"Perfect order is the forerunner of perfect horror."
The epigram is from Carlos Fuentes (1928-2012), a novelist of Latin America who was, if not an outright leftist, then leftward leaning in his political views. Whatever his shortcomings, Fuentes recognized the dangers of statism and I hope also of utopianism, the first of which strives for perfect order, the second of which requires it. I was reminded of his words over these past few days while watching Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), and of course Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). I'm not here to write a review of any of these movies, but I would like to make a few points about them.
In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams has done what he had previously done with Star Trek in that he has remade an old franchise for a new generation. If you're a grownup, you shouldn't expect the movie to bring back the magical experience of seeing Star Wars (1977) for the first time. Instead, just think of it as a movie for children, just as you were once a child. Better yet, take a child to see it.
A popular word these days is reboot, and you can call The Force Awakens a reboot, just as Mr. Abrams previously rebooted Star Trek. The difference between Mr. Abrams' reboots and all others is that he seems to respect his source material. In fact he respects it so much that he borrows from it, copies it, imitates it, remakes it, and reshuffles it to such an extent that the new thing often hardly seems new. That was part of the problem with Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). You can decide for yourself whether Star Wars: The Force Awakens has the same problem. If nothing else, Mr. Abrams has made everyone forget the second Star Wars trilogy (as a commenter on the Internet wrote), and for that we can all be grateful.
There are Nazis in Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). Or maybe I should call them Nazoids--Nazi-like but not quite Nazi. The twist is that the Nazoids in Star Trek Into Darkness are the Federation forces, supposedly the good guys. There are Nazoids in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, too, but because the First Order are obviously the bad guys, the moviemakers don't have to hold back: the forces of the First Order are portrayed as Nazi-like without hesitation. The resemblance is most overt in a scene showing a Nuremberg-like rally of masses of utterly uniform and undifferentiated Stormtroopers. (Note the Nazoid name for them.) They even render a Nazi-like hand salute at the end of their jackbooted leader's furious speech/pep talk.
Stormtroopers do not have names, only numbers, like the people in We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1921, 1924) and George Lucas' own THX-1138 (1971). In The Force Awakens, one sheds his helmet and his designation for a name and an individual identity. Before doing so, he gets in trouble for being "non-conforming." His offense: he has shrunk from participating in mass murder.
The goal of the First Order is, not surprisingly, to impose what it calls order on the galaxy. In that, too, it is Nazi-like, but we should remember that the Nazis were merely one permutation of the long-standing utopian thinking that has also given us socialism, communism, Marxist-Leninism, fascism, and like movements of the last two centuries. All seek order. All result in horror.
Another Nazoid group rears its ugly head--or heads--in the recent Captain America movies. The group is called Hydra, and they are the offspring of nazism. Unlike the Nazis, they survive the war. Like the movement that gave birth to them--and like the First Order--they despise the supposed chaos of freedom and seek to impose order instead. As is always the case with utopian regimes, millions must die in order to bring about the desired state--or State. In The Winter Soldier, the number is given as twenty million. That number is curiously close to, yet falls short of Bill Ayers' figure of twenty-five million Americans who would have to die so as to advance his revolution. Ayers is of course an associate and co-religionist of our current president, who likes to kill people with drone-fired missiles, just as the Federation in Star Trek Into Darkness likes to do. All are pikers compared to the socialists of the twentieth century, who murdered and starved upwards of 100 million people. But then Hydra didn't get its full chance in The Winter Soldier, and all because of a star-spangled patriot and his meddling friends.
Tyrants see freedom as chaos and tyranny as order. To them, the supposed chaos of freedom is intolerable. It's why they seek to control people's lives. It's interesting that the supreme villain in The Winter Soldier is played by a left-leaning actor, Robert Redford. I wonder if he sees any irony in that. Probably not. His character is not overtly political or ideological, but his desire to extinguish freedom, control people's lives, and impose strict order on humanity place him squarely in the utopian/socialist/leftist/statist camp. I have to say that his character is so reprehensible that you're glad in the end to see him take a couple of bullets to the heart. You only wish it could have been something worse. And in that, you can say that Mr. Redford did a first-rate acting job.
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Two more minor points:
First, in a scene in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, C-3PO exclaims, "Thank the Maker!" I find that curious. Moviemakers today are notoriously squeamish about expressions of faith or belief, yet the screenwriter in The Force Awakens put those words into Threepio's rectangular little mouth. They could be ironic. After all, Anakin Skywalker is supposed to have been the maker of C-3PO. But they could also be a safe way of referring to a higher Maker. (Or they could simply be a rehash of a line from Star Wars. J.J. Abrams has been known to rehash a thing or two.) Whatever their meaning, the situation reminds me of Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which the most human--and perhaps wisest--character is an android, Data. It also reminds me of every other product of popular culture in which poor people, peasants, "simple" people, children, American Indians, black people (like Lt. Uhura in "Bread and Circuses"), and so on are judged to be somehow closer to the earth and to God and heaven than their smart, worldly, well-educated, and sophisticated superiors. That is probably related to the idea of "the noble savage," a pernicious idea that helped give birth to later horrors, also to what Leslie Fiedler wrote about in Love and Death in the American Novel. But is there really anything wrong with a protagonist who believes?
Second, in Get Smart, the good guys are part of CONTROL. The bad guys are part of KAOS. That turns my theorizing on its head, but I don't mind a bit, as Get Smart is one of the funniest shows of the 1960s.
|In case there is any doubt as to the lineage of KAOS, just have a look at two of its agents, Siegfried, played by Bernie Kopell (right), and Shtarker, played by King Moody (left). Nazoid. Totally Nazoid.|
|In Rocky and Bullwinkle, another very funny show from the '60s, Boris Badenov and Natasha may have Russian names and accents to match, but their leader--Fearless Leader--is Nazi-like. His lair is called Central Control. I hope that helps to right my theory of control/order and freedom/chaos.|
Text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley