Two movies I watched this week presented a couple of contrasting views of America in relation to the Middle East in recent years. On the one hand, Argo (up for Best Picture etc …) is about the Iran hostage crisis of 1979, but is really just an action flick with a lot of faux suspense. You could never really doubt these Americans were going to be rescued by that American hero guy, even though they were constantly surrounded by nothing but Islamist fanatics the whole time. Certainly it was a tumultuous period, as all revolutionary times are, but I would guess there were a whole lot of ordinary people in that country scared shitless just like most of us would be. The fanatics, on the other hand, shout the loudest and tend to have the most weapons. This is also the case in Land of Plenty, a 2004 film by Wim Wenders which was brought to my attention by a review by Lisa Thatcher. Here the fanatic is an American hero guy, damaged from the Vietnam War and now a sort of freelance vigilante on the hunt for terrorists in the wake of 9/11. His contretemps in the movie is his young idealistic (Christian missionary) niece recently returned from occupied Palestine and working in a homeless shelter. When an “Arab” terrorist suspect is gunned down in the street in front of the mission, the two main characters are brought together to resolve his murder. The victim turns out to be an innocent Pakistani who was shot at random by white American punks on dope, also self-styled vigilantes in George Bush’s vague and alarming “War on Terror”.
Argo had nothing to say. Really, nothing. It was essentially a long chase scene and we all know that everybody likes that kind of thing, but what I remember most was how ridiculous it was that we were supposed to feel something for this character because he had a young son he didn’t get to see much because he was so busy keeping the world safe for American enterprise, or something like that. It was so much sugary bullshit sprinkled in for the academy awards. Land of Plenty did have something to say, and though it perhaps did not say it very well (the political part, that is), at least along the way it showed us some characters you could think about, characters you may not like very much (because they listen to right-wing radio, or pray to God all the time, or seem naive and simple-minded), but you can walk a few steps in their shoes, and that is something to say, something worthwhile.
I also wanted to note that Land of Plenty featured one of my favorite actors – Richard Edson – whom I’ve enjoyed in everything I’ve ever seen him in.
On a completely unrelated note, I also saw a film called Time Traveller on Netflix. It’s a sort of Japanese Schoolgirl Back to the Future, featuring a rather endearing plot about a time travel liquid made by a woman pharmacist who needs it to reunite with another time traveler she knew as a young girl, but due to an accident, has to send her excitable daughter instead, who ends up, well, no more spoilers for that one, except to say that she goes back to Japan in 1974 and for a gaijin who knows nothing about Japan, everything that’s supposed to be quaint or funny about 1974 in Japan was totally missed by me, completely lost in translation, and I loved that, I love the whole idea of meaningless nostalgia. I wish I could write something based on that very concept. It’s like my friend Dan’s idea of doing ‘stand up comedy of the future’, where all of the jokes are cultural references to people and fads that have not happened yet.