Articles of Interest

Films on Liberty and the State


I have come up with a list of some films I’ve happened upon that I think are of particular interest to Austrians and libertarians. In addition to having some libertarian angle, (and I, by no means, am vouching for ideological purity in any of these films), I also selected for films that are generally high quality (critically acclaimed).

Where available, I have put links to full reviews by my trusted film reviewer, James Berardinelli.

A Man For All Seasons | All Quiet on the Western Front | Amazing Grace | The Americanization of Emily | Bananas | Boom Town | Breaker Morant | Brazil | Burnt By the Sun | The Castle | Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy | Dr. Strangelove or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb | Doctor Zhivago | Election | Enemy of the State | Europa, Europa | Farewell My Concubine | The Godfather trilogy | Harry’s War | Hate | The Inner Circle | JFK | The Killing Fields | Lagaan - Once Upon a Time in India | L’America | To Live | The Man in the White Suit | The Man Who Would Be King | A Midnight Clear | Minority Report | The Mouse That Roared | No Man’s Land | Once Were Warriors | The Outlaw Josey Wales | The Promise | The Quiet American| Rabbit-Proof Fence | Serenity | Seven Days in May | Shenandoah | Snow Falling on Cedars | Sophie Scholl: The Final Days | Stalingrad | Star Wars | Sunshine | Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War | Tailor of Panama | The Third Man | Three Kings | Tucker: A Man and His Dream | Underground | V for Vendetta | Waco: The Rules of Engagement | Wag the Dog | War Letters: American Experience | The White Rose | Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl

A Man For All Seasons(1966)

This film is about Thomas More (1478-1535) who served the King of England loyally and honestly but was eventually executed for his silent opposition to Henry VIII’s self-aggrandizing moves against the Roman Catholic Church. What makes the film enjoyable to watch, despite the conclusion being well known, is the rigorous, witty character of Thomas More himself, a man of true integrity. An exchange that illustrates this well occurs when William Roper urges More, when he is chancellor, to arrest a man who is a threat to More but who has committed no crimes. When More refuses, Roper can’t believe it: “You’d give the devil benefit of law!” “Yes,” More replies, “What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the devil?” Roper: “Yes! I’d cut down every law in England to do that!” More: “Oh? And when the last law was down and the devil turned round on you where would you hide, the laws all being flat? ...Yes, I’d give the devil benefit of law for my own safety’s sake.”

In this masterful telling of the true story of one man who stood up to the State, merely by refusing to change his mind, there are numerous timely elements. The quick transformation by the English king of a former ally (in this case the Roman Catholic Church) into an enemy, with harsh punishment for any who do not adopt the new party line with sufficient speed. The denial of the right of Habeas Corpus so as to persecute someone who has not broken any laws. The abuse of religion to serve the purposes of the State. But the most disturbing aspect is well summarized in the words of Randolph Bourne, “The State is a jealous God and will brook no rivals.” More must be eliminated not because he is leading a rebellion against the State, indeed he does not even speak out against those things he disagrees with. It is merely his refusal to enthusiastically assent to the actions of the State that brings wrath down on him. A jealous God indeed. This film deservedly swept the 1967 oscars winning Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

This classic film is every bit as good as it’s reputation promises. Often censored in countries whooping it up for war, this is one of the great anti-war films of all time. At the beginning of the film, young German students are encouraged to volunteer in World War I by their professor: “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. Sweet and fitting it is to die for the fatherland.” The young students enlist as a class with visions of being admired in their new uniforms and returning as heroes. After several years of front line combat, few of the boys are left alive and uninjured. The central character Paul has a chance to hear his old professor giving the same lecture to a new batch of students. This times Paul has something to say: “It’s dirty and painful to die for your country. When it comes to dying for your country, it’s better not to die at all!” See Rick Gee’s review

Amazing Grace (2007)

What could be more opposed to the principle of self-ownership than slavery, an institution that is, very possibly, older than the state? And what, therefore, has been a greater victory in the modern age than the peaceful (outside of the U.S.) abolition of slavery? This movie tells the first crucial part of that inspiring tale: the abolition of the deadly slave trade led by William Wilberforce.

The story begins with Wilberforce wanting to leave politics for religious reasons. John Newton, a reformed slave trader (and the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace”), urges Wilberforce to remain in politics to fight for the abolition of the slave trade. Wilberforce and other abolitionists work feverishly to gather evidence against the slave trade so they can present a bill against it. When the bill goes up for a vote it is easily defeated. This disheartening failure leads them to realize that they are going to have to change public opinion first before political change will happen. Thus the battle of ideas begins.

Who are the enemies in the film? Of course there are the businessmen in the slave trade and the politicians in bed with them. But there is also a conservatism that stands by the unjust institution simply because it is old. There are even wrong-headed economic arguments, like that the prosperity of Britain is built on slavery, (as opposed to, say, the industrial revolution). But the enemy that looms over the whole long crusade is simply despair. It is hopelessness and the desire to give up that Wilberforce struggles with most when initial efforts fail.

As one would hope from the story of one of the greatest libertarian victories, strategic lessons abound:

  • The abolitionists are radical but patient.

  • Gradualism is not an aid to attaining abolition, it is deployed to slow it down.

  • The fundamental argument is a moral one, based on an appeal to natural law.

  • The abolitionists carefully document and publicize the violence and brutality of the system.

  • Public opinion can win even against massive entrenched interests.

  • War is a strategic obstacle to liberation and a support for entrenched interests.

The Americanization of Emily (1964)

Sometimes under the guise of comedy, art is at its most brutally honest. A case in point is this delightful anti-war classic starring Julie Andrews and James Garner as cynical WWII military man Charlie Madison who has rejected the “nobility” of war. In one of several stunning bits of dialogue, he calmly explains, “It’s not greed or ambition that makes war: it’s goodness. Wars are always fought for the best of reasons: for liberation or manifest destiny. Always against tyranny and always in the interest of humanity. So far this war, we’ve managed to butcher some ten million humans in the interest of humanity. Next war it seems we’ll have to destroy all of man in order to preserve his damn dignity.”

In addition to Charlie Madison’s penetrating comments on war, worth the film alone, there is also a hilarious send-up of the military high command. The film portrays them as more concerned about the women that Madison procures for them and inter-service jockeying than about the lives of the men they command. Despite, or because of, the brutal honesty this is a genuinely enjoyable film that confronts the issue of how to live free in a world of pointlessly fighting states. Unrated, but some risqué scenes. See Rick Gee’s review.

