popular culture was a presumption in favor of the Communist struggle, as personified by Mao, the Viet Cong, Castro, the Sandinistas, El Salvador's guerrillas, and the so-called African liberation movements.
Yeah. Right. The fact of the matter is that as the movie suggests, the most important support that East German's intellectuals had received during the Cold War was from the members of the "cultural elites" in the West, represented in "The Lives of Others" by one of the editors of the left-leaning "Der Spiegel" who helps smuggle and then publishes a manuscript written by an East German writer. It was thanks to the Ostpolitik strategy promoted by West Germany's Willy Brandt -- which was treated with hostility by Washington -- that East Germany's intellectuals could gradually expand their links to the West. And btw, many of these former dissidents are clearly not leading pro-American marches in Germany today. Which brings me to my last point: When the movie ended, someone next to me commented to his friend that "this stuff could happen here one day" I know. I know. This is not a totalitarian system, and let's not draw "moral equivalency," between "them" and "us," etc. etc. But my guess is that thanks to the Patriot Act there is a well-paid bureaucrat in OUR government who is probably reading now your blog or listening to your phone conversation, as he or she monitors The Lives of Others.


Steve Sailer said…
The cultural elite in Hollywood gave the "Lives of Others" the Oscar for Best Foreign Film over the pro-leftist "Pan's Labyrinth."

It was a weird year for the Oscars in that I didn't have much too complain about: The Departed, Helen Mirren, Forrest Whitaker, The Lives of Others. Thumbs up!
RLaing said…
I love the term 'moral relativity', because it describes so well how 'morality' actually works. The emotion of moral outrage is only 'absolute' in the sense that we either feel it or we don't; but when you move to the question of the conditions that lead people to experience this emotion, then it becomes plain that 'morality' as a system is very much relative.

As a function of distance: virtue is a virtue to the extent that responsibility for it is 'here', and a vice is a vice to the extent that liability for it is 'there'. So although the 'virtue' of defeating the Nazis plainly belongs for the most part to the Russians, few American can remotely imagine such a thing: instead they are quite convinced that 'we' did that. Similarly, the 'sin' of shooting down civilian airliners is plainly a great crime when perpetrated by the Russians (KAL 007), but most likely the fault of the victims when the U.S. does the same thing (IR655).

As a function of scale: an individual can feel remorse over a bad act, whereas a nation cannot. So although many Japanese soldiers now feel quite badly about their participation in various crimes of WWII, their government still prefers to deny that any crimes were committed at all.

When someone talks about 'moral relativity' (or moral equivalence), what they are unconsciously codemning is moral absolutism: the notion that a crime is a crime without regard to the actors, since as everyone knows, we are capable, at the very worst, of being overzealous in pursuit of our 'high ideals'--i.e., of being too good.
weknow said…
hello rlaing...

Lenny bruce put the kibosh on absolutism in the 50's with his POW bit about guys captured in Korea-"name, rank and serial # that's all you're gettin' out of me...huh...what's that you're doing with...

It's always been go along to get along except for that declining in percentage terms subset of humans raised as children with absolutes...Ayn Rand's philosophy works a lot better without children(as they play a tiny part in her books). An old WASP told me late one night the painful truth that life is a series of compromises.

My take on this question was to have an a is a attitute on as many of life's questions as possible. I raised my children to look to their life sense and try to figure the clear right and wrong on as many questions as possible. Only by nailing down all that you can to a moral certainty will you have the strength and peace of mind to tackle those shades of grey that are Art rather than Science. The more you leave life open to relativism, the more you sentence yourself to misery.


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