Tag Archives: cinema

Picking at the Scabs of Self-Hatred

Probably many of my readers have seen the classic 1943 film, “The Song of Bernadette”, but if you have not, I would like to recommend it to you – even if you are not Catholic.  The older I get, the more I “get” the film, and the more its meaning changes for me.  Oftentimes viewers are so caught up in the miraculous visions, or the pressures put on Bernadette to recant what she reported to have seen, that they forget Bernadette had a different life once the visions ended, and she left Lourdes forever.  And it is there, I think, that what might otherwise have been just a pious, respectable film takes on a bit of greatness, when it comes to examining the human condition.

The character of Sister Vauzous – played by the great English actress Gladys Cooper, who received a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Oscars for her performance  - is something of a parallel to the older brother of the Prodigal Son in Jesus’ parable.  Like him, Sister Vauzous does not go out to seek fame and fortune, nor does she want to live in depravity, sexual hedonism, and dissipation.  In fact she does everything she is told to do and more, with copious amounts of fasting, prayer, lack of sleep, and so on.

However she has done none of this for the right reasons. One gets the distinct impression that she has spent all these years living in a form of perpetual penance not out of love for God, but rather out of self-hate.  And self-hatred is a very dangerous road to travel.

As the character tells us in the scene where she finally confronts Bernadette, informing her about how much she has suffered compared to the peasant girl, she expresses what is obviously a deep-seated sense of jealousy, yes, but also of self-hatred.  This little nobody from Lourdes, whom she knew years before, gets the opportunity to see the Mother of Jesus, while she herself is denied any such gift.  That seems to Sister Vauzous fundamentally unfair.

Of course the real person Sister Vauzous is upset with is not Bernadette, but God. Why, she asks herself, do you bless that one and not me, with such consolations?  The root of that anger is self-hatred: we are unhappy because X has something we wish we had, which seems better than what we have.  Sister Vauzous is so unhappy with her own life, that she has rather childishly deluded herself into believing that she is ascetic penitent, when in truth she is a self-righteous Pharisee.

So often reviewers of this film focus on the character’s doubt and skepticism of Bernadette’s story as the wellspring of her harshness, but truthfully it is Sister Vauzous’ hatred of herself that is the real issue.  She has run away to the convent not to serve God, but to add to her own sorrows, and pick at them like scabs until they bleed, over and over again.  She is a figure of morbid self-pity, who cannot see beyond her own unhappiness to do anything out of love for anyone else.

In the Gospel parable, the father tells the older brother of the Prodigal Son that he must come rejoice that his brother has come alive again and returned to them, but Jesus does not tell us what happened next; He leaves it to our imagination to decide whether the older brother did change in his heart or not.  In “The Song of Bernadette” however, we actually see the complete redemption of Sister Vauzous.  Not only does she seek forgiveness after Bernadette reveals how horribly she has been quietly suffering for years, but she herself changes: she becomes Bernadette’s greatest friend in the convent.  So much so, that she literally carries Bernadette around when the girl becomes so ill that she can no longer walk.

I suspect that many of my Christian readers would like to think that they are more like Bernadette than Sister Vauzous.  The truth is that we can very easily fall into the same traps as the latter.  We can be so rigid with our formulae on how we are supposed to live our Christian lives, that we forget the whole point is to act in imitation of Christ.  And one of the common complaints about Jesus from His contemporaries was that He went about chatting and dining with people whom the supposedly religiously upright of his day categorically saw as sinners, instead of basking in the glow of the religious authorities’ high opinions of themselves.  What they did not understand, and I suspect oftentimes we all forget this as well, myself included, is that it is not only possible, but necessary, to try one’s best to follow and witness to God’s law, without simultaneously causing others to completely lose heart in the process.

Today being the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, when Catholics recall the first apparition to St. Bernadette at Lourdes on February 11, 1858, if you have seen “The Song of Bernadette” before, go back and watch it again, in light of this reflection.  If you have not, then find it online and take a look at it.  And have the honesty to ask yourself, which of these two nuns am I more like, right now?  The answer may surprise you, but the real benefit will be what you do with that realization.

Sister Vazou (Gladys Cooper) reacts in "The Song of Bernadette" (1943)

Sister Vazou (Gladys Cooper) reacts in “The Song of Bernadette” (1943)


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Review: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey

When you’re right, you’re right.

