Christina and I spent Monday-Wednesday this week at a friends cottage. On Tuesday evening we decided to venture into Peterborough for a film (prior to which I enjoyed an absolutely delicious Rochefort 10 for the first time). Due to a lack of choice we ended up settling on Transformers: Dark Of The Moon. Needless to say, I was far more interested in seeing this than was Christina.
To be honest my hopes were not particularly high going in. I wasn’t expecting an intricate plot or complex and mysterious characters. I went into it expecting to see 2.5 hours of explosions and cool visual effects. On the surface, this is exactly what we got, a decent action packed summer popcorn flick. However, about two thirds of the way through the movie I began to pick up on something that left me feeling uneasy. I am no movie critic and I could be off on this but DOTM seemed eerily like a piece of American propaganda meant to prop up their (often oppressive) foreign policy.
For those with power, be they people or nations, stories play an important role. Particularly when it comes to propping up an oppressive state or empire stories serve to form the average citizen in the way of said empire. Citizens are told stories to shape the way they think and act, to remind them who are their friends and who are their enemies and so on. Film can be but one medium at the service of this (for a modern example of this see Dan’s blog on ‘Watching Batman with Zizek’).
The main plot in DOTM is that Optimus Prime and the rest of the Autobots are trying to stop the Decepticons (with the help of Autobot Sentinel Prime) from bringing their planet to earth. Essentially the Decepticons want to infiltrate earth (let’s be honest, it’s really all about the USA) and make US citizens their slaves. In order to avoid this the human race must join in the fight with the Autobots.
The point, for me, where the movie began to betray it’s pro-America storyline was when Optimus Prime (in his patriotic blue and red) says to Sentinel Prime, “Today, in the name of freedom, we take the battle to them!” Later in the same speech Optimus reminds Sentinel, “You were the one who taught me that freedom was everyones right.”
Freedom is everyones right! To be sure, this is freedom to pursue the good that each individual wants to pursue, unhindered (The American Dream). The Decepticon’s invasion of earth poses a threat to the freedom of earth’s citizens. So, before they can invade and rob us of our freedom we must take the battle to them. This is the noble pursuit of the Autobots and the humans that join them.
Towards the end of the film as Optimus is about to kill Sentinel he says, “You didn’t betray me, you betrayed yourself.” Sentinel joined the Decepticons in their plan to invade earth. Because he was sympathetic to the Decepticon cause he was a threat to freedom and thus “betrayed himself”. Optimus then reminds those surrounding him that there are “days when our allies turn against us.” No matter what happens we will continue to fight for freedom. Our allies may betray themselves and turn against us but even this will not stop our pursuit. All of this occurs as the camera pans across the destroyed city and focuses in on a single, tattered American flag.
Further, in the movie, Optimus Prime and the rest of the Autobots are the good guys. There is no question of this. Those who stand against them are bad guys, clearly. The Autobots will always do what is right and stand up for the good because they do it “for freedom!” as Optimus says. Those who disagree are traitors and will be done away with should they get in the way.
This is a powerful narrative. We are the good guys. They are the bad guys. These lines are drawn clearly in the sand. Since we are the good guys who value the good we can take whatever means necessary (tearing our enemies apart, taking the battle to them) to maintain our livelihood because we do it for freedom.
But what if things aren’t that clear-cut? The good are rarely “clearly” good and the bad are rarely “clearly” bad. Yet when it comes to “us” and “them”, we’re usually the good guys, aren’t we?
Then again, maybe it was just another action flick?