Monday, August 19, 2013

Olympus Has Fallen

A paranoid, right-wing fantasy thriller, Olympus Has Fallen (2013; dir. Antoine Fuqua) imagines what might happen if a North Korean terrorist attacked the White House, killed virtually everyone in it, and took the president hostage. Well, the terrorist is not precisely North Korean—his family was expelled from North Korea, and his mother was killed by an American mine in the DMZ, and he’s angry that North Koreans don’t eat well.  It’s difficult to make out the logic of his motives, but then, hey, so what, he’s a crazed maniac.  What this film imagines is a highly adept group of North Koreans who have compromised all the nation’s security systems, stolen secret American weapons, and have a plan for blowing up all American ICBMs in their siloes, thereby causing the nuclear incineration of the nation.  They have the cooperation of an American accomplice.

Why is the film rightwing?  Because it glories in imagining what the evil North Koreans would do if only they had a chance.  It relishes images of American soldiers and diplomats and government officials being gunned down.  It trembles at the image of the top of the Washington monument crumbling, and the bullet marked White House in flames, and so on.  All of this is causes by nasty foreigners, evil Asians intent on mayhem.  (Recall George W. Bush’s Axis of Evil speech).  The xenophobic implication being that we should adopt militaristic, hyper-aggressive strategies to keep those verminous enemies out.  This is a parable of sorts, another version of September 11, 2001, a call for vigilance along with a dimwitted, heavy-handed, jingoistic, self-aggrandizing approach to foreign policy abroad and security at home.  Shades of the NSA.

The film takes its title at face value.  Washington DC, especially the White House, is Olympus.  Stirring music with a hushed chorus accompanies each iconic image.  When the President is wounded, the music suggests that Christ’s side has been pierced. 

Despite all the hoopla, this is just another action movie about people (the President) rescued from a tight spot by an unlikely hero (the disgraced Secret Service agent), with empathy and pathos delivered by the president’s young son, hiding in the captured White House, wanted by the hostage-takers who believe that by threatening his life they can force the President to give up a secret code.  The boy is saved, but for reasons I couldn’t discern the President gives up the code anyway.  The Americans win out in this conflict by brute strength rather than intelligence, and the evil Asians lose through their greed, lust for power and wanton destruction, and madness.  There’s no distinction in the action or the story or the scenario.  The film is mildly entertaining—you can sleep through half of up yet be caught up on the action as soon as you awake, because there is not much to catch up with--it’s got a lot of shootings and explosions and noise.

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