I saw an interview recently where a movie critic pointed out that there was very little variety among this year’s Best Picture nominees. Only Brooklyn had romantic themes, he gave as an example. In a category where romance is common place, the uniformity struck him as a bit odd.
I have seen every movie up for Best Picture except Brooklyn, and I would assert that they have another thing in common, and it’s a revealing truth about the status of our society.
Bridge of Spies, Mad Max: Fury Road, Room, The Martian, The Revenant, Spotlight, Brooklyn and The Big Short are all up for the grand prize at the Oscars. Even though I’ve not seen Brooklyn, thanks to the internet I can get the gist of the plot line. In addition to being the only romance of the group, it might also be the exception to what I’m about to suggest links all the other movies.
All the Best Picture films are movies which tell of a wrong being righted.
In Bridge of Spies, a prisoner swap illustrates the need for tough, messy, patient negotiation. It’s about getting the deal right, not getting the deal done.
In Spotlight a group of journalists in Boston’s second most respected institution (The Boston Globe) take on the leadership of Boston’s first-most respected institution (The Catholic Church) to expose coverups to abuses at the hands of priests. It’s not right, the viewer often thinks to themselves as the drama unfolds.
Mad Max: Fury Road takes on justice and vengeance and the overthrow of malevolent forces to bring good and peace to inhabitants of a dystopian society. Slaves are freed. It’s my least favorite movie of the set, but still on point theme-wise…maybe most of all.
In The Martian a group of astronauts go on a mission to save a man left behind. Themes of loyalty and sacrifice are obvious, with the goal of correcting a mistake. Wrong made right.
The Revenant may be the most beautifully captured story, but it is contrasted by a gruesome trek of a half-dead man across the frozen tundra of the pioneer northwest to right a wrong done to him and his family.
In The Big Short a group of eccentric investors bet against the U.S. housing market and watch as the horror of the collapse unfolds in front of them. They don’t so much right a wrong, but they certainly confront a systematic wrong that they see and shine light on the lunacy of it, not exactly reveling in the fact that they are correct in the end (for they profit handsomely).
Room was the toughest to watch, as a woman and her young son are imprisoned by a cruel abductor and abuser and seek to escape into the world. It’s uncomfortable to view, but in Room we’re faced with the notion that confronting a wrong isn’t easy at all, and may lead to greater obstacles on the other side of the confrontation.
Two years ago I wrote a blog that asked the question whether or not a Christian should watch the Oscars. One may justifiably ask if a believer should watch the movies I just mentioned (I admit to averting my eyes a few times during The Big Short). While the films vary in terms of how gritty they were, if you accept motion pictures as a mirror of our society, in this year’s batch I saw more good than ill.
I saw a set of movies that are representative of a generation of humanity that wants to fix problems, not perpetuate them. We want to confront injustice, not shy away from it. We want to right wrongs. All the movies in the Best Picture category tackle that theme. It is encouraging to me that even a secular group of film makers understands this, and is attempting to urge people into further action. Movies have a way of moving us in ways mere words cannot…not only to get us to admit, “Enough’s enough,” but to further assert, “I can no longer sit still.”
The thing is, people shouldn’t be held against their will, abused, systematically oppressed, tricked, trapped, or abandoned. Those things are not okay. We’ve all got work to do. We should be more emphatic about getting this deal called life right, not simply getting this deal called life done.
You don’t need to watch the Oscars (or the films vying for Best Picture) to be convinced of this, but you might be moved to greater commitment if you watch them. I would particularly recommend Spotlight as my favorite…it moved something inside me. In fact, I wept through the credits.
Hollywood gets a lot wrong. They are not considered a particularly moral or altruistic bunch. There are plenty of things to critique, but for their film making this year and their interest in addressing important issues plaguing our society, my reaction is enthusiastic:
Two thumbs up.