Reviewing some summer movies for Salon, Andrew O’Hehir makes offers this intriguing analysis of the role of movies, comic books and other popular art forms in keeping alive ideals of equality and economic justice that are largely absent from our politics:
“Now You See Me” is the latest manifestation, and among the strangest, of a long-running symbolic role for Hollywood cinema. It’s the space where the angry and confrontational politics of class conflict – which are almost entirely absent in the realm of, y’know, actual politics – can play out as dream or wish fulfillment, with no real-world consequences.
Both American political parties are primarily concerned with how to manage an economy of worsening inequality, and how to manage the costs of worsening environmental degradation. I won’t pretend there are no differences between Republicans and Democrats on these issues. Indeed, there is vigorous and heated debate about how best to mitigate and elide these conditions, how to make them, in essence, look less critical than they are. But it has been several decades since the Democrats made any serious effort to speak for the underclass, the disinherited, those beneath the middle of the middle class. Of course the Republicans never did; and neither party has ever behaved as if saving the planet were important.
So the revolutionary or utopian impulse in American life gets thrust into the imagination, into comic books, science fiction novels and the movies. Sometimes the people who make such movies have an overtly left-wing, cultural-criticism orientation. Most obviously I mean the Wachowski siblings, who of course made the “Matrix” trilogy and the underappreciated “Cloud Atlas,” but also wrote and produced the proto-Occupy cult hit “V for Vendetta,” which looks in the rear-view mirror like a key film of the mid-2000s. Sometimes, as with French-born director Louis Leterrier and the writing team behind “Now You See Me,” the whole thing appears mainly cynical or opportunistic. (That may be unfair; the movie stars Harrelson and Mark Ruffalo, who both have left-activist politics.)