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Five More Movies That Every Conservative Should See by Stephen M. Klugewicz

Five More Movies That Every Conservative Should See

lets-go-to-the-movies-sign-in-sepia-carol-groenenby Stephen M. Klugewicz

This is—appropriately for a piece about film—a sort of sequel to my previous piece for The Imaginative Conservative, “Eight Movies That Every Conservative Should See.” As I explained in my preface to that article, these are not “conservative movies,” as I am not sure what a “conservative” movie is. Such a notion has a whiff of the propagandistic, as if the films in question were intended merely as didactic pieces, meant to convey some cheap political viewpoint. The movies listed below, rather, are humane works, which all people, without regard to philosophical leanings, ought to see. They do, however, illustrate certain truths about the nature of man, the nature of the relationship between man and his fellows, and the nature of man’s relationship with God, all of which one must acknowledge if one can be called a conservative. The films are listed in alphabetical order.

The Browning

Albert Finney in The Browning Version

1.     The Browning Version (1994)

Andrew Crocker-Harris (Albert Finney) is an aging teacher of classics at an English boarding school for boys. His life is falling part, as he is being forced into retirement while at the same time dealing with the knowledge that his wife (Greta Scacchi) is having an affair with a young American teacher (Matthew Modine) at the school. A stern, humorless instructor, Crocker-Harris is unpopular with the boys, who nickname him the “Hitler of the Lower Fifth.” The one exception is a boy named Taplow (Ben Silverstone), who surprises Crocker-Harris with a gift—the Robert Browning translation of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, which Crocker-Harris has been teaching his class. Taplow has inscribed the book with a quotation from the play: “God from afar looks graciously upon a gentle master.”

This act of kindness by the boy is an emotional watershed for Crocker-Harris, who decides that he has failed in his vocation as a teacher. In the dramatic conclusion, Crocker-Harris makes a public confession to the entire student body and faculty of the school: “I am sorry because I have failed to give you what it is your right to demand of me as a teacher: sympathy, encouragement, humanity. I have degraded the noblest calling that a man can follow: the care and molding of the young.”

Whether Crocker-Harris is too hard on himself is for the viewer to decide. Conservative viewers will relish his character’s commitment to teach classical literature and languages to his charges in the face of the headmaster’s desire to “modernize” the school’s curriculum in favor of more “relevant” modern languages.

“It’s for you, sir.”:

Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams

Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams

2.     Field of Dreams (1989)

Though often categorized as “a baseball movie,”Field of Dreams is actually the story of the bond between father and son, a bond that transcends even death. Thirty-eight-year-old Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) is a former hippie who is trying to make a life as an Iowa farmer when he one day hears “the voice,” which tells him, “if you build it, he will come.” Kinsella eventually interprets this to mean that he is supposed to build a baseball field on his farm, a decision that threatens his family’s livelihood. When his father’s favorite player, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), appears one night on the field, Kinsella believes that he has accomplished the mission assigned him by the mysterious voice. His father had died soon after he had quarreled with the rebellious, teenaged Ray, and Kinsella now regrets that he never had the chance to tell his father that he loved him. He believes that if he cannot bring his father back, the mysterious voice has at least allowed him to bring back his father’s hero.

In the film’s climactic scene, Ray’s father, John (Dwier Brown), a former minor league player, appears on the field in his catcher’s gear, and Ray is given the chance to speak with his father and have a long-delayed game of catch with him. The beauty of the scene is enhanced by the fact that John is noticeably younger than Ray, who is given the chance to see his father as a young, robust man for the first time. “I only saw him later, when he was worn down by life,” Ray tells his wife (Amy Madigan). Field of Dreams offers us a beautiful preview of the Heavenly Banquet when we will meet again the ones we love as perfected by God.

“It’s my father!”:

The Mosquito Coast

Harrison Ford in The Mosquito Coast

 3.     The Mosquito Coast (1986)

Allie Fox (Harrison Ford in one of his best performances) is an eccentric inventor who is disgusted by the crassness of American consumer culture and alarmed by increasing crime and the looming threat of nuclear war. “How did America get this way?” he muses to his oldest son, Charlie (River Phoenix), as they drive in their pickup truck down a main street. “Land of promise, land of opportunity. Give us the wretched refuse of your teeming shores. Have a coke. Watch TV. Go on welfare. Get free money. Turn to crime. Crime pays in this country. . . . Buy junk. Sell junk. Eat junk.” As the camera shows a town cluttered with fast-food restaurants, strip malls, gas stations, and advertising signs, Fox says to his son:  ”Look around you, Charlie. This place is a toilet.”

Fox’s diagnosis of what ails America reflects a strange blend of anti-capitalist and nativist thought. “I don’t want my hard-earned dollars being converted into Yen,” he tells a hardware store clerk who offers him a Japanese-made piece of rubber. “The whole damn country is turning into a dope-taking, door-locking, ulcerated danger zone of rabid scavengers . . . criminal millionaires and moral sneaks.”

Fox decides to move his wife (Helen Mirren) and three children to the remote Mosquito Coast of Central America. He idolizes the jungle as a pristine, primitive state where man can live uncorrupted and society made anew. “I’m the last man,” Fox tells Charlie. The Foxes are accompanied on their voyage to Central America by a slick, Bible-quoting Christian preacher (Andre Gregory) whose fundamentalist brand of religion disgusts Fox. The preacher plans to set up a branch of his church on the Mosquito Coast.

