Top Five Liberal Movies: Part One

Last month, we counted down the five most conservative movies of all time. Now it’s the liberals’ turn. I’ll admit that this list was a little tougher to construct. Because movie studios are profit-driven and must appeal to the most basic set of values, most successful studio movies have an undercurrent of conservatism running through them. And remember, we will not be discussing movies with clear and purposeful liberal messages, like “Sicko” or even “Avatar.” Still, as we count down this list of movies any liberal is sure to love, we will hopefully provide great fodder for the right-wing media in their gleeful depiction of the “liberal Hollywood elite.”

5. “Boogie Nights”

No surprise that a movie featuring drugs, pornography, and (sort of) rock and roll would be viewed as liberal. Conservatives have spent much of the last three decades demonizing the counterculture of the 1960s, and pornographers have been in the crossfires of the GOP as recently as this election cycle. “Boogie Nights” flips the conservative idea of family values on its head and shows that family is where you find it. Young Eddie Adams, soon to be Dirk Diggler, finds his family in a small production company that specializes in  “adult pictures.” Before making it, ahem, big in the industry, Dirk is just another 17-year-old living with his parents. In an early scene, director Paul Thomas Anderson shows what Eddie is running away from. From the outside, the Adams household probably seems happy and content. But this is not the 1950s, and Eddie’s life is not “Father Knows Best.”


When Eddie becomes Dirk and his career takes off, he finds a different kind of family, albeit with their own set of dysfunctions. Established pornstar Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) has lost custody of her child and sees in Dirk an opportunity to be a mother again. Her husband, Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), is also a parent figure, but not a particularly good one. He allows Dirk to be corrupted by drugs and then, when Dirk disrespects him, behaves just like Dirk’s mother did and kicks him out. Then there’s Reed, the sweetly idiotic sidekick; Rollergirl, a young star whose personality is expressed only in her choice of footwear (rollerskates); Buck Swope, a black porn star who dresses as a cowboy, much to everyone’s dismay; and, of course, Little Bill, the assistant director whose wife insists on embarrassing him by screwing other men in public places.

It’s not a conventional family, but they have more virtue than the family Dirk left behind because they accept him for who he is. During the film’s second half, Dirk is in free fall. Having been fired by Jack and cast out from his family, he falls toward a life of drugs and crime. A scam goes bad, a friend is left dead, and finally Dirk has nowhere to turn. Swallowing his pride, he returns and asks for Jack’s help. Wordlessly, Jack accepts him with a hug – the one his father was never able to provide. And this is the rub: the imperfect family, with Jack as patriarch, is stronger than the “normal” family Dirk left behind. Although released in 1997, the message of “Boogie Nights” proves to dispel the notion – put forth by to the GOP in the political debates of today –  that the institution of marriage itself is a virtue.

In one of the film’s final sequences, we get a final look at a group of people who, over the course of the film, have come to feel like our family, as well (in true “Boogie Nights” fashion, this clip is NSFW).

4. “Wargames”

On March 3, 1983, President Ronald Reagan predicted that Communism would collapse, calling it “another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages even now are being written.” Five days later, he gave his famous “evil empire” speech. The rhetoric was part of Reagan’s escalation of the cold war. In his first term, he ended the détente which began in 1979, denounced the Soviet Union in ideological terms, and ordered increased military spending, prompting an arms race that paved the way for the huge defense budgets we have still not been able to reign in.

Exactly three months after that speech, “WarGames” was released. It is a parable about the dangers of nuclear escalation told through the eyes of a young, hip computer hacker (about twenty years ahead of its time in that department). David (Matthew Broderick) hacks into the Pentagon’s computer system – just for fun. He’s looking for cool games to play but instead stumbles upon a program to launch nuclear strikes against the Soviets. Understandably, the feds track him down, but he escapes. Meanwhile, thanks to his handiwork, a countdown to launch has begun that no one, including those at the Pentagon, knows how to stop. With the help of his feisty female friend, he tracks down the creator of the program, a wild-eyed hippie named Falken – the only one who might be able to stop the program and prevent the impending nuclear war. Falken is key to the film’s political overtones. He has been driven out of society by grief, after having lost his son to a car accident. But his return and eventual triumph is portrayed as a victory for the counterculture over the warmongers in Reagan’s defense department.

In the tense climactic scene, David and Falken figure out that the only way to stop the program from launching is to teach it.  Here in this clip, the program runs through every scenario involving a nuclear attack and finds only mutual destruction. According to the filmmakers, the only way to win an arms race is not to run at all.

Don’t forget to check back later this week for #3 and #2.

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