Message Movies Redux

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Reader Eric Dzinski calls attention to this USA Today story on the latest crop (hmm, is that the right vowel?) of message movies emanating from Hollywood. (Apparently, Tinseltown execs must think the box office isn't suffering enough.)

"Storytelling has an enormous effect on people's lives," says Ricky Strauss, president of Participant [Productions]. "You're sitting in a theater and having this collective consciousness as a group. Movies make you emotionally more charged."

If we're talking collective consciousness and the role of pop culture in edifying audience automatons, then I prefer we go with Adorno and Horkheimer's rap against Disney: "Donald Duck in the cartoons…[gets his] thrashing so that the audience can learn to take their own punishment."

Back when the thankfully repressed movie John Q. was making the case for Soviet-style healthcare, Reason's Tim Cavanaugh limned the essence of latter-day message movies:

Too often the issues are presented not as fodder for stirring speeches or rabble-rousing drama but because their makers seem to believe the audience needs remedial education. John Q's end titles even lay out nationwide statistics on insurance coverage and transplant waiting lists.

Hollywood dilettantes are a particularly ill-chosen group of spokespeople for uninsured families, oppressed minorities, and other huddled masses; the reliance on statistics and abstracts, rather than drama, to deliver messages may be an indication of just how far, in shared-experience terms, Tinseltown is from the people for whom it speaks. As a result, the message movie is not only back but simpler and more didactic than ever. The only question is whether audiences will be slow enough to follow along.

The title to Cavanaugh's piece offered advice that still rings true: "Shoot the Messenger." Whole thing here.

NEXT: Well, Excuuuuuse Him (Steve Martin Hasn't Been Funny Since Cocaine Stopped Being Popular Edition)

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  1. Was that last “Cavanugh” intentional?

    Anyway, one of those things Mr. Cavanaugh see eye to eye on is the message movie thing. His John Q piece spoke to my soul. The most important thing a person can do before going to see a movie is check Rottentomatoes and see how many times the words ‘relevant’ and ‘timely’ appear. Run like hell if you see more than 2 occurances.

  2. I think it was Scorsese who said that a message was a “wonderful thing” to have in a movie. However, you shouldn’t tell the audience what the message was. That was something for them to figure out on their own.

    Obviously, Hollywood thinks we’re to stupid to come to our own conclusions.

  3. Edit …thinks we’re too stupid…

  4. Obviously, Hollywood thinks we’re too stupid to come to our own conclusions.

    Go back and read the Jarhead H’n’R entry from a few days ago.

  5. I thought Citizen Kane was a message movie. Good messages for commerce-coddle-style libertarians especially.

  6. Dave-I’m not seeing the Jarhead entry. When was it?
    I am afraid they’re going to screw that one up. The book was brilliant, but I suspect can really only be understood by Jarheads, or at least people who have served in the military. The story was less than spectacular, but the description of life in the Corps was dead-on perfect.

    I just can’t see that working in a big Hollywood movie.

  7. All movies are message movies.

    Doom…Don’t go to Mars.

    Halloween…Don’t assume someone is dead just because you put six bullets into him (same message as Sin City).

    Star Wars…Don’t bang every chick you see. She might be your sister.

  8. Off topic, did anyone watch the Quill Awards on NBC? What a sad affair. It looked like it was held at VFW lodge. Every time a nominee was mentioned there was this pathetic smattering of applause that begged for some audio sweetening. Al Roker basically gushed about Harry Potter the whole time, stopping just short of sticking his dick in the book.
    Elmo was a presenter. Fucking ELMO.
    The chance to make a book award show a major event was utterly wasted. Either drop the concept or let MTV run it.

  9. I made a mistake about the Jarhead entry. I didn’t read about that here. Anyway, the deal is that in the scene from the pending JH movie, the young soldiers get themselves pumped up for war by watching the helicopters killing people in Apocalypse Now. To some people (who have never had their sense of irony melted away by a 29P summer) this is considered ironic.

  10. Obviously, Hollywood thinks we’re to stupid to come to our own conclusions.

    No, Akira, they think you’re too stupid to come to the right conclusions. That is to say, theirs.

  11. All movies are message movies.
    Doom…Don’t go to Mars

    Total Recall…Get your ass to Mars

    i always like how hollywood loves to point out the impression a positive message movie can make on its viewers, but then denies that violent movies can make any impression at all on morans who go out and try the stunts themselves

  12. I’ve never had a life-changing experience from seeing a movie.

    I did once have a life-changing experience at a scientific lecture. Basically, it was a neuroscience lecture with implications for a lot of family shit, and I realized I’m not the bad guy here. Let’s leave it at that.

