Monday, June 19, 2006

Seeing “Land of the Blind” 

I saw it Sunday night, at the last showing at the AMC Empire 25 in Times Square. I had planned on the way back to pass by that celebrated Upper West Side dive bar Yogi's. But after watching this dark and poignant critique of totalitarianism and, by implication, its elements which exist even in today’s liberal democracy, I decided to go home, and to write.

I will leave the plot descriptions of “Land of the Blind” to the regular movie reviewers. (I also posted some basic info about it below). Although they got the basic plot right - a satire about a supposed revolution against autocracy which went wrong in an unnamed Western country and unidentified but recent time - most of them didn’t seem to understand the film. The New York Times, for example, complained that “the big picture is a mess,” and sneered, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely; fascism and Communism are two sides of the same coin; yada yada yada.”

Such reviews actually serve to reaffirm a central proposition of the film: Don’t look for heroes today, or panaceas, or stock political and ideological solutions to the world’s problems. Just look at what’s happening for yourself and what role you are playing in today’s society.

Few institutions are spared in this thick, rich send-up of so many ideologies, which are all blended together, both artfully and rightfully so. It purposefully merges America, Britain, and France, and communism, fascism, Islam, and, by implication, Judeo-Christianity into one indistinguishable totalitarian entity. It is a brooding film which offers little to celebrate, and is a warning about what the future may hold.

I can see why the major reviewers and Hollywood money guys are hesitant to fund this. It takes aim at everything and lands squarely on all its targets. You do not leave the theater cheering for anyone or anything. You leave alone, almost stunned, and certainly frightened. And that, especially these days, is a very good thing.

The storyline actually reflects the progress civilization has achieved today in the battle against autocracies of all kinds: it has stalled. Ideologies are worn out and exposed. No shining new savior for civilization appears on the horizon. Progress has become more incremental, while revolution is at an impasse, when it is not, as is usually the case, actually a colossal disaster, a dream devolved into a nightmare.

Liberal democracy is by implication roasted as a weak barrier to totalitarianism. It is never an option in this film’s battle to the end between its rightish and leftish brands of totalitarianism. The former’s brief and limited liberalization only opens up the door for the latter faction’s leaders to stage a bloody coup d’etat.

More tellingly, the popular movement supporting the eventually victorious leftish faction uses terrorist tactics to gain a foothold, not caring if innocent lives are lost in the process. That is an historically fairly accurate portrayal of many such movements today, and not only of the past.

But ultimately the film draws the ire of the most of the mainstream media precisely because it provides few answers or heroes. On the contrary, it challenges you to think for yourself. And that, at the present time, is one of the most revolutionary steps which can be taken.

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