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I Heart Culture War!

Saw that movie last night I (heart) Huckabees. It’s got some moments that were fun. I liked it overall, but of course that’s in the context of going to any mass market movie with extremely low expectations. A couple of friends had given me reason to believe that I would enjoy this, and they were right.

There’s two main things I liked about it. One, it’s a fluffy cannonball in the Culture War and as such, probably makes a bunch of dejected liberals and even a few rads feel better these days. The scene at the Christian dinner table was clearly written by someone who is completely fed up with the idiotic “discourse” of the Xtian Right. It was momentarily satisfying to have the Mark Wahlberg character tell the family’s patriarch he was a hyprocite and then to shut the fuck up as he blathered on in his well-acted self-righteous hypocrisy.


The beginning of the film started well for me, with the do-gooder eco-activist sitting on his rock in the marsh he was bent on saving, hurtling through a long list of expletives, then wondering about whether anything he did mattered, if he could change anything, etc. The drama of this self-proclaimed “existential comedy” courses back and forth between this kind of unmoored, rootless yearning for meaning and effectiveness and the cynical certainty that there is no meaning and that nothing one does will make any difference whatsoever (hilariously, this pov is represented by the French Isabelle Huppert, underlining the film’s self-awareness as a guerrilla attack in the Culture War).

The naive eco-activist, after his expletive-filled existential crisis moment, wanders through an endless maze of offices while the film’s titles run by… a brilliant and subtle framing of the empty, repetitive pointlessness of modern work. He doesn’t have a job anyway, turns out he was looking for Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman, his ‘existential detective agency.’

The main eco-activist guy, and the Mark Wahlberg character (a ditzy fireman who is obsessed with the damage using petroleum is doing to the earth), and the detectives all ride around on bicycles through most of the film. In one scene, the bicycling fireman outraces his hook-and-ladder crew to a fire, where he swoons at his speedy arrival, drops his bike and radios in that he’s there already. Earlier he lost his wife and daughter as they left him because he insisted that all the little actions of their daily lives, dependent on oil and ecological destruction, required them to take an aggressive role in altering their behavior… a reasonable enough attitude among west coast eco-activists but portrayed in this film, and in American culture more generally, as clearly insane. The fact that the main characters use bicycles as they move through a typical suburban landscape sets them apart as nutty. But then their reasoning, and their commitment to finding meaning and purpose, takes them from being crazy to being closer to something authentic, something real, a life worth living… in a trite Hollywood-ish way, of course.

There’s a fair amount of predictable stuff in this flick, the evil corporation that co-opts the earnest eco-campaign to save the marsh, Jude Law’s manipulative hypocrisy as the dashing up-and-coming exec who leads that effort, his corporate icon girlfriend who rejects her stereotyping as a pretty face, etc. Lots of easy pablum for the libs, and even one moment near the end when the scruffy main character cops to having bought in to the whole thing too by agreeing to work with the company and its celebrity approach to greenwashing.

This won’t change anyone’s life, but it will piss off the fundy right if they happen to see it, and it might even stimulate some suburban kids to look a bit deeper at their own first responses to what’s “normal.” Philosophically, it’s a 16-year-old’s existentialism, which these days is probably rather better than you’ll get in U.S. movies, sad to say!

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One Response to “I Heart Culture War!”

  1. 1
    biklett:

    David O. Russell also did ‘Three Kings,’ a story about Americans looting in Iraq after the first Gulf war, among other things. Funny how I have never seen it played on any of my many cable channels since 2002, whereas every fairytale pro-war movie plays non-stop.

    I haven’t seen his other movies but he seems to have a talent for making two-layer movies- one layer is hollywoody, the other with plenty of subtle subversion.

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