We're in that season now. Some think of it as the holidays, and others, as the six week stretch when most of the year's decent movies finally come out (i.e. Oscar contender time). In fact, so many movies worth seeing come out at once, that people who write about movies tend to bunch a bunch of them together in their reviews, and in some cases, develop Deep Thoughts about what these movies do or don't have in common.
Guilty as self-charged. I recently saw three movies, two with a lock on Best Actor nominations and a third dark horse, all of them featuring compelling male protagonists: Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, Denzel Washington as pilot Whip Whitacker (Flight), and Richard Gere as hedge fund magnate Robert Miller (Arbitrage). What struck me was how all three movies focused on a moral dilemma which, however timeless, seems particularly timely in our current historical moment.
In Arbitrage, the Gere character has embezzled funds, ostensibly to save his company, his family, and his wealthy lifestyle. The tension in the story arises from what happens when he commits another crime that threatens to expose the first.
Flight is about how airliner pilot Denzel heroically turns what could have been a total crash disaster into much less of one, saving most of the lives (referred to in the movie, tellingly, as "souls") onboard. Problem is, Denzel is an alcoholic who happened to be drunk at the time.
Lincoln focuses on a key moment in this beloved historical figure's life: his fight to get the 13th amendment, constitutionally abolishing slavery, passed - which may involve his having to keep the Civil War going, as opposed to ending it.
At their cores, each of these movies hinges on the same particular conflict, which could simply be stated as: Me or them?
Arbitrage's Gere, in ways too spoiler to elucidate, ends up having to choose between owning up to what he's done, or selling someone close to him down the river. In truth, while he claims company and family as his rationale, his dilemma is really about maintaining his own power.
The alcoholism of Denzel in Flight creates a similar dichotomy: obviously Whip's disease threatens the lives of everyone he encounters on his job, and ultimately he, too, finds that his only way out of what could be a hefty prison sentence is to sell out someone near and dear.
Lincoln is a bit of a special case. As President, the "them" Lincoln is dealing with is the nation he's been chosen to lead. Nonetheless, he's ultimately faced with either compromising his own beliefs and principles in order to serve "their" immediate needs (i.e. by ending the bloodshed), or answering to what he believes is, besides his own legacy, the higher call of history.
The pattern's obvious, but it struck me that, in the context of our recent election and its consequences, this particular conflict - caring about the betterment of others vs. what's best for oneself - is with us now, more than ever. It framed the philosophies behind the presidential race's politics, and it's the framework of where we are in the current tax dispute. Are we willing to make sacrifices for the greater good, or is it going to be every man for himself?
Most of us aren't millionaire financial execs, ace airline pilots, or Daniel Day Lewis (he is Lincoln now, don't you know). But this particular struggle - which we could more accurately define as "me or us?" - is apparently really saying hello to the audience now, even in what's usually our hallowed hall of escapism.
Maybe I'm only reaching, and pissing on my head, as an old musician friend used to put it, so I'm curious to hear from those of you who've seen some of the other high profile end-of-2012 releases. Is this focus actually a trend? Living RomCom wants to know.