War Conflict Film
The war film as a Romantic narrative is virtually over. While this slow decline began with Vietnam, it only really grew apparent with the Iraq war. The war that was always seen as most Romantic, the most justified in our self-righteousness, was World War II. The Nazis are still the go-to bad guys of the twentieth century, and while this still applies, we’re increasingly seeing them as fallible humans rather than evil autocrats.
In ten short years we have gone from the pre-9/11 Band of Brothers, which seems the last of its kind as it very much belongs to the endless stream of WWII films of the 1990s, to whole new takes on WWII, from Quentin Tarantino’s gloriously postmodern exploration of brutality, Inglourious Basterds, to the German film, Downfall, where we get a surprisingly human portrayal of Hitler. Holocaust films have grown in their portrayals as well, to the point where, in The Reader, we have a Nazi as a main character. The self-reflexive view of history that appeared after 9/11 has made films like Passchendaele seem outdated. We have moved towards a much-more critical view of war, with a multi-vocal perspective, which is perhaps most evident in the surprise success of Clint Eastwood’s Japanese-perspective in Letters to Iwo Jima, and the parallel surprise failure of his American-perspective in Flags of our Fathers.
The Cold War was also far more evenly handled, with the demonization of the Soviets largely a thing of the past. The Soviet villains of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull somehow no longer felt justified; we weren’t ready for out-and-out bad guys. In Goodbye Lenin!, where we saw varying opinions on the fall of the Berlin Wall, the story followed the lives of ordinary people adjusting to the change to capitalism. The Lives of Others (perhaps gaining my personal vote for top film of the decade) saw the manipulations of the socialist state condemned, but one of the coldest, most ruthless Stasi agents greatly humanized and actually becoming the protagonist.
Western audiences also embraced (to some degree, at least) other cinematic explorations of 21st century conflicts around the world, especially in Africa. Almost all were based on a true story. We got a few, such a Shake Hands With the Devil and The Last King of Scotland, that gave us the “white outsider” perspective on an Africa issue, while others, such as the superb Hotel Rwanda and the recent Invictus, gave us a wonderful insight to African issues from an African perspective.