    Yep, I’m a science geek.

  13. Thoreau: Jurassic Park.

  14. More Hollywood message movies mean more South Park skewering of Hollywood message movies.

    Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow

    Sweet!

  15. Another “cinemessage” for scientists (physicists): Dr. Strangelove.

  16. Blech. Jurassic Park taught me what happens when Hollywood get ahold of nonlinear dynamics.

  17. Big Trouble in Little China: Don’t date girls with green eyes.

    2001: A Space Odyssey: Don’t touch any strange monoliths.

    Apocalypse Now: Don’t get out of the boat.

    Alien: Don’t scream in space, cuz no one’s gonna hear you.

    Nightmare on Elm Street: Don’t sleep.

  18. Jason L.:

    They made a book, too. That might be more to your liking if you are a biologist in search of ethics (paging Mr. Bailey).

  19. I agree with Jason. A lot of people have no clue what a nonlinear system is, and think that it just means “Well, anything could happen.” I don’t claim any deep expertise in the subject, but I know enough to know that it’s a little more complicated than that.

  20. The Crying Game-Always check, even it it’s socially awkward.

    Die Hard- Always carry an extra pair of shoes.

    Duel- Try not to piss off truckers.

    The Manchurian Candidate- Politicians aren’t evil, but their mothers are.

    Shawshank Redemption- Believe it or not, deep down, cons respect a man of learning.

  21. 2010: Communists and American should get along and stay away from Europa… or was it Ganymede?

    Jurassic Park: Genetic engineering is bad and guns don’t work on dinosaurs.

    Tombstone: Wild West-style libertarianism is evil and “We gotta have some LAW.”

    The Day The Earth Stood Still: Peace on Earth, OR ELSE!

    Robocop: Privatization is bad and will eventually lead to dead cops being resurrected as cyborg killing machines.

    Silene Of The Lambs: Getting emotionally involved with a cannibalistic serial killer is a BAD idea.

    Braveheart: Gay men should be tossed off buildings and FREEEEEEEEEEEEDOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!

    The Star Wars Series: Geroge Lucas is a hack.

    The Star Trek Series: Gene Roddenberry too.

  22. I don’t claim any deep expertise in the subject, but I know enough to know that it’s a little more complicated than that.

    OK, but when they finally make the Polio AIDS Connection movie, then you have to go twice.

  23. Shawshank Redemption- Believe it or not, deep down, cons respect a man of learning.

    I thought it was about a Shawshank that got redeemed.

  24. Battlefield Earth: The Church Of Scientology is far more weird and frightening than anyone could ever imagine.

  25. Jaws through Jaws 4 – Don’t get on a boat with Roy Scheider or anyone related to Roy Scheider.

  26. This is Spinal Tap: don’t be a drummer for Spinal Tap.

  27. HEAD: No one loans money to a man with a sense of humor.

    M*A*S*H*: War bad.

    Blazing Saddles: Don’t nobody move or the nigger gets it!

  28. Fight Club:

    1. Don’t talk about Fight Club.
    2. Don’t talk about Fight Club.

  29. Damian P., You just broke the rule. Twice!

  30. John Q: Apparently invading a hospital with small arms will get your kid a transplant.

    Honestly, I didn’t see the movie, but how could even a hollywood character think that would work? Gee…I’ll just threaten everyone in this hospital until a decent match comes up. Firefights will make that happen faster!

    Didn’t exactly make me want to see the thing, because the main character had it coming. Tip to Hollywood: if you want me to sympathize with the guy from the previews, don’t have him taking over a hospital at gunpoint.

  31. Man, once you start thinking of these, it’s hard to stop.

    On Deadly Ground: save the earth – blow up an oil rig.

    Patch Adams: practicing medicine without a licence is okay as long as you’re really, really nice about it.

  32. “Firefights will make that happen faster!”

    Well, actually…

  33. “Firefights will make that happen faster!”

    Well, actually…

    See, joe? It is all about the supply side.

  34. Firefights will make that happen faster!

    Since you’re probably a good match for your own kid, if you take one in the melon, they can harvest your organs and, yeah, it will speed up the transplant!

    Haven’t seen the movie, but I doubt that’s the Hollywood ending.

  35. Time for my obligatory movie-thread reminder that folks who watch Hollywood movies on a regular basis are psychologically no different than folks who enjoy being defecated upon.

