December 14, 2015

Trumbo (2015)

Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren

My social media news feeds have been chock full of political statements lately: Syrian refugees, gun control, Planned Parenthood, Black Lives Matter (yes, this is still happening), Supreme Court Justice Scalia's weirdly racist statement, anything out of Trump's mouth, etc. And like everything else in life, each side staunchly believes it is the correct side. 

Where I start to lose my sh*t is when people start calling for the infringement of First Amendment rights. A quick lesson out there for everyone who wants to scream "freedom of speech" anytime they want to say something hateful. Yes, you can say it (so long as it is not threatening harm to someone else). But people can still judge you, respond to you, and repeat in the same hateful manner. Hence, the comment section of any article on the internet. Freedom of speech is protection from government persecution of your speech, not public opinion. *steps down from teacher's podium*

I bring all this up because in the wake of all this political turmoil, I watched Trumbo, a movie about Hollywood's blacklist of workers based on their affiliation with the Communist party. And man, did it get my blood boiling. Because no matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, don't we all agree that Congress wastes far too much time and money on stupid investigations while ignoring actual problems? (see: The Mitchell Report) I thought this was a universal truth.

But I watched this movie and realized how little has changed. People's fear of Communists, either blatantly led or at least egged on by the government, allowed thousands of people to be fired, lose their homes, become ostracized from their communities, etc. I want to be sympathetic. I do. I get that people are/were scared. But at what point does your fear get to trump fellow citizen's civil liberties? At what point does your fear get to ruin other people's lives?

This movie was heartbreakingly sad. But not because of Dalton Trumbo suffering, though that was of course, tragic. This movie made me sad because I can't help but wonder how many people will watch it and think "wow that's terrible--good thing those times are over." Or "thank goodness for people like Trumbo, who stood up for what's right." Or worse, "he got what he deserved."

Because the fact of the matter is, those times are not over. We are facing an assault on our civil liberties every day, on different fronts. And how many people are going to be willing to risk their livelihood for what they believe in? How many people will stand up for what they believe in if they don't personally have a stake in it? Are we going to leave it to the persecuted to fight their own battles?

I am reminded of the little seen movie, Flash of Genius with Greg Kinnear, in which he spends his entire life fighting court cases against the Detroit motor companies for essentially stealing his patent of the intermittent windshield wiper that can now be found on every single car manufactured across the world. He lost his family, his credibility, his health, and probably a good deal of his sanity fighting for his right to what was already legally his under the law. And yet he had to fight a battle most would not survive. Thank god for him. And thank god for people like Trumbo, who was willing to fight for his Constitutional right to believe whatever he wanted to believe, whether or not I agreed with his philosophies. How many of us would go to prison defending our beliefs and rights (because reminder: Trumbo and the Hollywood 10 actually did NOTHING ILLEGAL). I'd like to believe I would, but I honestly don't know if I would have the courage.

I realize I addressed very little of the movie itself and instead went off on a political tangent. That wasn't by accident. The movie, while compelling, is good precisely because it causes you to think about the political atmosphere of then and today. Of course the acting is good--it's Helen Mirren and Walter freakin' White (who looks more than a little like Geraldo with that moustache), with a dash of John Goodman, who should never act without holding a baseball bat. Everyone plays their part like a good waiter at a fine dining restaurant: the experience is seamless and they call no unnecessary attention to themselves. The characters resist becoming one-dimensional "good" or "bad" guys, with shades of fallibility and valor on both sides. And Louis C.K. is in it, which only makes it more awesome. 

This movie, at it's core, is the quintessential Hollywood movie: it stars big, serious names, is historical, is a drama, and of course, is about Hollywood itself. It's just a shame it wasn't nominated for more Golden Globes.

Final word: If this movie doesn't at least frustrate you in some way, I question your moral compass.

P.S. Roman Holiday is my favorite movie of all time, so it doesn't hurt that Dalton Trumbo also wrote it. Freaking genius, that man. 

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