Regular readers of these pages will know that a few weeks ago, I posted a piece titled, “In Defense of Peter Jackson”, in which I shared some common-sense perspective on the director’s films based on the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien.  That piece was subsequently selected by WordPress for their “Freshly Pressed” feature, and received many favorable comments, for which I am grateful.  Last night I finally managed to see “The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey”, and I was not disappointed in the slightest. For “An Unexpected Journey” is wonderful: full of life, fun, adventure, and something very important which not a single review I read mentioned, and that is love.

There are a number of threads woven together into why I found this not only an enjoyable film, but a successful one that actually improves the more that you think about it.  First of all, let it be said that no, this is not “The Lord of the Rings” re-booted.  It is a different story altogether.  The company of travelers in “The Hobbit” are going on an adventure, for different reasons – treasure, revenge, the thrill of it, etc. – even if there are some larger themes that are explored.  They are not out to save the world, as are the Fellowship in “The Lord of the Rings”, and because of that we need to adjust our expectations accordingly.

Jackson takes us right back to Middle Earth, and it looks just as lovely as it did the last time we were there, if not more so.  For technology has continued to advance since the first “Lord of the Rings” film came out ten years ago – hard to believe! – and a number of things are even better now, from a technical perspective.  Jackson creates a whole word, but whereas in the first trilogy some of the string-pulling, as my filmmaker brother put it last night, was more obvious, in this film it is virtually seamless.  The mountains  open up into gigantic vistas in one scene for example, rather than being dependent solely upon what can be seen from a helicopter camera.  The light of the moon mixed with fire in a fight sequence feels real, rather than the product of special effects.  And the things which were beautiful to look at in the first trilogy – Bilbo’s comfy house, the Gaudi-style pavilions at Rivendell, etc. – are all there to be enjoyed in even more detail.

Those not looking for gee-whiz technology or action, will find the acting here uniformly excellent.  Martin Freeman is a far more likeable Bilbo than I was anticipating, and you warm to him very quickly; he is someone whom you actually look forward to going on this adventure with, and he carries the heart of the film absolutely beautifully.  The wise and the great are back and in proper form, from the engaging Ian McKellan and Ian Holm, to the radiant Cate Blanchett,  the cerebral Hugo Weaving, and the majestically malevolent Christopher Lee.  And Andy Serkis outdoes himself in interpreting Gollum, if one can even imagine that, reminding us that Gollum was a frightening, cannibalistic, and murderous thing, especially when he had the twisted self-confidence of his Precious to support him.

For me, the revelation here is Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the company of travelers heading to the Lonely Mountain.  I must confess, I have been a huge fan of Armitage since his days on “Spooks” (called “MI-5″ in the U.S.), and he was probably the only good thing about the insipid, juvenile, and Occupy-esque “Robin Hood” series, which I have written about previously.  However as I have only seen him on television, when I learnt that he would have this major part I was slightly doubtful as to whether he would be able to carry off such an important and prominent role in the story.

I need not have worried, for Armitage is superb.  He embodies leadership and physical prowess, certainly, but also carries a sense of personal dignity mixed with a willingness to engage in self-sacrifice for his people, even if it means his own personal humiliation.  There is also a kind of sorrow fired by a desire for revenge, against those who destroyed his family and his world, which is going to be interesting to see develop over the next two films.  At one point in a fight sequence, faced with impossible odds and no chance of escape, he decides to turn round and go attack his enemy head-on, to buy the others time even if it means his own death.  One of the dwarves comments [forgive my paraphrasing], “Here is the one whom we can follow to the end,” but by that point in the film the viewer has already made that decision as well.

As to complaints about the schoolboy humor of the dwarves, or the length of the film, or the references to the other films and other books, or the like, I will leave that to those with small hearts and large opinions of themselves to squabble over.  For what I came away with after seeing this film was first and foremost that I had an absolutely terrific time: I was ENTERTAINED.

Remember when movies used to entertain us, rather than serve as nothing more than expensive pornography or soulless, giant-screen versions of video games as they do now?  Those days are practically gone   Yet here, we have an exception.

Like his previous films, Jackson’s “An Unexpected Journey” has something very special about it, which clearly represents the love that he has for the material itself, the people he is working with, and those of us who will see it.  To walk out of the theatre these days being thoroughly entertained, having had the chance to laugh, be scared, think about things like decency and goodness, and even shed a tear or two, is no small thing for a director to be able to achieve.  The ability to play all of these different notes in a harmonious composition is something that is sorely lacking in the bulk of modern mainstream cinema.

