Patterns In Film Viewing: Protagonists as Political Prisoners of Sorts

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Divergent   2014, Burger

The Hunger   2008, McQueen

Killer of Sheep   1977, Burnett

Dracula Untold   2014, Shore

The Fog   2005, Wainwright

Bears   2014, Scholey/Fothergill

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues   2013, McKay

Phantasm   1979, Coscarelli

Phantasm 2   1988, Coscarelli

The Internship   2013, Levy

     I decided a common theme in these ten films I watched was that the protagonists were all political prisoners of sorts. Michael Fassbender's terrific portrayal of IRA prisoner Bobby Sands in Steve McQueen's "Hunger" would be the most obvious example and my spring board for the theory. The term of political prisoner can be loosely adapted to the other protagonists as they are presented with realities previously constructed in which they must navigate or be tossed to the side or even die. All of the protagonists struggle with these existing realities to which they have just been exposed.

     Half of these past ten films I watched were in the horror/sci-fi arena and while these hardly seem to be genres in which you might apply the term political prisoner, keep in mind my loose association with the term and that perhaps these genres are the most extreme example of a character being confronted with a reality which seems far away from where they'd like to be. "Divergent" is yet another highly predictable, teen-centric, somewhere in the future story of a girl struggling with coming of age and being forced to follow the order of things and pick a class to which she feels she may serve (not exactly "Hunger Games" but close enough). "Dracula Untold" is the sappy, romanticized version of how Count Dracula became a vampire as the only means to protect his people of Transylvania forever or perish and/or be ruled by another country. Who knew? Or needed to? Although I am wary of watching remakes of classics, I waited nearly 10 years before watching the remake of John Carpenter's classic 1980 "The Fog." The updated 2005 version was definitely watchable and not half bad. Here, the characters in a small Pacific northwest island community must survive the onslaught of a malevolent fog consisting of the ghosts of a ship intentionally sank by that very community's leaders centuries before. Here, the characters must figure out how to placate the angry ghost mob that is suddenly invading their island. And lastly in the horror vein is one of my two favorite horror series, Don Coscarelli's "Phantasm." And yes, I followed it right up, same night, with "Phantasm 2". Here we have a family unit more or less that is confronted with the reality of an evil Tall Man (perfectly played by Angus Scrimm) who isn't so much killing people as he is robbing the graveyard and mortuary of its bodies to transfer them to his alternate reality where they become evil, really ugly jawas, and then he brings them back to aid him in his cause. Michael and Reggie must stop the Tall Man and rid their town of him and restore order. "Phantasm 2" widens their scope to which they feel it necessary to hunt down the Tall Man, who is rampaging across the country doing more of the same, and bring his evil business to a final end for everybody everywhere.

     The films I haven't yet mentioned are the mixed bag. I was in awe finally watching Charles Burnett's amazing and wonderful masterpiece "Killer of Sheep." The film portrays the stark reality that Stan (Henry G. Sanders) must navigate in order for his family to survive, forget about succeeding. The film was the work of then UCLA student Burnett, shot in the contentious Watts section of L.A. Stan has a steady job that he works hard at, following the recipe for the 'American Dream' but it sure feels as if the world around him has installed an order where Stan and his black community, no matter how hard they work or how straight they live, won't be attaining that dream. This film is one of the best I've seen and has a terrific r&b/blues soundtrack. Switching gears a bit, "Bears" is a Disney film documenting the difficult life of a bear cub, narrated wonderfully by John C. Reilly; "Anchorman 2" gives us Ron Burgundy, again (yawn), as a now outdated, outlandish, politically incorrect, chauvinistic tv news anchorman attempting to make it in the new decade of the 1980s with a new kind of news in the advent of the 24 hour news channel. And lastly, "The Internship" stars Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as yesterday's computer illiterate traveling salesmen trying desperately to reinvent themselves to stay current in the reality that has taken shape while they rode the last one to the bitter end. To exacerbate that point, they were watch salesman! Who needs a watch anymore when we've all got smart phones?


About the author


Baxter Martin has a B.A. in Cinema Studies from American University. Historian and scholar of international & American cinemas. Baxter Martin is contributing to Film Annex by researching silent films and other classics that should have a greater audience in the film world. Baxter is also an adviser for the…

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