This one’s amazing. Author and screenwriter, Andrew Klavan, gives us perhaps the most perceptive and well-supported analysis through cinema of the post-modern zitgeist you will ever read. By their movies you will know them as the Secular Progressives unwittingly tip their hand in cinema, and Klavan expertly dissects and lays out on the table for our inspection their post-cultural, post-christian, post-national vision for America and the West. The excerpts I’ve selected below simply do not do the entire piece justice. If you want to know the enemy we face–better than he knows himself, in fact–I urge you to read the whole thing.
The trouble with cosmopolitanism [a commitment to people and the individual, not the nation state], as George Orwell pointed out, is that no one is willing to fight and die for it. When warlike racial nationalism resurged in the thirties, only an answering “atavistic emotion of patriotism,” as Orwell wrote, could embolden people to stand against it.
Though European intellectuals and their left-wing American acolytes are loath to admit it, the U.S. had already provided an excellent new rationale for that emotion. Our Founding redefined nationhood along social-contract lines that Europeans can still only theorize about. Our love of nation at its best was ethical, not ethnic. Our patriotism was loyalty not to race, or even to tradition, but to ideals of individual liberty and republican self-governance.
The full implications of our artists’ growing cosmopolitanism become painfully vivid when modern filmmakers attempt to impose their view on World War II, the gold standard for the Good War. The 1996 Oscar winner, The English Patient, based on Michael Ondaatje’s novel, provides an unintentional dramatization of how high ideals, untethered from their territory, drift away into a dreamy blue of narcissistic hedonism.
The English Patient is such a visually beautiful film that the mind has to overcome the eye in order to comprehend its moral emptiness. Ralph Fiennes plays a Hungarian count, László Almásy, a man too fine for nationhood. Employed to map the Sahara, he flies high above the earth in his plane, disdaining borders and any concept of ownership. As war threatens, he begins a passionate affair with another man’s wife, Katharine, played by Kristin Scott Thomas. At the story’s climax, László must find a plane to rescue the wounded Katharine from a cave in the desert. He procures one from the Nazis in exchange for his strategic maps. When it’s pointed out to him that thousands of people might’ve died because of his treachery, he responds, “Thousands of people did die. They were just different people.” In any case, he reaches Katharine too late. She dies after writing in her journal, “We [individuals] are the real countries. Not the boundaries drawn on maps with the names of powerful men.”
Pause here a moment and think back to 1942’s Casablanca, an Oscar winner surely as great as any film of the studio era. In its depiction of a man coming out of disengagement and self-pity to embrace a larger cause, it provides one of the most moving climaxes in cinematic history. Humphrey Bogart’s cabaret owner Rick Blaine makes the warrior’s classic sacrifice, giving up the love of his life in order to join the fight for freedom. “I’m no good at being noble,” he famously tells Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa, “but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” It’s a scene that still makes viewers cry.
The English Patient is the anti-Casablanca. Here, the problems of this crazy world don’t amount to a hill of beans when there’s some hot lovin’ to be done. It doesn’t matter which people die, which nation wins. There are no values, no issues of human ideals, human liberty, or self-governance. There are merely “boundaries drawn on maps with the names of powerful men.” So here’s that intelligence you wanted, Mr. Hitler, and excuse me while I get it on.
The film’s real value lies in its unintentional depiction of the way a high-minded cosmopolitanism results not in the universal good that it espouses but in selfishness and evil. And since that’s the movie’s secret story—two selfish people ditching their national obligations in pursuit of sensual fulfillment—it remains, for all its flights of high romance, one of the coldest, least affecting love stories ever screened. There’s a Seinfeld episode in which Elaine, forced to sit through the film, yells at the screen, “Stop telling your boring stories about the desert and die already!” That gets it just about right.
For the most part, that English Patient logic, the logic of lofty cosmopolitanism that is, in fact, the deadly logic of radical selfishness, continues to prevail in Hollywood when filmmakers confront the actual presence of war. But there was a brief end-of-millennium period when patriotism, and the respect for the military that goes with it, began cautiously to appear in American movies again. Post–cold war revelations showed that Americans were the good guys after all, a liberal president presided over healthy economic times, and it seemed to the inattentive that we might never again have to deal with any real wars. It was then, in 1998, that at least one great director felt secure enough to make a major motion picture that tried to recapture the lost ideal of patriotic sacrifice.