And that sense that I had a really good time watching this adventure unfold, which is still with me even as I type this, naturally leads me to a sense of gratitude for its director.  For Jackson did what I said he was going to do, in my earlier blog post.  He took the talent and resources given to him at this particular point in time, and used it to make something for us to enjoy. And I am very grateful that he did.


Richard Armitage and Martin Freeman in a scene from “The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey”


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In Defense of Peter Jackson: The Value of Interpretation


This blog post will no doubt annoy a number of my closest friends, and particularly infuriate those who are the Middle Earth equivalent of the SSPX – i.e., more Tolkien-than-thou.  However my intent is not to make pleasantries, but rather to challenge perceptions and preconceptions in our culture.  To paraphrase Addison DeWitt, my native habitat is the blogosphere: in it I toil not, neither do I spin – I am simply a critic and commentator.

That being said, I will now freely admit that I am looking forward to catching Part One of Peter Jackson’s new film version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” this weekend, if I can manage to snag a ticket at my local multiplex.  Rather than review a film which I have not yet seen, I want to address two points which all of us ought to keep in mind, and not just with respect to Jackson’s work.  The first and most important is to remind the reader of the value of variation and interpretation, in expression of the artistic imagination.  The second, which flows naturally from it, is to consider Jackson’s work within that context, as well as to judge it on its own merits.

Our cultural history is replete with examples of theme and repetition, not only because human beings enjoy variety, but also because the human imagination takes new pieces of insight from each reinterpretation of something which is already known to us.  We see this idea all the time, in literature, music, architecture, and so on.  If we look at art, for example, let us consider the subject of David, the shepherd boy from the Bible who became the King of Israel.

Were I to ask you to imagine a work of art representing David, the first image to come into your mind would likely be that of Michelangelo’s giant statue which stands in the Accademia in Florence.  This image of the shepherd-king has been famous since it was completed, an iconic and influential piece of sculpture known all over the world.  The serenity and confidence, the strong determination of this “ruddy youth”, as he is described in the Book of Samuel, who is growing into a man’s body and will soon become a great military leader, may have been intended as an allegory of Florence, but over time has come to represent the very idea of the Italian Renaissance for many.

Yet there are other images of David, created both before and after this particular work, which can bring about other levels of understanding.  Take Bernini’s David in the Borghese in Rome, for example, which was created during the Counter-Reformation as the Catholic Church fought back against Protestantism.  In this image, the young shepherd boy is shown about to slay Goliath with his slingshot.  He is wound up like a professional baseball pitcher, chewing on his lower lip with a look of keen concentration on his unseen target, narrowing his eyes to see exactly where to aim his weapon in order to do the most damage.

Whereas Michelangelo’s colossal David is rather static, Bernini’s is about action.  They are each a product of their time.  The former represents the newly-found confidence of a culture which believed that it was reviving the lost arts and knowledge of the Greeks and Romans, and expressed that confidence in the way it presented saints like King David.  The latter is that of an institution under attack from all sides, which is not going to roll over and play dead, but rather will fight back against those who would see it fail.

Ever since Peter Jackson released the first installment of his film version of “Lord of the Rings” ten years ago this month, there has been a mass of criticism that he has not done proper justice to the books.  Despite the total length of the three films extending to many hours, the refrain from Tolkien fans then was that Jackson had cut too much.  While some of this is made up for in the Extended Editions of the films on DVD, which are even better than the theatrical versions, Jackson admittedly had to make editorial decisions about what to put in, what to leave out, and so on, in bringing the story to the screen.  Similarly, now it seems that a common complaint among the commentariat is that turning “The Hobbit”, a much shorter book – comparatively – than the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy of novels, into three films is making it too long.  In other words, Mr. Jackson is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t.

Let us take what we have considered above with respect to the image of David, and apply it to what we are seeing here, with these films.  What Jackson himself has said in the past about his work, and it is a point with which I wholeheartedly agree, is that we need to keep in mind that these are HIS interpretations of the stories, using his talents and the resources available to him as best he can.  Moreover, he fully anticipates that at some point, another director will come along and make his own film version of Tolkien’s books.

It is a bit unfair – and frankly rather illogical – to expect one artistic medium to be able to express itself in the way that another does.  King David, after all, was a real person, who lived a long time ago, and his deeds are described in the Bible.  That, in itself, is an interpretation of his life through the inspired Scriptures.  Do we complain that Michelangelo or Bernini’s statues are unfair representations of David, because they do not actually move?  Do we whine because paintings of David by artists like Castagno or Caravaggio do not speak?

