Are there any traditionalist movies?

We all know that Hollywood is controlled by communists and sex perverts, so it’s not surprising to find that most movies have an individualist/utilitarian slant.  Think of all the movies you’ve seen where a creative individual, determined to follow his “dream”, has had to confront obstruction from his conservative and dull-witted community.  In how many cases does it turn out that the community is right and the hero must nobly sacrifice his ambitions to fulfill his duties and uphold the traditions of his people?  (I can think of one example where this happened–see below.)  Do you ever see Catholic priests or southern gentlement portrayed positively, or mass-murdering communist psychopaths like Che Guevara protrayed negatively?  I thought not.

On the other hand, movie writers and directors are disadvantaged by their very insulation:  they have no idea what their opponents actually believe.  This means that they will occasionally make a conservative movie completely by mistake, without knowing what they’ve done.  It doesn’t happen often, but it’s happened a few times.

In assembling the list below, I’ve had to come up with a criterion for what makes a movie “reactionary or traditionalist”.  I have chosen to identify a movie as “traditionalist” if and only if it clearly embraces some value that liberals, utilitarians, and socialists would not recognize as a value.  Movies that embrace values that liberals and conservatives share I call “apolitical”.  For example, liberals and conservatives can both agree that destroying SkyNet’s army of killer robots is a good thing, so a movie valorizing this goal is apolitical.  Also, the designation makes no claims as to the beliefs or intentions of those who produced the movie.  I assume most or all of them think of themselves as liberals.

Anyway, here’s my list.  Please give me your ideas and candidates in the comments.

  1. The Man Who Would Be King.  The Englishmen seem to be competent rulers, but they are struck down for the impiety of impersonating a god.  Fear the gods, mortals, and remember your place!
  2. Fiddler on the Roof.  True, much of the plot concerns the breaking of traditions, generally to good effect.   Still, this musical/movie is unique in allowing the traditionalist side to be heard.  Tevye, the protagonist, is a traditionalist and a very likeable character.  And what conservative could fail to love a movie with lines like this:  “Because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is, and what God expects him to do.”
  3. It’s a Wonderful Life.  This is the one movie I’ve seen (alluded to above) where the hero must put aside his “dreams” to fulfill his duties to his family and local community.  It’s also nice to see an attempt to improve the condition of the working class that involves neither class warfare nor intrusion of the federal goverment.
  4. Chariots of Fire.  God’s law (and one with no utilitarian justification to boot) takes precedence over personal ambition and national glory.
  5. The Quiet Man.  John Ford’s love of his native Ireland is a fine example of what true patriotism should be.  Notice the ultimate vindication of custom, how even social expectations that seem anti-social to an outsider turn out (at the very end) to have a hidden function in integrating members of the community.
  6. Valkyrie.  A bunch of Christian aristocrats plan to assassinate a popular dictator, and they do it, not from a realistic hope of success, but to reclaim their country’s honor.  Of course, this story could have been PC-ified to turn the conspiritors into champions of tolerance and social democracy, but the writers didn’t do this.  They stuck with the actual history.
  7. The Last Samurai.  Without a doubt, the most conservative movie ever made.  The heroes are the remnant of Japan’s nobility, fighting to defend a traditional and feudal society against the onslaught of technocratic, materialistic modernization.  The movie specifically glorifies martial and aristocratic virtues.  What’s more , it clearly laments the triumph of technology and democracy, as represented by the Americans and the peasant army that destroy the rebel samurai.

What do you think?  Have I left anything out?

21 Responses

  1. […] what of the Right? Well, traditionalist blogger bonald has already compiled a good list of movies which break the liberal mould. However, bonald concerns himself exclusively with fiction, […]

  2. I think there a few others.

    Star Wars, for one, is a good example. Though Luke goes against his Aunt and Uncle’s wishes at first, later on in the trilogy he learns that there is more to life than adventure and excitement, maturing and eventually redeeming his father – deposing the (communist) Galactic Empire.

    300 also. King Leonidas and the other 299 Spartans give up their lives to save their city and traditions.