Bananas (1971)

Woody Allen’s hilarious second film, in addition to some inspired comedy gags (like Howard Cosell providing live commentary for a political assassination), shows a remarkably even-handed (neither left nor right) insight into political events. As Fielding Mellish (Allen) gets caught up in a left-wing revolution in a small Latin American country, he learns that the U.S. is supporting the brutal military dictatorship. But when the revolutionaries take over, Mellish’s naive trust in the left-wing leader is betrayed, “Soon we’ll hold free elections and let the people choose their own leaders. You can voluntarily step down...” The rebel leader responds, “These people are peasants. They are too ignorant to vote... I am the ruler of this country. There will be no elections until I decree it.”

The film cleverly satirizes U.S. intervention abroad in a way that is, unfortunately, still relevant. As U.S. troops fly to South America to take part in the events, one of them asks, “We fighting for or against the government?”. Another answers “C.I.A.’s not taking any chances this time. Some of us are for and some of us are going to be against them.” Rated PG-13 for brief nudity.

Boom Town (1940)

A marvelous and fun ode to entrepreneurship starring Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy as two wildcatters that take wild risks hunting for oil in 1918 Texas. Risk, capital and entrepreneurial insight are all portrayed wonderfully. The cherry on top is when competitors invoke the Sherman Antitrust Act to go after a company they can’t defeat fair and square in the marketplace (imagine that!)

The courtroom speech at the end includes an argument indicating how private owners of capital are motivated to wisely manage natural resources(!) and this wonderful tribute to entrepreneurs: “McMasters is a wildcatter. If it wasn’t for automobiles he’d be driving a covered wagon. It’s always been his breed that has opened up the country and made it what it is. So now, I’m wondering... Is it getting to be out of line in these Unites States for a man like him to make a million dollars with his brains and with his hands? Because if that’s true, then we’d better rewrite this land-of-opportunity stuff.” Did Hollywood really make this film? Wow!

Breaker Morant (1980)

“It’s a new kind of war, George. It’s a new war for a new century. I suppose this is the first time the enemy hasn’t been in uniform. They’re farmers. They’re people from small towns. They shoot at us from houses and from paddocks. Some of them are women, some of them are children and some of them are missionaries.”

In this movie, set in the Boer war of 1899-1902 in South Africa, the moral nightmare of the modern imperialist war is explored. The film deals with the trial of three Australian soldiers who are accused of killing enemy prisoners of war and a German missionary. The British Empire is concerned that the killing of the missionary, in particular, may draw the Germans into the war on the Boer side. So they would like to see these soldiers take the fall, and quick. The soldiers plead guilty with an explanation. Namely, they were acting under orders and, in fact, they were following standard procedure for this “gloves off” fight with an unorthodox enemy. “War changes men’s natures. The barbarities of war are seldom committed by abnormal men. The tragedy of war is that these horrors are committed by normal men in abnormal situations.”

Part of what makes this movie so fascinating, besides being well done by director Bruce Beresford, is the central character of gentleman/poet/rogue Harry “Breaker” Morant who is still considered somewhat of a hero by Australians. Morant was famed as a horseman and a “bush” poet (in the same league with Henry Lawson and “Banjo” Paterson, who wrote “Waltzing Matilda” and “The Man from Snowy River” [a ballad, then a song, and finally a movie]). But what makes this movie about something a hundred years ago so terribly relevant is the accurate portrayal of the atrocities and confusion that follow from an invasion force that, rather than defending its ownborders, is out among the farms and towns of foreigners who understandably resent their presence and in desperation fight not just as an army, but as a people. (For a libertarian pro-Boer, or at least anti-Empire, view of the Boer war see Joseph Stromberg’s excellent article.)

My favorite line in this film comes near the beginning. The head of the British army in South Africa is explaining to the eager, young prosecutor about the German interest in the Boers: “Needless to say, the Germans couldn’t give a damn about the Boers. It’s the diamonds and gold of South Africa they’re interested in.” “They lack our altruism, sir.” [Awkward pause] “Quite.”

Brazil (1985)

Master filmmaker, and former Monty Python animator, Terry Gilliam (Time Bandits, Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Fisher King) borrows liberally from 1984 and Brave New World to make this visually stunning dystopian film. There are definite moments of quirky humour, but make no mistake, the oppressive government in this film is portrayed in a suitably dark light, (you definitely don’t want to be called for a visit to “Information Retrieval”). Don’t miss Robert DeNiro as the heroic black market entrepreneur who keeps one step ahead of the government so that he can do good home repairs without all the bureaucracy. Rated R for language and implied torture. See also Robert Blumen’s 2-part review, 1 and 2.

Burnt By the Sun (1994)

A hero of the Bolshevik revolution finds his vacation interrupted by the visit of his young wife’s former lover. Unfortunately, it is 1936, the period of Stalin’s purges and the old boyfriend is in the NKVD, (later the KGB). Outstanding performances by the director as the lead character and by his real life six year old daughter.

I have somewhat mixed feelings about this film since we’re supposed to sympathize with a Communist butcher as some sort of innocent, but with a little imagination this film gives a useful depiction of the tragic destruction of family and social life by political terror. Won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In Russian with English subtitles. Rated R for brief nudity, sex and violence. See this review.

The Castle (1997)

“A man’s home is his castle,” goes the old English saying. In this film, a cheerful, lowbrow and rather eccentric Australian family finds their “castle” under attack from an expanding airport. But when the Kerrigan family receives a letter stating that their home will be “compulsorily acquired”, the optimistic father of the family, Darryl, decides to fight back. His lawyer explains to him the hopelessness of his resistance, “There is an ironclad agreement between federal, state and local governments and the Airports Commission.” His common sense response, “Well, where’s the agreement with Darryl Kerrigan, 3 Highview Crescent, Coolaroo?!” Further investigation reveals that the eviction comes from wealthy businessmen in cahoots with the government, “It’s a way of privatizing without privatizing”. When they offer Darryl ever more compensation, he replies, “I don’t wanna be compensated. You can’t buy what I’ve got.” The movie cleverly weaves in the point that interpersonal utility comparisons are invalid and comes out clearly for (old-style) justice over the newer utilitarian uses of the courts.

This is truly a movie about liberty. Though the conflict in the film is with a corporatist state, the film is a comedy and it’s central focus is this quirky but loving family and their castle that is more than a house...
It’s a home. A great, fun, Rothbardian film. Inexplicably Rated R for occasional profanity and nothing else objectionable. Read a review.

Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy (2002)

This six hour, 3 DVD documentary is well worth your time. Based on the book by Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw of the same title, The Commanding Heights takes on the daunting task of describing the worldwide intellectual and political shift away from central planning towards the market economy during the last quarter of the 20th century. Of special interest are the interviews with key political and intellectual players like Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, Bill Clinton, Milton Friedman and Hernando de Soto.

Part I: The Battle of Ideas “In the battle of ideas, the pendulum had swung from government to market, from Keynes to Hayek.” Probably the most exciting of the 3 discs for Austrians, this section deals with the intellectual shift by describing the rise and then fall of central planning as represented by Keynes and the ascendency of market-oriented ideas as represented by Austrian economist F. A. Hayek. There are a few nitpicks that can be made about the historical interpretation of the disc. There is a strange avoidance of reinterpreting the effects of earlier interventions (FDR, Keynes). Instead, the conventional, and wrong, historiogaphy of the 1930s and 1940s is presented, (e.g. FDR brought hope to the country with his alphabet soup agencies, WWII ended the Depression in the U.S.). Mises is presented briefly, unfortunately playing up the caricature of him as a stodgy intransigent. Nevertheless, there are many wonderful and interesting moments: interview footage of Hayek, the ceremony when the Civil Aeronautics Board was disbanded, complete with Taps being played and lots of helpful 20th century history for those of us too young to have lived through it, (the history of mathonomic planning in India is very interesting and was entirely new to me, especially Mahalanobis and his single mathematical formula that supposedly decribed the entire Indian economy).

Part II: The Agony of Reform This disc covers the political rejection of comprehensive central planning in one state after another: U.S., Britain, India, Chile, etc. Much focus is on Reagan and Thatcher as setting the tone of market reform for much of the rest of the world.

Part III: The New Rules of the Game The final disc covers the more recent government trade negotiations and protests (e.g. Seattle) by anti-globalization forces. Time is spent on market meltdowns in Russia and Southeast Asia as early market reforms are revealed to be flawed.

Dr. Strangelove or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb (1964)

“Gentleman, you can’t fight in here. This is the War Room.” Stanley Kubrick brilliantly realized that a subject as appalling and unimaginable as global thermonuclear war needed to be dealt with in the form of satire. With the help of Peter Sellers in three roles, (including the former Nazi nuclear scientist Dr. Strangelove), he made this satirical classic of nuclear gamesmanship. Top government and military leaders talk offhandedly of “modest and acceptable civilian casualties... no more than 10 to 20 million killed. Tops! Depending on the breaks”. When the President wonders how a nuclear confrontation could be occurring due to a paranoid defense program he had approved, the military leader in charge (George C. Scott) replies in typical bureaucratic fashion, “I don’t think it’s fair to condemn a whole program because of a single slipup, sir.” In the guise of a comedy, this film is a powerful meditation on the nonchalance with which our “leaders” are ready to sacrifice millions of lives in their games of global power politics. (By the way, on the left wing ridiculing of anti-fluoridationists which this film indulges in, see Rothbard’s essay “Fluoridation Revisited” in The Irrepressible Rothbard).

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

“The personal life is dead in Russia. History has killed it.” With these words, Commander Strelnikov sums up the effect of the Bolshevik Revolution on a generation of Russians. The movie, based on Boris Pasternak’s novel, follows the poet Doctor Zhivago as his personal life is taken from him, one piece at a time, by the violence of the great utopian experiment. Beginning, significantly, with the seduction and violation of a young woman named Lara, the film follows Lara and Zhivago until they meet and become involved in a passionate love affair. Both the book and the film were long banned in Russia, with the film only becoming available there in 1994! Directed in epic style by David Lean (Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia).

Election (1999)

This bleak, black (and very funny) comedy has many targets but, as the title suggests, democratic politics is a chief one. Our great electoral exercises are here lampooned by focussing on elections for that most meaningless of positions: high school student president. The earnest seriousness of the usual contestants and the nearly religious significance of the civic duty are eviscerated when Tammy (Jessica Campbell) runs on a lark. Her rousing speech to the student assembly would make the film worth it even if it wasn’t brilliant otherwise:

Who cares about this stupid election? We all know it doesn’t matter who gets elected president of Carver. Do you really think it’s gonna change anything around here, make one single person smarter or happier or nicer? The only person it does matter to is the one who gets elected. The same pathetic charade happens every year, and everyone makes the same pathetic promises just so they can put it on their transcripts to get into college.

So vote for me because I don’t even wanna go to college, and I don’t care. And as president, I won’t do anything. The only promise I will make is that, if elected, I will immediately dismantle the student government so that none of us will ever have to sit through one of these stupid assemblies again!

[Loud cheering]

Or don’t vote for me! Who cares?! Don’t vote at all!!

[Cheering] [Standing ovation]

Rated R for sexual themes & situations, profanity. See this review.

Enemy of the State (1998)

A delightfully paranoid warning about the power of government in a technological age set in an action thriller format. Will Smith plays the lead, a man who finds himself hunted by government agents for no reason that he can fathom. This film is a sort of follow-up to “The Conversation” by Francis Ford Coppola, a very different kind of film which is more of a psychological exploration. Gene Hackman plays the same character in each film, an expert on snooping technology whose paranoia isolates him from others. Rated R for profanity and things blowing up. See this review

Europa, Europa (1990)

This has to be seen to be believed. Based on the true story of a German Jewish boy (Solomon Perel) who at various times during WWII ended up in the Communist Youth League as well as the Hitler Youth(!). An intriguing on-the-ground perspective of our ideologically totalitarian age. In German & Russian with English subtitles. Rated R.

Farewell My Concubine (1993)

Much more overtly critical of Chinese Communists than “To Live”, this film covers the same time period but from the perspective of two male Peking opera stars. The growing pain and distrust in their friendship mirrors the shattering of Chinese society by the Communists.

In Mandarin with English subtitles. Rated R, probably for bizarre gender confusion in a love triangle. See this review.

The Godfather trilogy (1972, 1974, 1990)

“Do you know how naive you sound? ...Senators and presidents don’t have men killed.” Mafioso Michael Corleone responds, “Oh -- who’s being naive, Kay?” As we watch Kay slowly lose her naivete, the Godfather movies bring those who are willing to the recognition of the true nature of men in power. Underneath all the pomp and circumstance, all the glad-handing and talk of serving the people, the various gangsters in power over us ultimately always have “an offer that you can’t refuse.”

