As the talking-head pundits tell it, Hollywood is a modern-day Sodom of left-wing Commie liberalism intent on poisoning our nation’s youth and providing national menaces like Lena Dunham with steady work. But a slightly more sober appraisal would reveal that most of the lessons imparted by this year’s crop of movies offer distinctly non-partisan wisdom — and act as cautionary tales for the upcoming Presidential election, illustrating the dangers of charlatans and close-mindedness. George Orwell, a guy who knew a thing or two about smuggling political commentary into popular fiction, famously declared all art to be propaganda; by that tack, the prevailing sentiment behind Tinseltown’s output in 2016 has to be “voters, the time has come to get your shit together.”
This Friday, The Purge franchise of horror films returns for a third outing subtitled Election Year — you can’t accuse it of wearing its subtext on its sleeve. And its merely one of a host of other 2016 movies that, courtesy of some subtly coded (and not so subtly blared) messages, might just make us a more reasonable and responsible electorate come November. So read on for a selection of wisdom embedded in recent releases, from grungy grindhouse-style thrillers to big-budget superhero blockbusters. It’s your patriotic duty.
The Witch: “See through the rhetoric”
The villain in Robert Eggers’ rigorously faithful colonial-era scary story never even has to rear his head to inspire fear and get impressionable young Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) under his thumb. With nothing more than sweetly tempting words, an unseen Prince of Darkness seduces the girl to the dark side, promising her pleasure and power beyond her wildest imagining. Though image consultants would never let Satan’s creepy-whisper voice fly in a media appearance, his tactics to win the girl’s soul boil down to little more than empty rhetoric. Telling the constituents what they want to hear is a time-honored political tactic as old as baby-smooching, so it falls to the individual voter to sift through the manipulative hot air and get at the underlying intentions. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing Americans to vote against their own interests.
10 Cloverfield Lane: “Challenge every bit of information you are fed”
After a gruesome car crash, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up as a captive in the basement of a menacing stranger (John Goodman). He tells her that he’s only abducted her for her own good, providing protection from the alien invasion raging outside their secure subterranean bunker — but isn’t that just what a regular kidnapper would say? She spends the majority of the movie’s running time on a desperate, furtive search for clarifying facts, a commodity in frightfully short supply this election cycle. It falls to the public and the Fourth Estate to put a politician’s every claim through a wringer of truth, and then hold said figures accountable when they can’t be bothered to check their sources to their words. A citizenry that accepts whatever it’s told leaves itself wide open to deception, and with the people stuck in the dark, there’s no end to what a demagogue can get away with.
Zootopia: “Exercise tolerance and compassion”
Disney pushed some hot buttons with this buddy-cop comedy, making relatively covert statements about the growing rifts of class and race via talking animals and carton shenanigans. While the movie’s elements of prejudice can be cut to fit the marginalized group of your choosing, the larger demand for compassion and, ironically enough, humanity from these critters is universal. Election season is a time to exercise empathy, to look out for the interests those who can’t look out for themselves. Ruthless parties may vilify the willingness to personally sacrifice for a wider good as mollycoddling, but America only remains a country worth living in so long as we continue to care for anyone in need.
Captain America: Civil War: “Know who the real enemy is”
Infighting has posed a greater threat to the Avengers over the years than any supervillain, and in Cap’s latest solo adventure, ideological differences over governmental superhero regulation cleave the most powerful global peacekeeping force in half. The ensuing chaos between Captain America and Iron Man’s feuding camps allows the nefarious Baron Zemo to pull all manner of fast ones, reinforcing the grave importance of unity during times of crisis. After all the dust has settled and the chads have been fully punched on Election Day, members of both parties will have to live with the result — and the only hope of remaining an effective player on the world stage is in the spirit of cooperation. For members of congress and everyday folks alike, the best protection against external threats is internal harmony.
Green Room: “Be wary of extremists”
The members of scraping-by punk outfit the Ain’t Rights agree to play a gig at a known neo-Nazi stronghold because it’s a quick, easy payday, and they need the money. But somewhere between the second and third grisly murder, that quick-cash opportunity proves far more trouble than it was worth. With Donald Trump not exactly courting support from white supremacist groups but not particularly rejecting them either, the parallels between Jeremy Saulnier’s brutal thriller and real life look pretty stark, though this speaks to either side of the aisle. (“Never trust a Nazi” is a pretty good rule of thumb.) Candidates commanding a feverishly devoted base on the far ends of the political spectrum have nudged both major parties to the brink of self-immolation this year, and no matter who wins, there’ll be a massive mess to clean up afterward. Putting trust in fringe types invariably goes awry, no matter their specific ethics — they always go rogue.
X-Men: Apocalypse: “Demand more than mere strength”
Apocalypse, the blue-skinned despot tangling with the X-Men in their latest sequel, does have a rather Trumpy tang to him: an obsession with eliminating the weak, a belief in his own powers as infinite, a complexion not of this world. His pitiless emphasis on survival of the fittest underscores the importance of selecting a candidate who understands that there are more important things to governing than raw power. The movie arrives at a pretty hokey suggestion as to what those things might be (the real X-Men: Apocalypse was love all along!) — but in all seriousness, voters would do well to place a premium on qualities of mercy, generosity, and decency above all else.
The Purge: Election Year: “Realize that not every debate needs two sides”
Trailing the gotcha-scares and unsettling masks, the scariest aspect of the Purge movies is how plausible it all feels. Suggesting a brief period of legalized murder might seem like the stuff of rejected Twilight Zone scripts to us now, but there was a time when closing our borders to immigrants seemed self-evidently wrong as well — and look at where we’ve ended up with that. The misplaced notion that every issue has the right to a full discussion with “fair and balanced” attention paid to both sides has lowered the level of discourse across the board. After the party conventions have officially designated the nominees and the drag-down fracas of the Presidential debates begin, and make no mistake, morally abhorrent proposals will be floated. We do not owe them consideration before rejection.