A new distinct shadow is emerging within contemporary American film. This new other does not have a proper face so it cannot be furnished with appropriate make up, accent and other character tropes. This other is abstract and as such not easy to pin down. It is anxiety-inspiring, and often wrapped in, enigma.
How did Donald J. Trump get elected President of the United States? It is a question that is being asked by conservative and liberal alike. Republicans and Democrats are all left in a sort of awe at the very phenomenon. Numerous questions arise. What happened to the good old rural, blue collar citizens on whose back the wealth of this nation was created? How can citizens make political choices that are against their interest? How have they come to see the federal government as the arch enemy out to get them? How come the rural folks have elected candidates who refuse to regulate the pollution of the lands and waters essential towards clean drinking and fish supplies which are the staples of their economy? These are obvious, natural questions but the answers are complex and call into question the entire history of American democracy. We can point to large demographics. We can say with some confidence that everyday rural, blue collar citizen is forced to sacrifice health for wealth and ineffective government for freedom. In the ignorance of these uncertainties and artificial dichotomies, a deep anxiety rules the hearts of these people. Then, there is the anxiety on the other side: those who are concerned with the rise of populism in America. This accumulated anxiety has a distinctively postnormal feel to it. It is through postnormal times that this new movement in film can be identified and studied.
The films that capture the anxiety of these tumultuous times are still being written. But the atmosphere of anxiety surrounding American life is now beginning to filter in Hollywood and is slowly being represented through film in varying ways. Within the last year there have been a few films that have begun to shed light on the absurdity that permeated the air of American life during the rise of Donald Trump and other alt-right movements. Riddled with uncertainty the films present characters with relatively high intelligences faced with insurmountable challenges that are bordering on the utterly ridiculous. This produces an improbability that cannot be shaken over the course of a feature length film. On top of this our narrators are horrendously subjective and often untrustworthy. Indeed, even when the main character is our narrator, and sometimes the hero, they cannot even trust themselves. After all, often times the hero and narrator are living in different realities, different times, even if these two roles are contained within the same character. Then again, this is a post-Truth world. Truth is dead or at least stripped of its innocence. The combination of the settings’ uncertainty and the ignorance (either recognised or hidden) creates an anxiety felt by both characters and audience. Watch Starz’ American Gods and see what I mean.