    Lord of the Rings as well – though the story (an anti-industrial one at heart) pre-dates modern Hollywood.

    Of course, all three of these stories were written without Hollywood in mind. Star Wars was conceived as an independent film, 300 was a graphic novel, and the history of LoTR is obvious.

  3. Hello Paul,

    I’m intrigued by your additions. I found ‘300’ to be a vile, antireligious, and anticlerical movie, a sort of Leftist gloss on Greek history. A character actually states at the end that the villains represent the forces of “mysticism”. Apparently, the Spartans gave their lives to protect us from the likes of Teresa of Avila. Who knew?

    ‘Star Wars’ struck me as apolitical, although I’d love to here your argument for why the Empire was communist. (Honest. I’m someone who’s argued to other Star Trek fans that the Borg represent communism, so I’m certainly not “above” reading politics into science fiction.)

  4. There is The Passion. The point of the Garden of Gethsemane scene is, of course, that Jesus crushes Satan specifically by his choice to follow His duty to His Father rather than His (human nature’s) desire to avoid pain.

    There is Admiral Kolchak.

    Star Wars is hard to classify, possibly because it is confused. The Jedi sure look like a traditionalist outfit. They are an hereditary, quasi-monastic, warrior, aristocratic elite who are bound by ties of duty, honor, and obedience. Vader/Anakin is obviously a modern liberal who relentlessly puts his fleshy urges ahead of his duty. And this leads to disaster. Then there is the obvious call-out to the Mass: “the force be with you.”

    On the other hand, the Republic is some kind of grotesque UN-like Democracy-ish thing. “Queen” is an elective office. As Jonathan last points out, there is precious little evidence in the movies that the Empire is particularly bad or that the rebels are particularly good. And, until Lucas inevitably “changes his mind” and makes episodes VII-IX, we won’t get to see what sort of society the rebels come up with.

    Lucas strikes me as conflicted or confused or maybe afraid to make the movies he wants to make.

  5. Hello Bill,

    Excellent suggestions. I had not heard of the Admiral Kolchak movie, but now I’m going to have to find a way to see it. Your comments about Star Wars are intriguing; I also find the movies confused, especially the last one which seems to embrace both moral relativism (“only the Sith think in absolutes”–this from the creator of Star Wars!) and natural law (the Sith’s powers described as “unnatural”). The real trouble, I think, is that Lucas doesn’t seem to know any real history, and so he imagines fundamental constitutional changes coming about through elaborate conspiracies. If he had first studied some actual cases where republics were replaced by dictatorships, he might have come up with something more interesting.

    P.S. Whenever I hear “may the force be with you”, I immediately think “and also with you”.

  6. What about Dirty Harry? Although he most definitely goes against society, it is an immoral, decadent and utilitarian society which is indifferent (at best) towards victims of crimes and morality. Both the characters (corrupt politicians, self-righteous media, officials who are politically correct to the extreme) and the themes (affermative action, victim’s rights, crime and punishment, public morality) presented through the series easily fit into a conservative critique of modern society in general, and crime-fighting in particular.

    On the other hand, Dirty Harry himself isn’t exactly a saint. His motivations seem more personal than moral, he gravely endangers himself and others and he doesn’t care about the law or his superiors. This makes for a more interesting movie character, but it makes it difficult to consider him a paragon conservative (or any type of paragon, really).

  7. Hello Gustaf,

    That is an interesting case. Dirty Harry certainly does flout many of the liberal pieties of the time. Its vision of society seems largely negative; there are no clear affirmations of either a liberal or conservative sort. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A movie doesn’t have to have an endorsement of tradition to be good; in fact, some movies are better without a message of that sort.

    I would point out that a movie may reflect a conservative worldview even if no character is an exemplary conservative. The question is, are their anti-traditional faults portrayed as faults?

