I saw this movie only recently on video, while I am spending three months
the USA.. I have been coming here for thirty years and I am a great fan
this mysterious society and its warm people. Lately, I have been
by a discernible shift to autocracy, even brutality in public life at
and abroad. Much of this is justified as the need for security in
to "terrorism". We all depend on impersonal society, call it law,
bureaucracy, the market or whatever. And the quality of face-to-face
interaction with other human beings is still our measure of the standards
set for personal society. The balance between the two is a thin line we
tread daily. Personal society can mean feudalism or criminal mafias and
no-one wants that, whatever we may think about the tendency of
to trample on simple human interests.
The other day I left my wife crying at the airport where her personal goods had been systematically ripped apart by officials claiming to be just following orders. She said she had never been treated that way in the Soviet Union. There is no question that people who travel through US airports these days expose themselves to harassment and humiliating treatment that would have been unthinkable two years ago. All in the name of security, of course. Black young men have suffered much worse from the police for much longer. But it does seem as if American society could be sliding imperceptibly towards instituted inhumanity of a sort we once called fascism. The present government's indifference to law, whether in Iraq, at Guantanamo or in the domestic detention of suspects, and its apparent ability to lie with impunity merely reinforce the impression that we are witnessing something new here or perhaps rather something old that we thought we put behind us after 1945.
These thought were brought to life and made relative by watching The Pianist. The first half of the movie is harrowing. It shows a decent middle class family shuffling down the slippery slope to destruction by a fascist society that had trained some of its members to behave with the most callous brutality imaginable. At every step, normal people could doubt the plausibility of what was happening to them. By the time they tried to resist, it was too late. The second half is a chase whose outcome is already known (it wouldn't be a movie if the hero died before the end). This reduces the suspense and contributes to a feeling that the film lasts too long. The main character and his relationships don't develop at all in a protracted sequence marked by historical dates, the Warsaw uprising, the arrival of the Russians and so on. But the movie did provide a useful way of placing disparate phenomena along a continuum we might label 'fascist'.
Could I claim that roughing up the belongings of a French woman with a baby at the airport is analogous to picking eight men out of a line at random and shooting them in the head? My answer was and is Yes. Because Nazism started out with the acquiescence of ordinary people in brutality that escalated imperceptibly over time. And because all nationalisms are implicitly a racist assertion of superiority over foreigners who lack any claim to human rights.The critique has to start with the inhumanity of normal society -- harassed women slapping kids in supermarkets, men in their 50s being thrown on the scrap heap because the terms of trade dictate it, a teenager being strip searched because she fits a drug runner's profile. I think this makes me a liberal, as does the belief that we can't return to the Warsaw ghetto or the Gulag, not that far. Why so? We are witnessing an attempt to put the lid on a popular uprising that was continuous since 1945 and peaked in the 90s. The resistance is not obvious today because people are fearful about losing more than they think they can afford to. And they are right to be afraid. But I don't think the repressive classes can get away with as much as they did in mid-century. And here I rely on the classic liberal idea, that people know too much these days.
So I wonder what this fine movie provokes in the minds of the audience: that this couldn't happen to us again or that it could, if we forget the history it brings alive for us.
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