  36. R C-

    Denzel Washington’s character actually comes close to committing suicide to give his son a heart. But he can’t quite bring himself to pull the trigger, and then a donor match is found.

    Really, the story would have been more interesting if the guy had actually done himself in to save his son. I prefer dark endings to nice, neat “Look, a last minute fix!” endings.

  37. …to nice, neat “Look, a last minute fix!” endings.

    Deus ex Machina

  38. Boogie Nights: “Porn directors are surrogate fathers with hearts of gold.” That, or “Naked blondes with big tits really do look good on roller skates.” Either one works for me.

  39. Diderot found such reasoning (regarding plays, etc.) to be hogwash, and it remains so today.

  40. Just watched Eddie Robinson’s last film again, which contains a very valuable message: Don’t eat Soylent Green.

  41. Repo Man: To tell you truth, I don’t have the foggiest notion what was up with that movie.

  42. Citizen Kane — If you are trying to figure something out, don’t burn everything.

    Touch of Evil — Not all Mexicans look like Mexicans.

    Lifeboat — Don’t let the Nazi steer the boat.

    Mitchell — Alcoholism is funny.

    Sideways — Thirtysomething Californians are past it and need their spines crushed into powder.

    Cold Mountain — Don’t start a battle by creating a huge crater and then running into the bottom of it.

    Any James Bond — If you are a secret agent you can somehow go around the city causing all sorts of incredible damage and the cops will never show up.

    Life is Beautiful — Kids are really stupid sometimes.

    White Heat — Even gangsters love their moms.

    Breaking Away — Cycling can be slightly dorky.

  43. joe, Repo Man has a profound message: Don’t open the trunk.

  44. Citizen Kane — If you are trying to figure something out, don’t burn everything.

    This is the least perceptive take on Kane I have ever read. The sled was a meta-narrative as overhyped, empty and misleading as the news in Kane’s newspapers. What’s smell and read all over? Your herring!

  45. Um, I was joking. Doesn’t the overall tone of the list make that clear? Perhaps you are joking, too? I must admit I am baffled.

  46. I mean, you must be joking, as no rational and competent English-speaker could believe that my list is a serious attempt to elucidate the main points behind those films. I mean, c’mon.

  47. Ethan,

    You must have Asperger’s syndrome. Or Dave W. does. 🙂

  48. Ethan,

    You must have Asperger’s syndrome. Or Dave W. does. 🙂

  49. Mitchell — Alcoholism is funny.

    Don’t forget the BABY OIL!

  50. . . . joking, too? I must admit I am baffled.

    No, I just think that Kane has the exact messages that ppl on this particular board need to consider more carefully than they usually do. I don’t mind jokes, but that particular joke isn’t funny when the message is as relevant and well-delivered as the message of Cit. K.

  51. Boy’s Town- Not all priests who like boys end up buggering them.

    Heat-Fire discipline is useful when battling cops. Also, love will screw you in the end.

    Top Gun- Jet fighters are cool.

    Lawrence of Arabia- Motorcycles are dangerous.

  52. Sorority Babes and the Slimeball Bowl-a-rama — It’s a weekend night and I’m watching incredibly bad movies with all the “good” stuff censored on USA Up All Night — my life is pathetic.

  53. Wow, so you weren’t joking. So if a film has a “relevant” message and is “well-delivered” then jokes about it aren’t funny. What are doing this weekend? I am sure we will all want to tag along. Wouldn’t miss that crazy joyride for all the world!!

    Seriously, though, how did you know I was advertising a nanny position?

  54. What are doing this weekend? I am sure we will all want to tag along.

    I will be working on my band’s new LP. Would like to get it done by early 2006. It has been almost 3 years since our last record and I sure am getting itchy to release new product.

    Further info at:

    http://www.farceswannamo.com

  55. Cool album covers. What’s the name all about?

  56. The name is pretty stupid, but I kept it because it searches really well on the Internet.

  57. Number 6,

    Contact – Don’t rely on government funding.

    Reign of Fire – Be careful where you dig.

  58. “Cold Mountain — Don’t start a battle by creating a huge crater and then running into the bottom of it.”

    I thought the point of Cold Mountain was that even small women can have gigantic babies.

  59. Pulp Fiction: Samuel Jackson is one badass motherfucker

    The Usual Suspects: Never, but never, underestimate the gimp.

    Mad Max: Without oil, some of us will go crazy, others will prefer lots of leather and big V8’s.