Lord Acton taught us that “Power corrupts”. In surveying mass murder by the state, Professor Rummel updated that to “Power kills”. In these three masterpieces by Francis Ford Coppola, we have this lesson re-taught for our times. If you thought these were just gangster films, you missed the point. As Michael Corleone says in the third film, “All my life I kept trying to go up in society. Where everything higher up was legal. But the higher I go, the crookeder it becomes. Where the hell does it end?”

All rated R for gory violence. Reviews of Godfather I. Godfather II, and Godfather III

Harry’s War (1981)

“Taxes are the lifeblood of this nation,” begins this comedy about a man who decides to declare war on the Unitest States tax collection agency, the I.R.S., after a 12 year personal vendetta of an I.R.S. agent against an old lady. Being a comedy, this man’s protest is responded to by holing him up in his home, surrounding it with tanks, declaring his children hostages... Where do they come up with such unbelievable stuff?

Laced with marvelous dialogue from government apologists, (”What do you think this country’s about?... It’s about taxes.”), as well as from our hero Harry, (”Hitler would have loved the I.R.S.”). Did Murray Rothbard do any script writing on the side?

Hate (1995)

Welcome to the international welfare culture. Starting in a government housing project in Paris, this black and white film follows three bored and angry youth around for twenty four hours. Said, Vinz and Hubert, who are Arab, Jewish and African French respectively, are able to unite together despite racial differences in their hatred of the life they feel trapped in. They are angry at the cops, the System or anyone they run across. They don’t know what precisely is wrong or who is to blame but they know they want to hit back and break free of it somehow.

Starkly and compellingly told, the film presents no answers but presents the questions urgently. This government housed and government funded culture dots the urban landscape of the developed world, marked by common elements that now transcend borders like graffiti and rap, (in fact much of the soundtrack for this French film consists of Americans rapping in English). The system has three messages for these young men: you are not useful, you are not responsible and you are a victim. It is not a system for humans. It must be stopped. In French with English subtitles. Rated R for violence and language. Read a review

The Inner Circle (1991)

A kind-hearted projectionist (Tom Hulce, “Amadeus”) in the Soviet Union finds himself with his dream job, projecting films for beloved Comrade Stalin. His love for Stalin knows no bounds, at one point saying of him, “He’s probably the kindest person in the world.” But when his lovely wife becomes involved with the lecherous head of the secret police, Beria, he begins to slowly awaken to the true nature of the regime he serves. A vivid and very personal account of life under Communism that brings out the immense “idealism” and idolatry that provided the necessary support for some of the worst crimes of human history. Based on a true story. Filmed entirely in the Soviet Union just before it fell. This is a truly outstanding film. Rated PG-13.

JFK (1991)

“Kings are killed. Politics is power, nothing more!” In this film on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, director Oliver Stone delivers a scorching critique of the war-making United States government. The mysterious informant, Mr. X, explains, “No war... No money. The organizing principle of any society, Mr. Garrison, is for war. The authority of the state over its people resides in its war powers.” Garrison later exclaims, “The war is the biggest business in America, worth $80 billion a year! [1966 dollars]”

The driving force of the film is a mystery... What really happened on November 22, 1963? As revealed in the director commentary on the film, Stone is not particularly attached to the theory the film puts forward about what happened that day. His main thrust is to make viewers dissatisfied with the official explanation. That he accomplishes with great skill. A torrent of details comes hard and fast in a movie that is extra long (206 minutes). Stone’s skill makes what could feel like an overlong lecture into a gripping mystery that makes time fly. The film is flawed by Stone’s naive view of Kennedy himself, but this can be easily overlooked since the bulk of the film takes aim at the political elite.

Jim Garrison, then D.A. of New Orleans, is the only one to have brought a case to trial related to the assassination. He is the compelling central character of the film. In an appearance on a talk show (it was actually on Johnny Carson’s show), Garrison describes a helpful thought experiment for those who are still naive about the nature of power politics, “... ask yourself, if we had learned on November 22, 1963 that the Russian Premier had been shot from a Moscow building by a lonely capitalist sympathizer who, himself, was then liquidated by a patriotic Muscovite within 48 hours while surrounded by armed police. I think it would be pretty apparent to anyone that a coup d’etat and a transfer of power had just taken place in the Soviet Union.” Rated R for language and brief nudity. See Murray Rothbard’s essay on the Establishment hysteria over this film, (they doth protest too much).

The Killing Fields (1984)

Educated in France with the best of socialist ideology, a group of Cambodian students decided that they understood what had gone wrong with previous socialist revolutions. Lenin, Stalin, Mao and others had been too faint-hearted in advancing the revolution. What was needed was to destroy the old order as swiftly and ruthlessly as possible so that the new socialist order could arise unimpeded. An opportunity for them was created when the conflict between communists and the U.S. government spread from neighboring Vietnam into Cambodia. Calling themselves the Khmer Rouge, they were able to seize power in the de-stabilized nation and put their Super-Revolution into effect.

This film tells that story through the perspective of New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston) and his Cambodian counterpart Dith Pran (Dr. Haing S Ngor). The early part of the film focusses on illegal U.S. bombing in Cambodia and Schanberg is the central figure. But soon after the Khmer Rouge take power, Schanberg has to flee and Dith Pran is left behind to experience life under the Khmer Rouge. It is through his eyes and the power of Haing S Ngor’s Academy Award winning and magisterial performance that the reality of the Khmer Rouge revolution is powerfully portrayed. Urban populations are immediately driven out of the cities (including sick from the hospitals) by the Communists to an agrarian existence supposedly free of corrupting Western influences. Intellectuals or anyone who can speak a foreign language are shot. War is declared on the traditional family and the children become leaders precisely because of their lack of experience, “We must honor the comrade children whose minds are not corrupted by the past.” A new world is declared in Cambodia, “ is the year zero and everything is to start anew”. (The French Revolutionaries also started the calendar over at zero).

Memorable images abound including the forced expulsion from the cities, the children Khmer Rouge soldiers (half of whom were under 15) and, of course, the killing fields. The Khmer Rouge did, in a way, accomplish more than all their forerunners. They hold the dubious distinction of killing more of their subject population (somewhere between a fourth and a third) and at a faster rate than any mass murderers in the 20th century. In Cambodian, French and English with subtitles. Rated R for violence, language and true horror.

