This is the age of superheroes. Hardly a month goes by without a new superhero flick. If cinema is the engine of empire, as Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies tell us in American Terminator, then a declining empire indicates that the engine itself is in serious trouble. Certainly, the arms race of films between Marvel and DC Comics reflect the deep anxieties and uncertainties of the declining West. However, we must not overlook Hollywood’s other output where pertinent signs of how the western future may unfold can also be found.
So here are three much talked about recent films: Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight; Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book and Coen Brother’s Hail, Caesar!. The trouble with The Hateful Eight is its director whose constant allusion to his past films and violent narratives draws in a very specific audience with a very specific, unfortunate ‘popcorn flick’, mindset. So we need to overlook the grotesque violence to discern what the film is saying about the West. The Jungle Book is not a reiteration of the Orientalised 1967 Disney ‘classic’. It is much more than a crowd pleaser or simply a money-factory family movie. The Coen Brothers are famous for having esoteric settings and their characters come together in such insane circumstances that most viewers are left with a vague picture of ‘what were they really saying’, as if they intended to say anything. But this is a smart film that pays dividends when taken seriously. Indeed, none of these films are simple. And they all have something to say about the future of the West.
Hail, Caesar! directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Screenplay by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Universal Pictures: Universal City, 2016.
All three of these films are distinctly Western, despite their settings. Needless to say, when I speak of East and West, I mean more than the directions. East and West have become concepts, embodiments; and our own Westernness or Easternness distracts us from the forces they have become. All three of these films are also period pieces. Their distinct temporal settings will help us deconstruct their intrinsic western message. It separates us nicely from our own day to day, minute to minute, Westernness.
The futures offered for the West in these three films nicely complements the three tomorrows of postnormal times. The future is hard to grasp – given that it has no facts, is largely unknown, can move in many different directions, and is always ahead of us.