    Maverick: good cigars cost $1 in the later 19th century

    Office Space: A dream to do nothing will make you both happy and poor.

  60. Lost in Translation – The life if a pampered ex-apt is rough. (I happen to like the movie a lot, nevertheless…)

  61. Solyent Green: You are what you eat.

    Working Girl: A serious job requires a serious haircut.

    Moonstruck: When the moon’s in the sky like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.

    Cujo: Get your dog his shots.

  62. Mitchell — Alcoholism is funny.

    Don’t forget the BABY OIL!

    And remember, “watch out for falling rocks”.

  63. Lost in Translation: what a beautiful ass during the opening credits. Turn off the DVD NOW while you’re ahead.

    National Treasure: Why need a coherent plot when you got stuff blowing up REAL GOOD?

    Gangs of New York: Martin should stick with modern urban myths.

    Kundune: Martin should stick with modern urban myths.

    Dune: Sting in a diaper? What the FUCK?!

    Star Wars 6-9 and Godfather III: There can be only two.

  64. Boy’s Town- Not all priests who like boys end up buggering them.

    That’s a lie Number 6. A dirty dirty lie and you know it.

    One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest-Mental illness can be fun!

    Twelve Angry Men-The American system of justice sucks.

    The Matrix: Reloaded-Stop while you’re ahead, Keanu.

    Reservoir Dogs-Best just to kill everyone and get it over with.

    The Grapes of Wrath-God hates poor people.

  65. Star Wars 6-9

    Huh? The series stops at VI.

  66. Requiem For a Dream – If you do drugs you’ll go to jail, they’ll cut off your arm, your mom will go crazy and your girlfriend will be forced into ass-to-ass dildo sex.

    Seriously, if they want to keep kids off drugs they should make them watch Requiem and Kids as a health class double feature.

  67. You take out of a movie what you take into it. See conservative and liberal analyses of Team America: World Police for a robust demonstration.

  68. Huh? The series stops at VI.

    No, they made three movies with the Next Generation cast that did not have Roman numerals in their names: “Generations,” “Insurrection,” and “Nemesis.”

  69. No, Star Wars stops at VI. He said Star Wars 6-9, did he mean Star Trek? I’m not going crazy, am I? It still looks like Star Wars to me there.

  70. No, Star Wars stops at VI. He said Star Wars 6-9, did he mean Star Trek? I’m not going crazy, am I? It still looks like Star Wars to me there.

    Duh! I can read good!

    As to what he meant, I have no idea. Lucas originally intended to make 9 episodes, but obviously never got past 6 (and never will, as far as I know). Perhaps he meant Star Wars 1-3, which would fit his thesis. (Although so would Star Trek 6-9, not that 5 was any great shakes)

  71. Hey! First Contact was really good! However, the other TNG movies (and the crossover movie) were shite.

    Swingers – It’s not how cool you are, it’s how cool you THINK you are. Also, Heather Graham awaits the emotionally rehabilitated(!!!)

    Pride and Prejudice / Sense and Sensibility- there are only 8 British actors.

    Invasion of the Body Snatchers – Flowers are evil. And avoid Kiefer Sutherland like the plague; he’ll sell you out.

    Red Planet – Guns are of no use against body snatchers, but humans are stupid and just keep using them.

    2001 – Beware the gigantic orbiting fetii!

    Starship Troopers – Get some while she’s still alive.

    Terminator – Robots are evil.

    Terminator 2 – But apparently not all robots.

    Clerks – Some days just really, really suck.

  72. A Christmas Story: Your mom was right. You will shoot yourself in the eye if you get a bee-bee gun for Christmas.

  73. A Christmas Story: Your mom was right. You will shoot yourself in the eye if you get a bee-bee gun for Christmas.

  74. Office Space: I don’t like my job, so I’m just not gonna go.

  75. Pretty Woman: Julia Roberts is a horrible actress.

    Erin Brockovitch: Julia Roberts is a horrible actress with pretensions.

    Mona Lisa Smile: Julia Roberts is a really, really horrible actress who- aw, the hell with it…

  76. BTW: Has there ever been a movie where a labor union was the villain? (Given the goonions’ control of the actors, writers, and the crews, could such a film ever get made…)

  77. JIm- A labor union specifically, no, not that I can recall. Bt just about any movie that portrays mobsters in an unfavorable light does so tacitly. The model of the Union Rep with shady dealings is so widespread that it’s practically the first cliche that comes to mind when someone mentions a union.

