10 Great Movies Every Conservative Should See
Gattaca shows a world of great scientific achievement. Parents can manipulate the genes of their children to optimize their physical and mental prowess and health. Advanced technology and plentiful resources enable frequent and successful space exploration. There are no signs of extreme poverty.
But, the progress toward Gattaca’s scientific utopia has not created a social utopia. People who have not been genetically engineered, like the protagonist Vincent Freeman, are shut out of the desirable jobs and social groups. Even many of those who have been genetically engineered to near-perfection, like Jude Law’s character Jerome, do not always feel satisfied with their lives. In Jerome’s case, a car accident has paralyzed him and nearly driven him to suicide.
The movie has a predictable but still inspiring trajectory. Vincent, with all his physical imperfections, has an indefatigable will to succeed. He pushes himself harder than anyone, even braving death and imprisonment to reach his goals. Jerome, who seemed to be guaranteed a perfect life, cannot muster the internal motivation necessary even for the basic tasks of daily living. In the end, Vincent achieves his goal of becoming an astronaut, and Jerome kills himself.
There are several conservative messages in all of this. The first is that scientific progress does not guarantee social progress. Radical reorganizations of society based on utopian technological visions are likely to fare as badly as Gattaca’s, creating an entire shunned caste, and so we should be cautious about changes we make to the fabric of society.
Another conservative message of the film is that the most important parts of human life are not technologically determined. Vincent’s success was due not to his genes, but due to his will and his free choices. Jerome’s failure was not necessarily a physical or technological one, but a failure of will and a failure of free choice. None of our ambitious efforts to perfect humanity can alter those essential parts of the human spirit.
This skepticism of perfectibility is why the writer Jorge Luis Borges said that membership in his country’s conservative party was proof of his skepticism. He was skeptical of utopian visions that busybody governments adopted that tended to disrupt or harm the everyday lives of normal people. Gattaca also brings to mind the conservative writing of G.K. Chesterton, who was vehemently opposed to his own generation’s eugenic fads.
4. The Village
William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote about his magazine National Review that it, and the conservative movement, wanted to stand athwart history yelling “Stop!”. The conservative characters in The Village have stopped history, and have even managed to rewind it a little.
The movie is about a group of people who meet in group therapy in downtown Philadelphia. Each of them has lost a loved one, and is disgusted by the various social pathologies of the modern world that led to their losses (drugs, crime, family breakdown, etc.).
One of them owns land in the Pennsylvania forest, and to avoid the world’s problems they embark together on a strange project. They move together to the forest and try to live like eighteenth-century American frontiersmen, without electricity, phones, running water, mass production, and (hopefully) without the crime and social decay that have accompanied these technologies.
Where Gattaca shows that social progress does not always accompany technological progress, The Village shows that technological progress is not the only cause of social decay. Their village lives seem idyllic and beautiful for a while, but there is evil among them anyway; running away from the big city has not enabled them to run away from jealousy, rage, and even murder.
Together, Gattaca and The Village show that while technology is always progressing, the human heart is the same today as it was in centuries past. The context can change, but the tension between nobility and depravity, goodness and wickedness, strength and weakness, is always within each of us.
The central problem of the movie (the attempted murder of Ivy’s intended Lucius) is solved when Ivy leaves the village to get antibiotics. The village society, though it was based entirely on the rejection of technology, is only able to regain its equilibrium by intentionally bringing in some of that technology it so badly wished to reject.
This illustrates the biggest paradox of conservatism: overzealous dedication to maintaining a way of life can unexpectedly destroy it. Permanence and stability must constantly be held in balance with reform and change in any successful society, conservative or otherwise.
3. Nacho Libre
You don’t have to be a white male investment banker to be a conservative. Russell Kirk said that conservatives support and are active in their local communities, and partially because of that, conservatives believe in the principle of variety. If every community is self-governing, every community will end up being a little different from its neighbors. Nacho Libre is certainly a little different.
Nacho’s community is a Mexican orphanage run by monks. Nacho is a monk at the bottom of the orphanage hierarchy, frustrated by the bullying of his peers and the menial chores he has to do. Nacho has big dreams: he wants to become a professional wrestler, and he wants to be involved romantically with a beautiful nun he works with, Sister Encarnacion.
Like all conservative heroes, Nacho is motivated by love and attachment. He wants to wrestle, not for his own glory, but for the glory of God and his orphanage, and to get prize money to improve the orphans’ lives. He wins the money in a glorious and absurd wrestling match. He maintains his absurdity, still dreaming of a happy life with Encarnacion. But along with his worldly success, he has come to terms a little with who he is and where he is from, and perhaps that is his most important victory.
2. Fiddler on the Roof
The conservatism of Fiddler on the Roof is hard to miss – most of it is clearly explained by the protagonist Tevye. “Because of our traditions,” he says near the beginning of the film, “each of us knows who he is, and what God expects him to do.” Tevye has some idle dreams of being rich and famous, but deep in his heart all he really wants is to have a happy family, to contribute to his community, and to do what God expects.
He is a perfect conservative hero – fully and happily dedicated to the conservation of the traditions and the good things that surround him, for the sake of his children. What’s more, he and the movie are not stodgy and uptight like some stereotypes of conservatives, but show that an ideal conservative can be fun, funny, self-deprecating, and agreeable.
All of the drama of the movie comes from Tevye’s struggles with increasingly powerful challenges to the traditional way of life he holds so dear. His oldest three daughters respectively fall in love with a succession of increasingly unorthodox suitors. He narrates his internal monologues about these romances, and whether he can and should tolerate a break with tradition for the sake of the daughters he dearly loves. In the end, Tevye’s little village itself is forcibly destroyed by the government in the ultimate assault on Tevye’s traditional, conservative life.
Modern audiences may disagree with some of Tevye’s choices, especially his adamant refusal to accept his daughter Chava after she marries a Christian. There is a sign, though, that Tevye may reconcile with Chava, as at the end he breaks his silence towards her and murmurs “God be with you.” After all, Tevye regards adhering to tradition as akin to being fiddler on the roof – constantly trying to keep one’s balance and carve out a tune amidst the winds and unsteadiness of life.
Like an unbalanced fiddler might compromise his tune a little for the sake of staying upright, Tevye loves his family enough to put the concrete facts of their lives above his abstract ideals when appropriate. Whatever our judgments of his particular choices, we can admire Tevye for his conservative dedication to his family, his community, and his God.
Rocky must be number one. Roger Ebert said it best: “It’s about heroism and realizing your potential, about taking your best shot and sticking by your girl.” What could be more conservative than that? What could be better than that at all?
One could spill plenty of ink explaining why Rocky is an ideal conservative film. Rocky maintains and preserves stable roots in South Philadelphia and contributes to civic life in his local community. He believes in prudence and restraint, like Russell Kirk said every conservative should. He is inspired by the giants and good examples of the past, like the Rocky he took his nickname from. He believes in loyalty to family and friends.
But the real genius of Rocky is how it succeeds in involving the viewer viscerally. A hundred conservative lectures or a thousand conservative books are nothing compared to the exultation of seeing Rocky crying for Adrian or defending her honor. The exultation we feel in Rocky’s conservative passions including his powerful loyalty, his commitment to family, and his love of community, are the best possible argument for conservatism.
Author Bio: Cut Bradford Tuckfield some slack. He is doing his best.
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