    It does seem to me that a strong liberal message is an impediment to greatness, because liberalism falsifies human nature, so if a movie *intrinsically* points to liberalism, it must reflect flawed characterization. I can imagine that a movie might still be great even if it were intended as liberal propaganda, if the propaganda ends up being extrinsic to liberalism itself. For example, a movie about heroic socialists battling an evil reactionary power that focused on the relationships between socialist characters (e.g. a commie Gone with the Wind or Casablanca) might be great despite its stupid politics, because it would be mostly a background on top of which is played a more interesting and honest story.

  8. I think you have a point. The movie K-19: The Widowmaker is set in Soviet Russia during the cold war, and the protagonists are never portrayed as being anti-communist. This makes for an interesting and believable film. And yet the values which the characters in the film endorse are bravery, camaraderie and patriotism. Thus, even though the background is communist, the message can still be endorsed by most people in the audience who aren’t communists.

    This is something liberal movie makers seem not to understand, which is why most films that are overtly liberal are so disgusting to watch, since they do not (or can not) present their liberal message without portraying traditional characters as stupid, bigoted and racist. They don’t just have a message, they want to shove it down the viewers throat, and thus good and believable characterisation is sacrificed for the propagandic purposes of the movie-makers, and the movie suffers as a result. And also, of course, on account of the fact that most Hollywood liberals (or liberals at a whole for that matter) don’t understand human nature.

    Simply put, propaganda in itself doesn’t make good entertainment.

  9. I’ve just started watching the NBC series [i]Kings[/i], and it immediately made me think of this post. The show is a modern retelling of the Biblical story of King David, and gives a very realistic picture of a fairly benign and well-functioning absolute monarchy.

    I haven’t actually watched [i]The Passion of the Christ[/i], but everything I’ve heard about it indicates that it fits into the traditionalist movie bracket. While we’re on the subject of Mel Gibson, [i]Braveheart[/i] is an interesting borderline example. On the one hand, it glorifies rebellion in the name of “freedom.” On the other, William Wallace and his men are fighting to defend the honor of their homeland, and are perfectly willing to give their lives to that end.

    Also, there are several horror movies with religious themes that might fit the bill, although this is probably usually unintentional. [i]The Exorcist[/i] is an obvious example.

  10. Hello Svein,

    It’s nice to hear from you again. I’m glad you’re still on the look-out for traditionalist movies. “Braveheart” was a really annoying movie for me. Along with all the “freedom” and English-bashing stuff, there’s this silly idea of Wallace only getting into politics for reasons of personal vengeance. Then, in “The Patriot”, they did the same damn thing. Even bad ideas like the revolutionaries had deserve to be taken more seriously than this. Plus, what a lame title! Wasn’t “Braveheart” the name of the Care Bear who looked like a lion?

  11. Wasn’t “Braveheart” the name of the Care Bear who looked like a lion?

    How could I never have thought of that? Brilliant. (not sarcasm)

  12. I like “Becket” and “A Man for All Seasons”. I admit, however, that they are practically hagiographies.

    Two men who defied kings for the love of God. Even though we love tradition we must not deny the evil men are capable of.

  13. About the ‘Sith dealing in absolutes’, the quote was actually from Obi-Wan in Episode III, and, taken in context, it isn’t entirely morally relativistic:

    Obi-Wan Kenobi: You have allowed this dark lord to twist your mind, until now, until now you’ve become the very thing you swore to destroy.
    Anakin Skywalker: Don’t lecture me, Obi-Wan! I see through the lies of the Jedi. I do not fear the dark side as you do. I have brought peace, freedom, justice, and security to my new Empire.
    Obi-Wan Kenobi: Your new Empire?
    Anakin Skywalker: Don’t make me kill you.
    Obi-Wan Kenobi: Anakin, my allegiance is to the Republic, to democracy.
    Anakin Skywalker: If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy.
    Obi-Wan Kenobi: [realizing that Anakin is consumed by evil and there’s no reasoning with him anymore] Only a Sith deals in absolutes.
    [draws his lightsaber]
    Obi-Wan Kenobi: I will do what I must.
    Anakin Skywalker: You will try.
    [draws his lightsaber and confronts Obi-Wan]

    I found this interesting rephrasing online:

    Anakin: In the circumstances surrounding loyalty, fealty and overall alignment of purpose and action, one is either of entirely one mind with the person so referred to by the practice of the perpendicular pronoun, or one must be said to be in a state colloquially referred to as being “at odds”. Any state of matters which can be said to be as falling within these two extremes is so insufficiently asseverative as to be fundamentally and wholly indistinguishable from opposition.