Rather, if we are honest with ourselves, we look at these works of art, and value them based on their own merits, but also in how they bring us back to the person of David and the stories about him in the Bible.  If Mr. Jackson tells an otherwise good story in a way which is unwatchable, then his film will fail; if he tells that story in a way which draws audiences in and makes them interested, then he will succeed.  And in so doing, then perhaps his work will cause people who have never heard of Tolkien or read his work, to go read the books for themselves.

The value of cultural reinterpretations of our values and virtues is that they constantly remind us to reflect on great topics, which with all of our everyday cares and concerns we so often do not get to do.  Tolkien himself was a novelist, not a filmmaker – and neither were Count Leo Tolstoy, Victor Hugo, or any of the other writers whose works are coming to the big screen this season.  While some may not like Jackson’s particular interpretation of Tolkien’s writing, the real question to be asked is not whether it is a complete representation of Tolkien’s work on screen, but whether there is enough virtue in what appears in the film to reflect favorably on at least some of the author’s concerns.

In the spirit of cultural maturity, we need to give Mr. Jackson the chance to tell his version of Tolkien’s story, and enjoy the good parts of it even as we acknowledge those portions which we may not like.  For the next cinematic interpretation of these novels will no doubt be just as different from Jackson’s version, as Bernini’s David is from Michelangelo’s.



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Review: “Skyfall”

Over Thanksgiving weekend during his long sojourn back home in the country, The Courtier finally managed to see “Skyfall”, the latest offering from the James Bond franchise.  There are many good things about this film, which other reviewers have discussed in their posts and which I will not attempt to repeat here.  However I want to draw the reader’s attention to one aspect of why the film is so good, and it has to do with the classic plot device of the man on the run, who decides to make a last stand.

It is hard to believe that 5o years have now passed since Mr. Bond first sauntered onto the big screen in “Dr. No” back in 1962.  Since that time there have been a number of terrific films (“From Russia with Love” being my favorite), some simply enjoyable,  and some real turkeys in the franchise.  Increasingly the relative merit of the film as a piece of cinema seems to have little or nothing to do with its box office.  This tells us something about how the world has changed since the days of Sean Connery and Cubby Broccoli.

For example, I saw the last Pierce Brosnan outing as Bond, “Die Another Day”, with a good friend from England.  He had flown over from London to visit here in Washington for a long weekend, and was looking forward to seeing the movie.  He had not only read all of the original Ian Fleming novels, but was a definite Bond aficionado, interested in places and things associated with both Fleming and his famous creation.

When we left the theatre after seeing the film, neither of us could say much, at first.  I was appalled by many things.  The weird face-transplant aspect of the story confused me no end, for example.  Or there was the rather obvious and ham-fisted double entendres in almost every scene involving the various Bond girls,  rather than being carefully sprinkled here and there for a laugh to break the tension, like in a good detective film.

Then my friend broke the silence and said, “I think that’s one of the most awful Bond films I’ve ever seen,” and it made me realize I was not just being precious about it.   Yet despite the painfully apparent awfulness of the film, it was financially the most successful of all of the Brosnan turns as Bond, raking in well over $400 million at the box office.  So why is this case?  Do people no longer care for good stories?

Increasingly we have seen that films which use a great deal of special effects to the point of not even really attempting to suspend our disbelief make huge profits for the studios. There is a hunger for these types of films internationally, because dialogue and plot matter less than big explosions or throwing human beings, albeit virtually, into some sort of grist mill.  It is much easier to sell an action film to a non-English-speaking audience than it is to sell one in which acting and dialogue matter more than seeing people running about shooting things.

This is not to disparage these types of adventures at all, of course, for we enjoy these neo-mythological stories as much as our ancestors did the original versions, seated around a campfire or a hearth hearing tales of people like Achilles or Gilgamesh.  Yet there is a sameness to many of them now, which I find rather tiresome. For example, the thematic villain at present seems largely to come from the nihilist tradition, to the point where it is overdone. I could not help but feel, for example, that Javier Bardem – whom I do not care for as an actor anyway – was trying to channel his inner Heath Ledger in “Skyfall”.

Yet despite certain faults what “Skyfall” does do very well is to give a rather unexpectedly splendid nod to the origins of this particular type of film genre, which go back to earlier novelists like John Buchan and G.K. Chesterton, writing about the good man on the run.  When the film heads to Scotland, and we get a lot of the Bond back story for the first time on film, the director is taking a risk, as my youngest brother (a filmmaker himself and a huge Bond fan) pointed out.  Yet this part of the film works because we are drawn into the idea of the man under siege from evil in his own home: he knows what is coming, and he makes his preparations to take his stand against it.

Bizarre as this analogy may seem this is why, even these many years later, we can still find enthralling what might otherwise be just another 90′s slapstick comedy, “Home Alone”.  There is some flicker of James Bond, or Richard Hannay, or Gabriel Syme in the character of Kevin McCallister.  The boy knows his home is about to come under attack, and that he cannot hope for reinforcements.  He decides to take a stand to defend himself, and after a fashion his family, even though they have abandoned him – not unlike Bond who, at about the same age, is in effect “abandoned” by his parents when they are killed.

While “Home Alone” and “Skyfall” are obviously quite different films, that moment when a man decides to stop running and take a stand transcends genre, to touch on the universal virtues of courage and heroism.  When so many action-adventure films have become enamored of a lumbering amount of noise and spectacle over telling a good story, they forget the point of having a hero to begin with, whether his powers are ordinary or enhanced in some way.  The hero knows who he is, rather than whinging about his fate.  He reaches a crossroads where he decides, “I’m taking stand, here and now,” for the people he cares about.

It is refreshing to see a Bond film where one is encouraged to think and reflect, rather than simply ogle beautiful women, exotic locations, and cool cars.  All of these things are in “Skyfall” of course, for it would not be a Bond film without them. The Bond films are often categorized as little more than escapist films for the male psyche, but in the good ones, such as this, there is more to them than that.

The point of telling these kinds of heroic stories is in fact to encourage us men to be heroic.  What so many modern action films get wrong is that they focus on the details, rather than on the man himself.  The trappings of the hero, whether they are a Walther PPK and a shaken vodka martini, a Batmobile and a hooded mask, or a red cape and blue tights, are all just iconography, just as a medieval knight had his coat of arms painted on his shield to distinguish him from the other men in the fight.  No matter how deadly the weapons or shiny the armor however, said trappings do not make the hero, for heroism has to come from within.  It is why in “Skyfall” when Bond loses one of his iconic props that our masculine hearts wince at the sight, but we cheer the hero as he keeps on going.

The vast majority of us will never be faced with a full-out assault by an enemy, armed to the teeth and bent on our destruction.  Yet we are all tested in life with difficult, frightening situations, where there seems to be no hope of success, and from which we would like to run away.  In finding the courage to face these fears, and do what needs to be done, we become better men as a result.  In the end, that is what the action-adventure genre is supposed to do for us, and it is what this latest addition to the ongoing story of James Bond does very well indeed.

James Bond (Daniel Craig) brooding over London in “Skyfall”


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Review: “2016: Obama’s America”

Last evening I was invited to a private screening of “2016: Obama’s America”, which is based on two books by conservative author Dinesh D’Souza.  As a conservative myself and someone who appreciates a good story, well-told, I found there was much to appreciate about this film.  Unfortunately, I came away from it wondering who the intended audience of the film was, and whether the movie strayed into moral and logical paradoxes which make it impossible for me to recommend.  This review will probably not win me any friends on either side of the aisle, but there you are, so let’s dive in.

Despite its title, this film is not really about what America will be like 2016 if Mr. Obama wins a second term this November.  Instead, it is an exploration into the question of who our 44th President is, deep down.  While D’Souza does include some discussion about what might happen at the end of a second Obama Administration, the bulk of the film is spent establishing some of the possible motivating factors which brought Mr. Obama to where he is today, pointing to some of the aspects of his views that may have their roots in Mr. Obama’s family background. D’Souza then allows us to draw our own conclusions about what an Obama second term would be, based on these background observations.

For one thing Mr. Obama was lied to in the early part of his life about his father, as becomes very clear in this film, even though the imaginary father he created for himself was something he sought in his future relationships. His family and later he himself associated with people whose political views would horrify most of us, and these people left an indelible impact on how Mr. Obama sees the world around him. The portrait that emerges from D’Souza’s film is of someone who has a massive chip on his shoulder, with something to prove to himself and to others, i.e. that he was more than just the illegitimate son of a Kenyan leftist Lothario who never amounted to much of anything. If you are at all uncertain as to the question of whether Mr. Obama grew up surrounded by some very deeply disturbing political ideas, this film will put that question to rest.

