Monday, May 28, 2018

Annual Memorial Day Post: 2018

Another year, and another Clint Eastwood movie shows up on the blog.

I saw The 15:17 to Paris a couple months back. I inadvertently did something really well; I went into it completely unaware that the characters in the movie were portrayed by themselves. A movie reviewer I know insists on a policy of avoiding previews and articles about a movie until after he sees it. I think that's a good idea because for some of the weaker movies the commercial spoils the best and sometimes only parts of the movie worth watching.

Alex Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Spencer Stone play themselves in this biopic that chronicles the true story of three friends that foil a terrorist attempt on a train en route to Paris. The film opens with a hint of the incident, then takes a step back through the lives of the three men as they meet in grade school. It follows them through young adulthood, Stone's experiences in the military, and eventually to the European trip the three go on that leads to the fateful day.

Having gone into the movie ignorant of the casting details, I didn't really like the movie at first. It's clear the performers were not accomplished actors and a sheen of awkwardness pervades it. The middle portion of the film meanders around the men's lives (mostly Stone's) and the beginning of the European vacation is thoroughly mundane. I momentarily forgot it was Eastwood directing and thought it was Richard Linklater. Linklater mentioned early in his career that he'd like to make a movie about nothing but people just walking around and talking; he appears to have done so, multiple times (SlackerBefore Sunrise, and Before Sunset)!

After learning about the casting, I got over my initial apathy to the film and came to appreciate some of its messages. I'm not sure why Eastwood chose to focus on Stone as the primary character, but there is much in the film chronicling Stone's failures. As a child he, Skarlatos, and Sadler find themselves in the school principal's office for insubordination. Then later we see Stone struggling and failing to qualify for his preferred military path as a Air Force para-rescue jumper. That he ultimately is the main catalyst in stopping the terrorist is telling. Eastwood's tale wants us to believe in the goodness of all people; even the mediocre, meek, and the forgotten can make a difference.

It's a beautiful, almost biblical, thought, and Eastwood would not be the only one to suggest that in times of apocalypse the unruly that were disdained in civilization might be the new police force. But I'm not so aligned with Hollywood's vision of crime as romantic; or the millennial misplacement of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro as revered t-shirt icons. Those are the wet dreams of fools who prefer slogans to history. A world run by warlords and religious absolutists would be murderous and horrific. My apologies here, I'm betting Eastwood's WWII mentality never ventured into apocalypse territory, but I couldn't resist a cheap dig at the outraged who have no idea how fortunate we are.

No, in the abstract the message is indeed a beautiful one: every life can have meaning. But just as Gandhi's tactics depended on the media to carry the story of his movement's sacrifices to a civilized population that could act on them, the idea of law, order, and good men only makes sense in a society that has managed to achieve stability and peace, otherwise known as civilization. And we are so fortunate to have that. Even with the corruption and suffering in the world, the place we're in is nothing like the the world of centuries ago; yes, pollution is worse and we have a total weirdo in the White House, but you can't have it both ways. You can't say you want to time travel to when humans weren't destroying the environment without also accepting that in that same place a trip to the dentist is going to hurt a lot more (and I don't mean financially).

Even something as mundane as writing this blog post and being able to say what I want is special and shouldn't be taken for granted. Knowing I can write and make jokes about politicians and there won't be men in black coming to take me away tomorrow is something I appreciate. And I know just who to thank for that, on a day saved for them.

Happy Memorial Day, veterans. Some of the weight of your sacrifice has been lost on those who would piss on your flag. They have forgotten that some of the sacrifices we make today are nothing compared to the price paid by those who carried that flag into battle so that we'd have the right to criticize it. But many of us do remember, and are thankful for your protection of the most revered double-edged sword: freedom.

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