Lagaan - Once Upon a Time in India (2001)

A musical about tax resistance?! Why not! Rothbard once wrote, “...I am notoriously hostile to films that are (a) slow, (b) dark and murky, (c) with long close-ups of suffering actors’ faces substituting for dialogue, and (d) in a foreign language. Indeed these four elements almost always go together.” This film is, I admit, in a foreign language. But it is neither slow, dark and murky nor lacking in witty dialogue. Perhaps this is because it is not a product of the pretentious and usually depressed European art house cinema, but of the entrepreneurial and vibrant Bollywood, the Indian film industry that is second only to Hollywood in size.

One of the pleasures of Bollywood films for fans of classic American film is that, like in that classic era, Bollywood still considers the musical film an acceptable, even preferred medium. So when it came time to tell the story of a village resisting taxes in the 19th century they produced a joyful and fun musical rather than a didactic screed. Poor villagers are made to pay a tax, the Lagaan, to the Raja which actually goes to the occupying British. When an argument breaks out among the villagers about whether they are being oppressed by the native Raja or the foreign occupiers, an insightful villager points out, “Whether we put it into the right hand or the left, it’s we who pay, Chief!” The hero of the tale asks the central question of the film: “I feel rage in my heart when I pay Lagaan to the Raja... And he gives it to those Whiteys with their dirty grasping hands... Who ploughs this earth to sow the seeds? We do. Who waters it? We do. Why should we fill their coffers with our produce?” Courtesy of an arrogant British officer, the villagers are faced with a challenge: Beat the British in cricket and pay no Lagaan for three years, lose and the entire province will pay triple. This is a joyful, beautifully photographed film that serves as a great, libertarian introduction to Bollywood. In Hindi and English with subtitles.

L’America (1994)

Two Italians go to Albania to set up a development scam and make off with Italian government funds. Once there, one of the men finds himself caught up in the tragedy and confusion of post-communist Albania. In Italian with English subtitles. See this review.

To Live (1994)

Follows a common family from the 1940s in China through civil war, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Focusses on the resilience of family in the face of political madness.In Mandarin with English subtitles. See this review.

The Man in the White Suit (1951)

In this hilarious film Alec Guinness plays Sidney Stratton, a brilliant scientist who is struggling to complete his research on a new kind of fabric that will not only be nearly indestructible but even repel dirt. He is booted out of one industrial lab after another each time his personal project is discovered until he finally gets the formal backing of a cloth manufacturer. His experiments are a success and filled with pride and joy about his invention that will benefit so many, he prepares to go to the press conference. That’s when a big business cartel and a labor union attack (”capital and labor are hand in hand in this”) fearing that Stratton’s invention will put them all out of work since people won’t need replacement clothes once they get clothes made from Stratton’s cloth. First the businessmen try to trick Stratton into signing a contract that will give them full control of his invention, but he asks “To suppress it?” and they respond “Yes”. When trickery doesn’t work the businessmen and labor union turn to violence.

The movie strangely leaves out any government role as the union and the cartel unabashedly use violence to put down their competitor. But only a little imagination is required to see this movie as a critique of real world big government/big business/big union fascism. This is a great and funny film about entrepreneurial innovation and the “vested interests, the dead hand of monopoly” who try to suppress it by force.

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

Ironically based on a famous short story by Imperialist Rudyard Kipling, this film is a clever parable of Empire. Instead of a massive state invading a smaller country, this invasion consists of only two men. Peachy Carnahan (Michael Caine) and Daniel Dravot (Sean Connery) are the charming rogues who are going to make something of their experience as soldiers for the British Empire in India. When they explain to Kipling (cast as a character in the film played by Christopher Plummer) their plan to take over Kafiristan, they do not pretend to be doing it for Kafiristan’s good. “It’s a place of warring tribes, which is to say, a land of opportunity for such as we, who know how to train men and lead them into battle.” Their plan is simple, “We’ll go there. We’ll say to any chief we can find, ‘Do you want to vanquish your foes?’ ‘Of course’ he’ll say, ‘go to it.’ We’ll fight for him, make him king, then we’ll subvert that king. We’ll seize his royal throne and loot the country 4 ways from Sunday.”

It goes pretty much according to plan, at first. But eventually the unpredictability of the people they are conning and, perhaps deadlier, themselves undoes them. Daniel Dravot begins to believe his own propaganda and see himself as a true benefactor. A more charming and enjoyable way to show the evil of empire is hard to imagine. Highly recommended. Rated PG for violence and brief nudity.

A Midnight Clear (1992)

“Peace on Earth. Good will to men.” The words of the Christmas Carol hang over this war film set during Christmas 1944 in the Ardennes Forest near the French-German border. Inspired by William Wharton’s
semi-autobiographical novel, the film tells the tale of a recon unit put together from the highest IQ soldiers. The small squad is led by Will Knott (Ethan Hawke) and contains Mother (Gary Sinise), who is starting to lose it after hearing that his baby died while he was at the front. The squad runs into a German unit that, they begin to realize, wants to surrender to them but is concerned to make their capture look real so their families won’t be imprisoned by the Nazis. (When called Nazis by the GIs, their vehement protest is translated, “He said they’re not Nazis. They’re just regular German army. They’re regular army like we are.”)

The mock battle goes tragically wrong and Knott is faced with a microcosm of the meaningless of war. This film is a melancholy, dream-like poetic film. The battle scenes are few and quick. There are numerous memorable images. Two soldiers standing frozen, locked in a macabre death dance in the snow. The soldiers singing the Christmas carol “Silent Night” together each in their respective languages. A grenade used as a Christmas tree ornament. With tremendous art, director Keith Gordon drives home his point: These soldiers have more in common with each other than with their officers and political leaders. So why are they killing each other? Rated R for language and violence. See this review

Minority Report (2002)

More and more the State makes crimes of actions that don’t cause any harm, but might. Drunk driving, an improper paperwork trail for a large transfer of money, violation of any of a multitude of gun purchasing regulations. The point is no longer merely to punish the wrongdoer, but to prevent the crime from happening in the first place. What is the logical culmination of this? Minority Report shows us in a movie based on a story by sci-fi author Philip K. Dick (who also inspired Bladerunner and Total Recall). In 2054, Washington D.C. has gone from being the murder capital of the nation to having no murders at all. This is due to the Department of Pre-Crime which, with the help of 3 “pre-cogs”, foresees murders before they occur and arrests the predicted murderer before he can actually do the deed.