    Obi-Wan: Individuals or persons not counting themselves among the number of those who refer to themselves as “the Sith”, would be hard-pressed to make a statement as utterly categorical, and not admitting, upon mature reflection, of views which, at the end of the day, would have to be said to be more balanced (in an, of course, non-epistemological fashion) and, frankly, more sophisticated.

    P.S. It’s ‘and with your spirit’ (or ‘et cum spiritu tuo’ for the lucky ones) now.

  14. I really doubt that George Lucas thought it through himself.

  15. I would have thought you’d include the lot of horror films where the threat is foreign and demonic, and the only way to win is through convention. Exorcist is the one that comes to mind. These are traditionalist by nature. There’s been a big movement lately to make villains out of corrupted power sources, and the way to victory is through a foreign means. Those are anti-traditionalist, and I don’t consider them proper horror films.

  16. I think “The Village” can be considered a movie that shows the conservative point of view about man´s nature being wounded by sin. The people in that movie tried to creat an innocent society by taking their children away from the influence of a broader society which is already corrupted, believing, as Liberals do, that man is by nature good and that his corruption derives from society. But they failed, when Noah Percy, who was supposed to be the most innocent one, killed Lucius out of jealousy.

  17. I would add Becket to the list; like Chariots of Fire, it’s about a man who forgoes the easy and expedient way in favor of the Church’s law. There is no utilitarian justification given for his actions; he excommunicates a baron who violated the Church’s law even though the priest the baron held captive was quite probably guilty, knowing it would bring no end of hardship to him.

  18. I’m not sure why this wasn’t mentioned before, but what are your thoughts on Narnia?

    I once saw a video of the text of the long version of the Saint Michael the Archangel prayer set to ‘The Battle’ from Narnia. It was suprisingly powerful.

  19. Check out some foreign film. In particular:

    Eric Rohmer — start with Ma Nuit chez Maud. Also be sure to check out Le Duc et l’Anglaise, about the French Revolution from a reactionary perspective.

    Andrzej Wajda — check out Danton, another film about the Revolution from a counter-revolutionary stance. Also Katyń, about the Katyn massacre.

    Robert Bresson — start with Au Hasard Balthazar, though almost everything he did was great.

    Carl Dreyer — check out Ordet. The ending is something that would never appear in a modern Hollywood production.

    Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris. This moves at a glacial pace, so you might want to become acclimated to art-house cinema first, but this is a great film about the limits of science to advance human happiness.

    Rainer Werner Fassbinder — see Satan’s Brew for a hilarious depiction of left-wing intellectuals. And while I don’t share the visceral revulsion towards multiracial couples that some others do, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is a complex treatment of the subject that neither romanticizes nor condemns it.

    Werner Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God — there’s nothing necessarily “traditionalist” about this film, but like Moby Dick, it expresses man’s insignificance in relation to the cosmos.

    Jean-Pierre Melville’s L’armée des ombres. This is a French Resistance film from a Gaullist perspective, meaning the Communists are nowhere to be found.

    Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death.

    Among American films:

    Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow is a classic Hollywood film about the generational gap between parents and their children. Also see Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story, which was inspired by McCarey’s work,

    Any of Whit Stilman’s handful of films.

    While he’s a SWPL favorite, I would also give Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums a chance. I’ve encountered some Catholics who interpret it as a critique of the postmodern family.

  20. I’m a bit late, and it’s neither modern nor American, but Kenji Mizoguchi’s Forty-Seven Ronin is an absolutely stunning film centred around some of the most conservative heroes I can imagine.

  21. […] how about the most conservative movie ever made, The Last Samurai?  Here the heroes are rebelling against the one whom even they regard as the […]

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