Flicks like this make me think of the days when Ronnie Ray-Gun first called the Soviet Union the Evil Empire. It also makes me think of the verse in Scripture about looking at ourselves through a glass darkly. Times have changed, and we Americans find our nation as the world’s only superpower. Maybe not an Evil Empire, but an empire nonetheless. And when the American Empire comes down on the bad guys, well, we can rationalize that it’s what superhero flicks like Superman is all about. Yet there’s an eerie foreboding that makes us wonder what would ever happen if Superman, or the Empire, ever turned evil and betrayed its own people. When we watch the systematic dissection of the Yemeni pirates in Captain Phillips, it guarantees both a thrill and a shiver down the spine.
The media honed in on the military’s assistance in the production of Phillips, as well as the more recent Godzilla and the Oscar-winning Zero Dark Thirty. It is duly noted that these flicks serve as flag-waving propaganda for the armed forces, which is not a bad thing in and of itself. Only it is the extreme prejudice with which our boys in uniform dispatch the baddies that should give us notice. Darth Vader and his clone army never did a more thorough job in exterminating enemies of the Empire. At the end of the day (don’t you hate that cliché?), whether it’s Jessica Chastain inspecting Obama In a Bag or Tom Hanks sobbing as a droid-like Navy medic conducts her post-trauma checkup, there’s a dehumanization that we hope is not a characteristic of our increasingly monolithic 21st century society.
You’ve got to admire the precision with which the good guys seek and destroy the ragtag band of pirates, and the over-the-top brutality of Abduwali Muse’s gang. Only the real-life crew of the MV Maersk Alabama publicly derided the big-screen exaggerations, and we have to wonder why the wild animals were destroyed rather than taken into custody. Of course, those who would scoff at the notion may well be the first to protest against capital punishment, yet tune in eagerly as reality TV shows SWAT teams barreling in on drug gangs and taking no prisoners. Our society grows increasingly paradoxical while the Government grows bigger and badder. How do we separate fact from fiction? Only Hollywood knows for sure.
Captain Phillips is an action-packed Tom Hanks vehicle, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him nominated come Oscar time. Yet there’s lots of food for thought here, and the one overriding question remains: where will America go when we’ve gone too far?