The movie brilliantly explores issues of predestination and free will while demonstrating the injustice of a “justice” system that punishes not for actual crimes, but for ones that are yet to be committed... The ultimate “tradeoff” of liberty for security. A timely and masterfully executed collaboration between Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg, this is a parable for our time and an exciting movie to watch. See this review.

The Mouse That Roared (1959)

Peter Sellers stars in 3 different roles in this light comedy about foreign aid, the Cold War and nuclear brinkmanship. The tiniest country in the world has fallen on hard economic times and decides on a novel way of getting out of their fix. The Prime Minister’s proposal: “There isn’t a more profitable undertaking for any country than to declare war on the United States and to be defeated. No sooner is the enemy defeated than the Americans pour in food, machinery, clothing, technical aid and lots and lots of money for the relief of its former enemies... I move we declare war on the United States of America.” The leader of the loyal opposition responds, “As leader of the Party of the Common Man, I say war is reprehensible, barbaric, unforgivable and unthinkable! And I second the motion.” Unfortunately for their brilliant plan, they accidentally win the war. A fun film that lampoons the state while also showing its insanely destructive nature.

No Man’s Land (2001)

In the middle of the Serb-Bosnian conflict, the Bosnian Cera, wounded and trapped on a land-mine that will go off if he moves, finally tires of the bickering between the Serb and Bosnian trapped in the trench with him, “Who cares who started the war? We’re all in the same s**t now.” Cera’s situation, trapped where he will die from his wounds if he stays or die from the mine if he moves, becomes the central catch-22 of many in this darkly comic and bluntly realistic film.

Trapped in the no man’s land between enemy lines, the decisive heroic action that war is supposed to engender is nowhere to be seen. Every attempt to get out of the trap does nothing or makes things worse. When UN soldiers (or “smurfs” as the Bosnians and Serbians derisively refer to them because of their blue helmets) intervene with the best of intentions, it just brings in media involvement and everything gets more complicated without getting better. Nothing makes the ancient enmities disappear and nothing gets Cera out of no man’s land, the destructive limbo of war. This is a remarkable film for its ability to be poetic, darkly funny and grittily realistic all at the same time. Winner of a special jury prize at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. In Bosnian, French and English with subtitles. Rated R for profanity and violence. See this review.

Once Were Warriors (1995)

Made in the same year as Hate, (see review above), this film documents another section of the international welfare system. This one is in New Zealand and is “helping” the Maori, once a proud warrior tribal people. At the film’s beginning, Jake comes home to tell his wife that he’s been laid off, but that it’s alright... Going on the dole will bring in only 17 dollars less. Still, there’s plenty to keep Jake busy: drinking, bringing home friends from the bar for late night parties and brutally beating his wife when he’s drunk.

The tragedy plays itself out in different ways in the lives of their five children until Beth is forced to reconsider this new “culture” before it completely destroys her family. This is an extremely powerful film, with the portrayal of the alternately sweet and violent Jake particularly convincing and frightening. Here’s a mystery... How is it that the welfare system, sponsored by such sensitive, multi-cultural types, is so incredibly destructive of any traditional culture it comes in contact with? Rated R for violence, rape and language. Read a review

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

This classic western directed by and starring Clint Eastwood features a scathing portrayal of the state at war. Set at the end of the War Between the States, Josey Wales is a Missouri farmer minding his own business who decides to fight when Kansas raiders allied with the North kill his wife and his child and burn his house down. Refusing to surrender when his comrades do at the end of the war, he becomes a hunted man. As he journeys to Texas with Union soldiers on his trail, he begins to collect ragtag outcasts... Some of whom represent other victims of the Union government like his Indian friend.

The self-righteous crusading spirit of the Yankee so often described by Murray Rothbard is summed up in a single line of dialogue. “Fletcher: We get [kill] Josey Wales and it ends. Union officer: Doin’ right ain’t got no end.” The most amazing speech, though, occurs when Wales comes to a Comanche chief (Ten Bears) to make peace having had enough of fighting:

Josey: Governments don’t live together. People live together. Governments don’t give you a fair word or a fair fight. I’ve come here to give you either one. Or get either one from you... I’m saying that men can live together without butchering one another...

Ten Bears: It’s sad that governments are chiefed by the double-tongues.

A great film with a sharp interpretation of history and a timeless message about the state, society, war and peace. Contains brief nudity and lots of violence.

The Promise (1995)

Follows a romance split by the Berlin Wall from shortly after the Wall is put up to when the Wall comes down. Puts human faces on this bizarre episode of the 20th century. In German with English subtitles. Rated R for sexual situations, nudity and profanity. See this review.

The Quiet American (2002)

After several decades, Graham Greene’s novel about the early days (1952) of American involvement in Vietnam is finally given a proper film adaptation. The earlier film version made in 1958, whatever its virtues, had the ending changed to be Cold War friendly in stark contrast to Greene’s novel which was trenchantly critical of the American role. In this sad, moving film, which features at its center a typically flawed Greene protagonist, Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine), the “quiet American” Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser) is idealistic and full of grand visions about helping the Vietnamese people. In one conversation Pyle is going on about bringing liberty to the Vietnamese and Fowler interrupts him: “’Liberty’ is a very western word. How do you define it for the Vietnamese?” Pyle responds with typical gung-ho idealism,”By giving people the freedom to choose.” Fowler’s years of experience in Vietnam speak, “OK, you give them the freedom to choose, they vote, and they elect Ho Chi Minh... Things are more complicated then they seem.”

Eventually Fowler discovers that Pyle is CIA and is funding a “third force”, neither French nor communist, through which he hopes Vietnam will be saved. When his third force kills 30 civilians in a bombing in a square in Saigon so they can pin it on the communists Fowler confronts him about it. Pyle says “In a war you use the tools you’ve got” and when pressed about the atrocity defends it: “What happened in the square today makes me sick. But in the long run, I’m going to save lives.” A 1956 review of Greene’s book by John Lehman of the New Republic stated that Greene’s novel was “icily anti-American”. But we might wonder if it is “American” to intervene militarily across the globe and sponsor terrorist attacks on civilians in the name of a greater good. This film, telling a story still relevant 50 years after the novel was published, demonstrates that we are still wondering. Rated R for violence and sexual situations. See this review.

Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002)

If only there were more films like this! This top quality film highlights an evil of the State that actually occurred but at its center the film is about a courageous quest for liberty worthy of Tolkien. In 1931 Australia, it is the official policy of the government that all “half-caste” children (half Aborigine, half white) are to be taken from their families and raised by the State. When three young girls (aged 14, 10 and 8) are taken 1200 miles from their home, they escape and determine to make the epic journey back across desert and wilderness with no resources and with the minions of the State on their trail. The film is notable for the sincere good intentions of the Chief Protector of the Aborigine Populace, Mr. Neville (Kenneth Branagh) and the cleverness and bravery of the 14 year old that leads the escape, Molly (Everlyn Sampi). A libertarian aspect of Molly’s story (a true one) that most reviewers seem to have missed is that the breakdown between those who aid the girls and those who seek to recapture them is not a racial one. The Aboriginal tracker Moodoo (David Gulpilil) who works for the government tries just as hard to recapture the girls as the whites. Conversely, whites independent of the government are glad to help the children on their way. Mr. Neville’s chilling words sum up the view of the ruthless social engineer: “We face an uphill battle with these people - especially the Bush natives - who have to be protected against themselves. If they would only understand what we are trying to do for them.” See this review.

Serenity (2005)

“Half of history is hiding the truth.” This western in space portrays a well imagined future in which humans have scattered across hundreds of planets and moons. The Alliance rules a flourishing civilization which fought successfully to defeat the secession of outlying settlements on the wild frontier. Serenity is a ship with a crew of former independence fighters who now make their way smuggling and hitting the Alliance when they can. The film brings the crew face to face with the dark heart of the Alliance’s mission to bring enlightened civilization to all, whether they want it or not. Filled with well wrought characters and a wonderful sense of humor, this film insightfully portrays not only the empire but a doughty band of independent spirits who just want to be allowed to go their own way. Rated PG-13 for violence and sexual references. See this review.

Seven Days in May (1964)

Kirk Douglas plays Jiggs Casey, a Marine Colonel who is aide to General Scott (Burt Lancaster), head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Colonel Casey begins to suspect his superior officer of planning something sinister. General Scott, a popular political figure, has made it well known that he disagrees with the President’s attempt to negotiate nuclear disarmament with the Soviet Union. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Scott is planning a military coup against the president to prevent this disarmament. When Colonel Casey goes to the President with his suspicions, the tension mounts as there are only days to prevent the coup. Not only is this a great political thriller, but the film takes on the insanity of the National Review “nuke ‘em ‘til they glow” approach to the Cold War.

Shenandoah (1965)

This film starring Jimmy Stewart portrays a widower named Anderson at the time of the War between the States who refuses to join either side and just wants to be left alone. His crusty independence and anti-war attitude have made this film a libertarian favourite. As an exercise in nostalgia, Mr. Anderson’s rugged individualism is enjoyable. But don’t forget how impractical it is... What if Americans all started minding their own business like him? Imagine if all Americans, like Mr. Anderson, focussed primarily on raising virtuous, hard-working children and cultivating their own property instead of “accepting responsibility” as world leaders and getting involved in every two-bit border conflict on the globe and starving Iraqi children out. Here’s some favourite quotes from the film:

  • “Virginia needs all of her sons, Mr. Anderson.”
    “That might be so, Johnson. But these are my sons. They don’t belong to
    the state. We never asked anything of the state & never expected anything.”

  • “What’s confiscate mean, Pa?” “Steal.”

  • “Like all wars I suppose... The undertakers are winning it.”

Snow Falling on Cedars (1999)

Set as a courtroom drama in the years after WWII, the film’s emotional center is a past romance between a white boy of the town and a Japanese girl. Among many other things, deals effectively with the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. This is a visually stunning film. Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, sex. See this review.

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005)

On February 22, 1943, Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans Scholl, and their friend Christoph Probst were beheaded for treason by the Nazi regime. Sophie Scholl was 21. They had committed no violence but had secretly written and distributed pamphlets criticizing the regime. In court, Sophie said “Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.”

This film focuses on Sophie Scholl’s last five days beginning with her group’s last distribution of tracts during which her and her brother are caught and arrested. Five days later they are given a very brief trial, sentenced and executed the same day. There are a number of striking details for the libertarian that the film brings out. At several stages in the process she is berated for being unthankful to the regime that was providing her (socialist) university education. Evidently, there are strings attached to these state “services”. Notably, they are charged with breaking a law having to do with not “supporting the troops”.

The scene with Judge Roland Freisler, who was also the judge in the trial of the July 20 assassination plotters later on, is really remarkable. Any pretense of a legal system independent from the political rulers is completely gone in this reductio ad absurdum of state “justice”. Freisler rants and raves at the accused, cutting them off and insulting them. The DVD has a short clip of actual footage of Freisler in action as a bonus feature. If not for that clip, I wouldn’t have believed that any “judge” would behave in such a manner.

Finally, though Sophie acquits herself most remarkably before this maniac of a judge, her brother Hans gets in one telling line: “If you and Hitler weren’t afraid of our opinion, we wouldn’t be here.” Despite how small these isolated resistors seem in the face of the regime, Hans is right. The regime is in stark terror of public opinion turning against them.

But over and above all these details is Sophie Scholl herself: courageous, articulate, stubborn. Once it becomes clear that they are truly found out, she does not beg for mercy but instead speaks the truth again and again with inspiring boldness. She is a standing rebuke to those who would keep silent merely to further a career or curry favor with the establishment. In German with English subtitles. Also see The White Rose.

Stalingrad (1993)

There was a time when war was limited by the king’s purse. Soldiers were payed out of his private money and if he stopped paying they stopped fighting. As imperfect a barrier as it was, this served to keep war making somewhat constrained. With modern taxation and conscription though, the state became able to make war on a new and terrifying scale as demonstrated by the massive French revolutionary army under Napoleon. This development seemed to culminate in the trenches of World War I which saw casualties previously unimaginable. But there was worse to come.

World War II showed that there were still constraints to be left behind. The targeting of civilians through bombing and concentration camps, the subservience of all economy activity to the state and the ideological commitment to “unconditional surrender” led to the emergence of a new, in the modern era at least, kind of war: Total war. With the possible exception of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the combat operation that represents the horrifying pinnacle of total war is the battle of Stalingrad.

With each side spending human life like water, an estimated 1.7 to 2 million Axis and Soviet casualties were lost in this battle that lasted 199 days and destroyed an entire city. Though the battle is widely considered a turning point in the war, this film is entirely uninterested in this battle as a matter of military strategy. Instead the story is about the human cost.

