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A Critique of NRO’s Top 25 Conservative Movies

A friend and colleague pointed out this list of the “Top 25 Conservative Movies” as determined by the National Review. I enjoyed his take on several of them.

Forrest Gump is “an amiable dunce who is far too smart to embrace the lethal values of the 1960s.” Uh, yeah. You know the character is mentally retarded, right?

I have to agree with his general assessment that by these standards liberals hate everything about America and its values. But looking deeper, there’s something much more troubling about the list – the fact that most of these reviews gloss over significant flaw with their own argument.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m committed to the concept of small government, fiscally responsible conservatism. I’m not an adherent to social conservatism (whether by big government or small) because social conservatism is all about telling you how to live your life. I consider that antithetical to small government conservatism.

I’m also a huge film buff, and don’t appreciate the people who try to look for hidden political agendas in film. We get it. Liberals are in charge of Hollywood. That doesn’t mean they accidentally make pro-conservative values movies.

So let’s look at a few of the NRO choices from a different perspective:

  • 24. Team America: World PoliceThere’s really nothing I can say that Parker and Stone haven’t about this. Yes, the movie is brilliant in its satirical depiction of the American left. Anderson’s synopsis, however, glosses over what the creators have said – that just as dangerous as liberal philosophy is that “overzealous” defense of America. The movie clearly regards those “defenders of freedom” as inept and likely to cause as much or more damage to the world they’re trying to save. The movie actually makes a broad point about the happy middle, and should be regarded as the #1 Movie for Moderates.
  • 20. Gattaca – Contrary to the Wesley Smith’s take on the movie, Hawke’s inability to become an astronaut is not due to lack of “enhancement” it’s due to his congenital heart defect – a defect which could have been ‘fixed’, not ‘enhanced’ genetically. The “calamitous results” described are not caused by his theft of Jude Law’s genetic identity, they’re caused by his lies and decption. To hear Smith tell it, though, we should cease all medical advancement and rejoice in disease and deformity. To me, that’s not a conservative ideology.
  • 16. Master and Commander – Underlying quite a few of the pics on this list is something almost diametrically opposed to Smith’s Gattaca review – a sense that everyone should know their place, and not aspire beyond it. We’ll see that again in “Blast from the Past” (more in a bit), but it’s best summed up by John J. Miller’s use of a New York Times quote. “It imagines the [H.M.S.] Surprise as a coherent society in which stability is underwritten by custom and every man knows his duty and his place.” Since when is “knowing your place” a conservative principle?
  • 12. Batman: The Dark Knight – this review seems to be justification for violating constitutional rights of the innocent citizen in pursuit of safety. “Batman has to devise new means of surveillance, push the limits of the law, and accept the hatred of the press and public.” Andrew Klavan goes on to explain that the things we liked in Batman we hated in GWB. True enough. I don’t mind a ficititious character eavesdropping on fictitious citizens of Gotham. I surely do mind them listening to my conversations in a nation protected (at least theoretically) by the constitution. Since when did conservatisim entail ignoring the document that specifically spells out our freedoms? If we ignore that, then the freedom we’re defending is an empty myth.
  • 9. Blast From The Past – Clearly the message here is the 1950s were a wondeful time, women should just be happy being housewives, and should spend most of their time self-medicating with champagne cocktails the way Sissy Spacek does. James Bowman needs to rewatch that movie sometime. Spacek is miserable being “trapped” in that life. She’s drunk throughout the movie and yearns to be free to wander and experience, but is literally locked into childcare by the man that seals her in her living tomb. Yet Bowman holds her up as the model of the idyllic woman’s life. My very conservative wife would take issue with that.
  • 7. The Pursuit of Happyness – This may arguably be only one of two movies on the list that I would include in my own Top 25 conservative films. However, I don’t think that drive, determination, pride, and an overwhelming desire to provide for your children are uniquely conservative. I have a lot of liberal friends that want to get ahead without handouts and provide for their kids. They work damn hard and also identify with this movie.
  • 6. Groundhog Day – As Paul said when we discussed this list, Bill Murray’s problem wasn’t that we was pursuing the fads of modernity. His problem was he was a jackass living only for himself. He was forced to relive the same day over and over until he learned that there was a world beyond himself and that he needed to be an active participant in it. If anything, I would list this movie as one of the Top 10 liberal movies of all time. It’s clear message is to deny oneself for the common good or you’ll be fated to an unsatisfying life.
  • 5. 300 – I’m not even sure that Michael Poliakoff and I watched the same movie. This is more a story about a vastly outgunned group of insurgents defending their home against foreign invaders intent on toppling their leaders. Keep in mind that the people of Sparta were also not exactly adherents to democracy – estimates are 80% of the population of Sparta were slaves. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, we were the invading force. In both cases we told their populations, the world, and ourselves that we were doing it for their benefit. Xerxes would likely have said the same.
  • 2. The Incredibles – This would be the other of the two films I think may actually belong on this list. There is a clear message that being a standout in society is frowned upon. There is a clear message that overly litigious trial lawyers are ruining the world. There is a specific sense that homogeneity is bad. However, there is also the same recurring theme that being “supers” is a protected class and only those born to it can belong. Syndrome’s sin is that he aspires to greater than his station. He’s not content being a deckhand on Mr. Incredible’s HMS Surprise. This just reinforces the recurring elitist theme on this list – just be happy with your lot in life.

Now maybe I’m a film fan first, and a political junkie second. I think that may flavor my perception of this list. However, I think the NRO list reinforces the stereotype of conservatives as elitists who believe the 1950s were some sort of panacea; that women should be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen; and achievement is something you should be born into, not something you aspire to.

It’s kind of surprising that this list would perpetuate those stereotypes since their antithesis, in the form of Sarah Palin, got such high marks from NRO.

Written by Michael Turk