Once he has arrived in the jungle, Fox and his vision are slowly corrupted and he  becomes a cult leader, like the preacher he despises. The black migrant workers who follow him to Mosquitia even address Fox as “father.” Though Fox idealizes the jungle as a paradise, he sees one flaw with primitive life: a lack of air conditioning. He thus brings with him a design for a giant ice-making machine, which he rigs to provide cool air to the huts in the town he has established. “Ice is civilization,” Fox pronounces.” He labels the contraption “Fat Boy,” a conflation of the nicknames for the atomic bombs dropped on Japan, and like those fearsome creations, the machine becomes first a child to its maker, then a god, and eventually an agent of death.

As his new Eden crumbles around him, Fox descends from eccentricity into madness, turning on everyone who dares to challenge his vision. The story ends in tragedy. At its core, The Mosquito Coast is a powerful commentary on original sin and the dangers of utopianism.

The Opening of the film: “How did America get this way?”:

Pale Rider

Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider

 4.     Pale Rider (1985)

A mysterious Preacher (Clint Eastwood) rides into a small community of independent miners who are trying to eke out a livelihood on the rough plains of the late-nineteenth-century American West. The miners’ livelihood is being threatened by the incursion of a large-scale mining operation run by the businessman Coy LaHood (Richard Dysart), who cares nothing for the land itself—his strip-mining techniques, he says, are characterized by his enemies as “raping the land”—and who sees the “tin pans” as troublesome obstacles to his profit-making enterprise.

When the Preacher arrives, the miners’ spirits have been nearly broken by their hard life, by their little success in finding gold, and by LaHood’s intimidation tactics. Their putative leader is Hull Barrett (Michael Moriarity), who is courting a widow in the community (Carrie Snodgress) and playing father to her comely, teenage daughter (Sydney Penny). He is no match for LaHood’s thugs, however, and when Barrett rides into town for supplies, LaHood’s men seize the opportunity to give him a thrashing. It is then that the preacher appears, rescuing Barrett and single-handedly vanquishing his attackers with an axe handle. “There’s nothing like a nice piece of hickory,” the Preacher pronounces as LaHood’s beaten men writhe in pain.

The Preacher’s boldness and seeming invincibility rally the community of miners. The befuddled LaHood first tries to intimidate the stranger and then to bribe him. “Those squatters, Reverend, are standing in the way of progress,” LaHood thunders. “Theirs or yours?” is the Preacher’s reply. “What’s your business with those tin pans, Reverend?” LaHood then asks in exasperation, an indication that he sees all human relationships as based on raw assessments of self-interest. “Nothing, they’re just friends” answers the Preacher. When these methods fail, LaHood ups the ante, hiring a gang of professional killers, “Stockburn and his deputies,” to finish off the meddlesome preacher. Of course, the Preacher cleverly shoots each of the deputies dead as they scour the town for him. There is then a final confrontation between the Preacher and Stockburn (John Russell) and between LaHood and Barrett.

Pale Rider is a tale of the conflict between a pre-industrialized America that held out opportunity for the individual to make his fortune on the frontier and the new industrialized nation that favored large-scale business, efficiency, and profiteering at the expense of the land and its people. The film’s localist message and its championing of the hardy, independent settler ought to warm the hearts of Jeffersonian conservatives.

“There’s nothing like a nice piece of hickory”:

Witness Harrison Ford

Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis in Witness

 5.     Witness (1985)

Philadelphia cop John Book (Harrison Ford) is assigned to investigate the murder of a fellow police officer. His only witness to the crime is a young Amish boy (Lucas Haas), whose widowed mother (Kelly McGillis) wants nothing to do with the case. When Book learns that a group of corrupt police officers are behind the murder, he takes the boy and his mother back to their farm in Lancaster and hides out with the family while recovering from a gunshot wound. Eventually the three corrupt cops (Josef Sommer, Angus MacInnes, and Danny Glover) find out where Book is holed up and descend upon the farm. They have already murdered Book’s partner in order to cover up their drug-smuggling enterprise, and their clear intent is to kill Book, the boy, and his mother.

Book is able to kill two of the men, but the third cop, Schaeffer (Sommer), finally confronts the unarmed Book. As he prepares to shoot him, the Amish from neighboring farms, signaled by the ringing of a bell that there is trouble, rush to the scene. “What are you going to do, Paul?” Book yells. “You gonna kill me? You gonna shoot me? You gonna shoot him? Is that what you are going to do, Paul? Him? The woman? Me? It’s over! Enough!” Confronted by the witness of simple, good people, Schaeffer at last recognizes the magnitude of the evil he has committed and crumbles to the ground.

Witness juxtaposes the goodness of the Amish people’s agrarian, pacifist existence with the corruption of violent, modern urban society and yet avoids offering simplistic judgments about the morality of the use of force and the way of life that Book chooses. The movie shows that all men have the free will to choose good and evil, no matter what their circumstances, and that the simple witness of the good can triumph over evil.

What are you going to do, Paul?”:

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Essays by Dr. Klugewicz may be found here.

Dr. Stephen Klugewicz is a Senior Contributor to The Imaginative Conservative and president of Franklin’s Opus, which educates teachers across the country about history and the principles of the American republic. He is also the co-editor of History, on Proper Principles: Essays in Honor of Forrest McDonald, and a frequent contributor to various online journals.

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