Yet to what extent has that influence shaped Mr. Obama’s views on domestic and foreign policy? This never becomes entirely clear, since D’Souza understandably finds Mr. Obama’s family somewhat more interesting than Mr. Obama himself.  In one of the more fascinating parts of the film for example, D’Souza sits down for an interview with one of Mr. Obama’s half-brothers, George Obama, a man who somewhat eerily has many of the same expressions and gestures of the President.  Unlike Mr. Obama, his younger brother seems more of a practitioner of realpolitik, pointing out that Kenya was economically and politically more advanced than South Korea when it achieved independence, but had subsequently slipped into being a third world country.  George Obama, however, does not believe his older brother owes him anything, for since the President is off running the world, he sees himself as benefiting by extension, as a citizen of the world, from what Mr. Obama does.

Of course the problem is that Mr. Obama has not done very much to improve the world over the past four years, despite his by-default mandate to do so.  There must be something terribly difficult for Mr. Obama to have been fighting or looking down his nose at the establishment all his life, and to suddenly wake up one day and realize that now, he IS the establishment – for if we are talking about being at the top of the secular pecking order on this planet, POTUS is as high as you can go.  One of the problems faced by those who are both opportunists and idealists, as Mr. Obama unquestionably is, is that once you get to the position of power and influence that you hoped you would, people will expect you to actually do something.  The problem faced by this country is one of economic downturn and geo-political uncertainty, but the battles – or as D’Souza puts it, “the “dreams” – of Mr. Obama have more to do with righting perceived wrongs outside of the state he governs, for in his mind that state created or exacerbated these problems.

That being said, there are a number of problems with this film which, while they might be lost on a general audience, caused me some concern.  There is for example an oft-repeated scene of a youth – presumably meant to represent Mr. Obama himself – kneeling down in front of the actual tomb of Mr. Obama’s father.  The actor picks up a handful of dirt, and strews it across the top of Barack Senior’s grave, presumably recreating something Barack Junior did or might have done.  Whatever you think of Mr. Obama, I find it morally difficult to justify filming such a scene.  Imagine if the grave were that of your own father, and you can understand what I mean.

Another issue has to do something which D’Souza takes great pains to establish in his narrative: Mr. Obama comes from somewhere that is not America.  D’Souza is not a conspiracy theorist, so those who believe that Obama was not born in the United States, or hold that 9/11 was a plot by the Bush Administration, or run a tinfoil millinery business will be very disappointed.  Yet what D’Souza does in the film is to show Indonesia and Kenya, where Mr. Obama grew up and where his father’s family hails from, respectively, as places not unlike D’Souza’s native India, with scenes of people picking through gigantic mountains of garbage, and with filth, poverty, and anti-Western viewpoints everywhere.

And herein lies a problem with D’Souza’s argument, or at least his presentation of it.  The filmmaker points out how much he and Mr. Obama are alike, from the year of their birth, the childhood they experienced, their academic careers, and so on. However D’Souza later draws the conclusion that Mr. Obama’s America cannot be what most Americans think of as America, because Mr. Obama’s background is nothing like that of ordinary Americans.  Yet arguably by that logic, if Mr. Obama cannot understand America because, according to D’Souza, his experience and understanding is so foreign to the average American, then neither can D’Souza understand America, since he, too, grew up in an environment nothing like that which most Americans experience.

Finally, there is the question that one cannot help but ask oneself when leaving the cinema at the conclusion of this film. Who is the intended audience for this piece: is this meant for the masses, or is this a party piece for the elites? Whatever impression the posters and trailers for the film may give, “2016″ is not a populist propaganda documentary, a la Michael Moore, so there is little in the way of red meat.  For the average viewer who has made a limited study of history and political theory surrounding topics such as imperialism, distributism, and so on,  I wonder whether the film will come off as too elitist for mainstream consumption. This itself is a problematic conclusion, for leftist elites will not change their allegiance to Mr. Obama, and conservative elites already disdain him, thus leaving the film with nowhere to go.

Of course the reader will have to make up his own mind if and when he chooses to see the film. As a storyteller, D’Souza does a brilliant job of weaving together the threads of his narrative, in a way which anyone who appreciates a complex script or novel will appreciate: you have to stick with it until the end, but then everything gets wrapped up nice and neat, with a bow on top. There is no doubt that Mr. Obama’s background is a strange and, at times, rather disturbing tale indeed.  Yet at the same time I found this to be perhaps too specialist a film, with a few too many questionable judgments made by the filmmaker, for me to unreservedly recommend.


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