  78. does so tacitly should read portrays a Union as a villian tacitly.

  79. On the Waterfront

  80. Old Man and the Sea: Use a rod and reel when fishing offshore, for God’s sake.

    Return of the Jedi: Teddy bears are more powerful than armored soldiers with high-tech energy weapons.

    The Great Escape: German POW camps aren’t so bad. Why not stay put?

    Planet of the Apes: Kill off every species that has any chance of taking over after a nuclear war.

  81. BTW: Has there ever been a movie where a labor union was the villain?

    I think the unions in On the Waterfront were all corrupt and run by the mafia, weren’t they?

    On another topic, I thought the message of Lawrence of Arabia was: It takes a long time to cross a desert on a camel. By the end of the movie, you should have a good idea how long.

  82. The Fountainhead The movie is better than the book.
    Way of the Gun Don’t E V E R jump into a fountain.
    Dawn of the Dead Stay away from shopping malls. They’re just filled with bodies brainlessly ambling around.
    Citizen Kane Let’s go sledding!

  83. Fried Green Tomatos The rural South used to be full of hot lesbian action.

    The Big Chill The Me Generation really was a bunch of navel-gazing twits.

    Pirates of the Caribbean Pretty men can be pirates, too.

    Where the Buffalo Roam Fuck the doomed.

    The Deer Hunter If Russian Roulette was an Olympic sport, Vietnam would dominate.

    200 Motels As an actor, Ringo Starr is a great drummer.

    The Matrix series As a place to live, the Earth’s mantle/core isn’t too bad, despite that whole “high temperature and molten rock” thingie.

    Woodstock Hippies shouldn’t run around naked.

    Arthur It’s ok to be a drunken asshole, as long as you are wealthy.

  84. “You talk about the people of the United States as though they belonged to you. When you find out they don’t think they do, you’ll lose interest. You talk about giving them their rights as if you could make a present of liberty. Remember the workingman? You used to defend him quite a good deal. Well, he’s turning into something called organized labor, and you don’t like that at all.”

    This quote is from a famous movie. It does not criticize labor unions, but it does throw down the put-up-or-shut-up gauntlet quite nicely for us libertarians.

  85. Dazed And Confused: George Washington was in a cult, and the cult was into Aliens, man.

  86. BTW: Has there ever been a movie where a labor union was the villain?

    ——–

    Blue Collar.

    It’s been many years since I’ve seen it, but if I remember correctly Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto were three auto workers who robbed their union then found out the union
    was the real criminal enterprise. I remember it
    to be a pretty hard-hitting drama, and I want
    to say it was directed by Paul Schrader.

  87. Dances With Wolves – All white men except Kevin Costner suck.

    Waterworld – Kevin Costner sucks.

    Stripes – If you’re a man in the military, and you think a woman who outranks you is cute, the way to win her over is to molest her ass with a pancake-turner.

    The Spy Who Loved Me – Damn! I’ve got to get me one of those white plastic lounge chairs like the bad guy has. Especially if it comes with Barbara Bach strapped to it. In that outfit.

    Die Hard – If you’re a man, you can get singed by a column of fire shooting up an elevator shaft, jump ten stories down a building while using a firehose as a bungee cord, and then get back into the building by smashing through a window — but if you get a piece of glass in your foot, damn, that hurts.

  88. I don’t think I’ve ever had a life changing experience watching a movie either, but Gordon Gekko seemed to make a lot of sense.

    …When I was a kid, I had a life changing experience in a drive-in! …but I don’t think that’s what y’all were talkin’ about.

  89. BTW: Has there ever been a movie where a labor union was the villain?

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067774/

    “Sometimes a Great Notion” directed by and starring Paul Newman.

    It’s about a family of Oregon loggers (the Stampers) working thru a strike.

    My favorite scene is when Hank Stamper (Paul Newman) bursts into the local union presidents office with a chainsaw and cuts the guy’s desk in half. Other than that the flick’s pretty much a downer.

    While it didn’t show the union as a villain exactly, it was an extremely negative light for Hollywood. And of particular interest is the positive way (again for Hollywood) the Stampers are played in spite of the fact that they’re a bunch of real mean, hardassed, rugged individualists.

    One day I must read the book (by Ken Kesey) that it was based on .

  90. Remember the workingman? You used to defend him quite a good deal. Well, he’s turning into something called organized labor, and you don’t like that at all.”

    Citizen Kane, as I recall…

  91. I thought women were supposed to avoid propecia?

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