Small Screen Quarantine – Lies of Heroism – Redefining the Anti-War Film

This is a lot more time with my already too-tight thinking cap on than I had ever intended when deciding to take some time off before 2021. Some days choose their own course though and that’s pretty much how this came about.

Lies of heroism… Following up, of course, on the concept of false narratives driving our actions as individuals and as groups, or political movements, or nations. But let’s begin here: The video posted posits the question, is there such thing as an anti-war film? It could really be taken a step further. Is there such thing as a hero, or at least a war hero? It all comes down to what side you’re on, doesn’t it? I grew up on war movies and hence the idea of righteous wars and good causes and heroes. There was never any doubt in my mind that the answers to the questions above was always, yes. Sometimes violence is the answer. Yes, killing is the answer, as long as it’s done for the greater good. I was always part of that greater good, certainly, because my side was almost always the winner, and even when we pulled out of Viet Nam it seemed a tragedy for the greater good. We lost and because we lost the greater good would suffer.

I outgrew that.

What is the takeaway for this video for me? It’s something I learned the hard way over the years. Always question your hero systems. I tried Google for a concise definition of “hero system” but only found endless promotion, marketing and analysis of a role-playing game of the same name. Let’s keep it short then. A hero system, for the intent of any thought or discussion here, is how we decide who is taking or has taken the righteous action (if such a thing exists). We could get into talk of moral relativism but it might be better to walk into it with an open mind. Are our hero systems merely relativist rationalization for committing atrocities “for the greater good?” And hence, how do we, or even should we, approach making a film that is truly anti-war?

Having been weened and raised on war films and hero systems, I’d have to say now that the only way to make an anti-war film is to make it so gruesome and horrible and entirely devoid of any redemptive message for any person portrayed that nobody would want to see it. Who is going to see a film with no identifiable characters? Who wants a film where every last death is entirely pointless and without meaning? It seems to me that the entire purpose of filmmaking, for most, is to similar to religion; it’s to give people someone or something to believe in. I personally think it should be strictly storytelling, a la Herzog or Bergman or Tarkovsky, but most movie-goers seem to crave heroism. Most of my heroes are not the characters but the storytellers who simply tell the truth. That’s what I believe we are most lacking in. We can’t live right until we have a foundation of truth. The lies and mythology undermine us and that’s why humanity is still down here in the mud.

So while it’s unlikely that a true anti-war film will ever be made, it is possible. It would just be really unpleasant to watch. Even documentaries tend towards the old style of hero-making; of deciding beforehand on a side to take. I do tend to believe, having also been raised on arguments about things like the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that there is no atrocity committed for the greater good. They are often committed simply for convenience. The violence has already been rationalized. How many people who made the decision to deploy the atom bomb actually lost a single night of sleep? It was all a question of getting it done faster and more effectively. Every living soul in Japan has already been propaganized and dehumanized.

Question your heroes. Look where you worship. I remain radically agnostic about most things. It doesn’t make me a better person. I just have a lower tolerance for being lied to.

The video says more than I can. It also goes into questioning the asking of questions. Does deconstructing the narrative and the hero system de-value the lives of the people who made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives? I admit it can come off as inconsiderate. Yet at the same time, what happens if we don’t question? More people die for falsehoods. It’s a tough call.

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