The return of traditionalist cinema: Values, faith and dreaming
With the recent release of Hacksaw Ridge, the mighty comeback of Mel Gibson, a film that tells the true story of Desmond Doss, a soldier in WW2 who refused to kill, who deemed a coward was able to save 75 soldiers on the frontline and in turn became one of the most extraordinary human beings who ever lived(*1). Hacksaw is by far easily the best film that 2016 had to offer, lean, mean and above all inspirational. In Hacksaw Ridge, one of the main themes that drives the entire film is faith, and the ability to allow faith to guide us all. Before the film started, I noticed one of the trailers, which played beforehand, was Dunkirk, the upcoming Christopher Nolan – Harry Styles starring WW2 epic (*2). One can only notice in that trailer the same themes of faith and traditional values, however this is no coincidence, in the last two years the concepts of traditional viewpoints have definitely been more prevalent in film and TV.
Tomorrowland, the underrated sci-fi gem by Brad Bird in which a young genius disappears and many years later, now a grown man in the form of George Clooney teams up with a brave and highly intelligent young girl on a journey to a futuristic Disneyland world called Tomorrowland, a place where idealism flourishes (*3). This film like Interstellar, a year before it or Stranger Things, a year after, shares the theme of wonder and naivety, the need to dream, to believe, where young men and women weren’t glued to Instagram screens, taking selfies and brainwashed by what Kim Kardashian ate for breakfast.
Ever since millennials had their chance to tell stories in the form of film and even music, there was a rapid change in how characters began to interact with each other: bleak and pessimistic humour ran rampant, it became okay to pretty much hate your own country, it was okay to not want to go outside and instead be stuck to a screen, it was okay for teenagers to have no respect for their elders and most importantly school became about fun and not hard work. We were suddenly inundated with reminders of today’s generation, baby boomers were perplexed at the way this generation communicated, however for the generation in focus themselves they failed to realise that they were becoming parodies of themselves, see 21 Jump Street or just about any episode of shows such as Family Guy and The Newsroom (R.I.P, you weren’t worthy of three seasons)(*4) (*5). Life in these films and shows is pessimistic, rude and self-loathing and above all lack any ambition or purpose, characters hate the world and themselves rather than try to make it better.
So are all millennials just a bunch of lost artistic anarchists? No, not at all. There is a huge group of new filmmakers who despite their young age, in filmmaking years, have been telling stories that remind us of a lost time that had values. One such is David Lowery, his film Ain’t Them Body Saints is a clear echo of Terrence Malick, beyond the lush shots of corn fields and farm houses there is a story of love, the lengths we will go for someone we love and the limits of both the law and law breakers alike. It’s the way characters speak and behave, every word, even against the law, has some aspect of respect and humbleness. Then comes Damien Chazelle, his Oscar baby La, La Land is more than an Emma Stone-Ryan Gosling musical explosion, it’s really a throw back to the innocence and determination of dreamers, despite the modern technology seen in the film, most of the emotional pull comes from characters singing, dancing and gliding against the LA backdrops, people are dressed sophisticatedly and the romance is one in stages (no friends with benefits here folks). In many ways it’s a major F-u to social media dating and collectivism (*6)
There is also a sub genre of Christian films which have received a lukewarm reception from the far left and atheists alike. These pictures are now making more money at the ticket office than ever before, films such as Courageous and most notably God’s Not Dead and its sequel are just a few names that come to mind (*7). You might say these films are made only for their intended audiences but if you think about it, how are they any different to say Avengers or Transformers? Not much really, the only difference is characters pray, eat dinner at the table with their families and feel guilt for their actions. In theory, not that awful, we used to do that a long time ago and it wasn’t strange.
I would say that there clearly has been a change in the air over the last few years, not just in politics as we’ve all seen, but in the arts. Subconsciously we’re all looking for a reflection of our society and ourselves, films have a great way of doing that, in the 70s with the Watergate scandal, we had paranoia films like Klute and The Conversation (*8). Today we’re starting to have a movement of films that are moving with the conservative return, films that tell us that it’s fine to believe in a God, to have ambition, to go outside and interact, to dress formally and be honest. It doesn’t hurt to have any one of those things in your life and it certainly doesn’t hurt that a story inspires us not with superficiality and modern collective status, but with the power of good values, which after all, costs nothing.