Australian filmmaker Peter Weir, director of Dead Poets Society, Master and Commander, and The Truman Show, tells Radio Free Europe about his new movie, The Way Back (reviewed in these pages by Kurt Loder), a film tells the story of three prisoners of the Soviet gulag who escape to India. Asked about the anti-communist politics of the film and why there were so few films detailing the horrors of communism, Weir offered a few theories about why anti-communism is still considered gauche, despite its horrifying track record:
Because for my generation growing up through the '60s, when you're a part of, particularly, the antiwar movement in Australia, and as it was in America, you came to distrust your own side's version of what was going on.
And in some ways obviously you came to realize this had been the result of clever dissembling on the part of communists or communist sympathizers or apologists, and partly because of the ineptitude of the McCarthy hearings, with the House un-American Activities [Committee] -- that might as well have been a communist organization, it so brilliantly turned people against them -- that you grew up really thinking it wasn't as bad as it was made out to be. And that's a shock. I know many of my friends from that period -- we were all vaguely leftish as all young people often are -- idealistic. I can't believe how gullible we were in looking back
I think in the world of creativity and even in the academic world to a degree, those who had their leftist sympathies when they were young, or communist sympathies, and the romance of it, found it very hard to give it up. They still sell the Che Guevara T-shirts like he was John Lennon or something. No one really wants to criticize Castro.
We do! Weir should watch this Reason.tv classic, “Killer Chic.”
Weir says that he did a significant amount of reading about communism in preperation for the film (he references Anne Applebaum's brilliant book Gulag); enough to notice that the old Stalin-betrayed-Lenin's-legacy, the standard pre-1991 argument about Soviet totalitarianism, is bullshit.
It's almost impossible for a lot of people to admit that this experiment of communism went so disastrously wrong and face the facts. Whether its Stalin or Lenin, for that matter, I can't let him off the hook, he was all for the terror. Through to Pol Pot, through to North Korea. What can you say? It's just dreadful, appalling.
But there's still resistance. I've noted that, even amongst friends to this day. When I said I was making this film and what it was about, there was just that moment, just that flicker across the face: "Oh, you're going along a right-wing road." And that fascinated me that that was still possible, to have held onto that romance from youth.
Way back in 2000, Ken Billingsley explored why American films have ignored life under communism.