Movies with a Meaning

Remember when movies had meaning? Pepperidge Farm remembers… no, but seriously, do you remember when movies actually served a purpose other than to entertain? It didn’t have to be “highbrow” or “indie” to actually tell a story that was relevant to its audience, but now there’s a certain level of pretension in social commentary, a topic where “mainstream” directors seem to fear to tread. A notable exception is Avatar. Even if I’m not a fan, I’m aware of its supposed “merits” and definitely aware of its message. In fact, the preachy message is exactly why I don’t like it. Let’s just say if it really is the anti-capitalist tirade that so many people are taking it to be, maybe James Cameron doesn’t have that much room to talk. Subtlety is a much beloved thing in my household, but with a budget like his, it seems Cameron can literally afford not to be subtle. Anyway, back to my main point, I understand that we’re living in hard times and a lot of people go to the movies as a form of escape, but it wasn’t that long ago that audiences could be both frivolous and have something to say.

In order to prove my point, why don’t we journey back to a time of old, a time of simplicity if you will; the year 2000. Maybe it was because we were fresh off that kick of the whole world not ending with Y2K and everything or maybe it’s because I was only 13, but 2000 was a good time. Of course, technically this story begins long before 2000, when Stan Lee introduced the X-Men to the world in 1963, as a commentary on the division that racism created in America. However, 2000 is when director Bryan Singer brought his own vision to the screen in, arguably, one of the strongest “comic book” films of our time. While Lee’s original intention of the allegory for racism was topical at the time, racism didn’t exist in the same manner by the time 2000 rolled around. Not to say that racism wasn’t or isn’t still a problem in America today, but Singer brought an element of himself to the film and instead decided to address another, perhaps more topical, issue by focusing his story on an allegory about the movement against homosexuals. Granted, he managed to find a way to do it while also blowing stuff up, so it could be argued that his film succeeded on multiple levels. X2: X-Men United continued with the allegory of the persecution of homosexuals, in an action-packed yet equally important way. X2 took the politics of the first movie to new heights in an inventive style that it seems only Bryan Singer could provide. I say “only Bryan Singer could provide”, and feel it should be noted, because most of us know what happened next with X-Men 3: The Last Stand. Brett Ratner stepped in as director and any sense of importance was lost. The message was muddled and the characters were flat in comparison to the rich and dimensional characters I’d grown to love from the first film. I’m not going to be as melodramatic as to say that X-Men 3 is the downfall of all American films, but there was a palpable difference in the trilogy.

However, as much as I wish it was the case, movies don’t begin and end with comic book action flicks. A staple of the American film industry, now more than ever, is the much-beloved remake. Now, remakes have a bad wrap. I mean, have you ever seen The Invasion? Oooohhh, that’s right, nobody did. For those of you who are pop culture impaired, The Invasion was the 2007 Nicole Kidman remake of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Once again, we’re talking source material that is rich with meaning. The original was at the height of the Cold War and the fear of communism, or more accurately, the fear that anybody could have been a communist. What was The Invasion afraid of? I couldn’t exactly tell you, but if memory serves, it’s biggest fear was plot. Or maybe it was having a point? Or maybe being too political? I swear, it’s one of those p words, but for the sake of argument all of those will just have to do. It was too afraid of repercussion to actually say something meaningful.

Even though that was 2007 and this is now, the same can be said about any movie. Like I said, there are notable exceptions such as Avatar and Up in the Air, but these movies, in my opinion, come across as preachy and self-important. Movies like X-Men were improved by their allegories, but it also wasn’t necessary that it be viewed as a social commentary. You could just ignore the important stuff and focus on Hugh Jackman shirtless or stuff blowing up. These movies had something to say and their own way of communicating themselves. Maybe that’s what I mean when i say “meaningful”, which I’m realizing now is such a subjective term. All I’m asking is for a departure from the self-important, topical Oscar bait and the brainless garbage that’s out there now. It’s been done before so I have faith, or maybe just hope, that someone soon will make something worth watching soon.

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