Stalingrad wisely narrows its focus to 3 German soldiers heading to Stalingrad, two veteran grunts, Fritz and Rollo, and an officer, Hans, new to combat and full of patriotism. Upon arriving they realize that something is different in Stalingrad when they see a soldier beating a prisoner of war to death and the officers refusing to discipline the soldier. Things go downhill from there as they face the brutal street fighting that most characterized the battle and eventually the encirclement of an entire German army in the merciless Russian winter. The most dramatic transformation is that of Lieutenant Hans who changes not only due to the general hopelessness of the situation but in particular because of the shooting of civilians. De-humanization is a constant theme throughout the film.

In a rare scene of humanity a German unit calls for a truce with the Soviet unit in the building next to them so each side can retrieve wounded. While doing their grim work, a German soldier spies a Russian pocketing some bacon. He pulls out a piece of bread and holds it out to the Russian. They look at each other nervously and quickly make the exchange. A moment of human cooperation in the midst of destruction.

How bad can the state get? This film answers that question.

In German with English subtitles. Rated R for gruesome war violence. See this review.

Star Wars (1977, 1980, 1983, 1999, 2002, 2005)

The ambitious Star Wars films tell of the rise, fall into evil & ultimate redemption of Anakin Skywalker through his son Luke. Set against the decline of the Old Republic into an evil Galactic Empire and the rebellion against that Empire, this tale has profound relevance for our time. Here’s the top reasons why the Star Wars saga, in addition to being an epic action-packed adventure is a great pro-liberty tale:

  • The films claim to be pro-liberty! From the scrolling-off-into-the-distance intro text: “...restore freedom to the galaxy” (Episode IV), “a group of freedom fighters led by Luke Skywalker...” (Episode V), “the small band of rebels struggling to restore freedom to the galaxy” (Episode VI).

  • The theme of the Republic declining into an evil empire is an ancient libertarian theme going back to Cato’s resistance to the onset of empire in Rome. The portrayal of the bureaucratic/military empire vs. the “ragtag” people’s resistance is right on target.

  • “So this is how liberty dies - to thunderous applause.” (Padme)

  • “War does not make one great.” (Yoda)

  • “A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense. Never for attack.” (Yoda) How many other movies can you think of that have such a clear presentation of the libertarian doctrine on the use of force?

  • In the grand old Anglo-American tradition of continuing to provide goods even when the government stupidly gets in the way, we have the heroic smuggler Han Solo who specializes in outfoxing the Empire to do business. And don’t forget that Lando Calrissian is originally running a black market mining operation when he is introduced.

  • No conscription for these freedom fighters! When the valuable pilot Han Solo plans to leave the Rebellion his decision is respected: “He’s got to follow his own path, no one can choose it for him.” (Leia)

  • Empire, accurately, is portrayed as a mass murderer in the destruction of the peaceful planet of Alderan and everyone on it. As a symbol to represent this past century of the killer State, I propose the dreaded Death Star.

That two generations have grown up with these films teaching them to hate the “Empire” and it’s plans to “bring order to the galaxy” bodes well for our future.

See these reviews of Episode I, II, III, IV, V, and VI. Also, on, see Mark Thornton’s review of Episode I and II.

Sunshine (1999)

This film follows three generations of Hungarian Jews as they struggle through a 20th century filled with war and one bad government after another. In each generation Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List) plays the main male of the family. The family starts the century celebrating in 1900: “I predict this will be a century of love, justice & tolerance.” But soon World War I comes and tears apart the Austro-Hungarian empire that provided a relatively just, if imperfect, environment for the family’s progress. As the old aristocratic government is succeeded by national socialist and communist governments it becomes clear just how good the family had had it. After a few generations of this, the verdict is that “Politics has made a mess of our lives”.

Something that amazes me about this film is just how good the Austro-Hungarian empire looks by the end after various alternatives are tried, (I believe this was unintentional on the part of the filmmakers). A pair of contrasting scenes that bring this out are two hunting scenes. Early in the film the aristocrats are out hunting with their rifles, the scene is civilized and the men are temperate and self-controlled. By the time the commies are in charge, a hunt for wild boars is conducted with machine guns and the men are drunk as they shoot wildly. This epic three hour film holds you throughout it’s length and is an excellent document of the tragic 20th century, the century of the State. Rated R for violence, profanity and nudity. Review.

Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War (2004)

A film seriously dealing with conscription! The hinge of this film is when younger brother Jin-Seok, the pride and hope of his family, is unwillingly impressed into the South Korean army to fight the Korean War. His older brother, Jin-Tae, races to take him off the train taking him away. When a soldier tells him he is drafted too for his trouble, Jin-Tae sensibly responds “Then who’s going to look after my mother? You?” When Jin-Tae tries to leave with his younger brother, he is brutally beaten by several soldiers. The younger brother’s heart condition is laughed at. The violence inherent in the system is made abundantly manifest.

From there, the film only gets darker. Both North and South Korean soldiers commit atrocities until finally the brothers are unable to stop the murder of Jin-Tae’s fiancé by their own “side”. When the South Koreans also apparently kill Jin-Seok, Jin-Tae decides to fight for the North instead. But that doesn’t last either when his family is again threatened. Eventually, the logic of the brothers becomes clear. Family is for them, number one. Country and ideology literally mean nothing to them. They kill anyone who threatens their family. It would have been better for everyone if they had just been left alone. Rated R for language and horrifying violence.

Tailor of Panama (2001)

An excellent and hilarious critique of spies and U.S. imperialism. A British tailor (Goeffrey Rush of Shine) leading a quiet life in Panama is caught up in international intrigue when he is pressured into spying for a British spy (Pierce Brosnan). This spy is not your slick James Bond, but a depraved loser who will sacrifice anyone to advance his flagging career. The potrayal of the strategists at the Pentagon is both hilarious and dark as they ready to attack a country on the thinnest of evidence. Rated R for violence, profanity, sex and nudity. Read a review

The Third Man (1949)

“Nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don’t. Why should we? They talk about the people and the proletariat. I talk about the suckers and the mugs. It’s the same thing. They have their five year plans, and so have I.”

Orson Welles’ mysterious Harry Lime lurks over this classic film set in post-World War II Vienna. When Lime’s friend Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) arrives in the war wracked city, he enters immediately into the chaos of the war’s aftermath. Lime, who was to meet him, is dead. Martins’ investigation into the car accident that supposedly claimed his friend’s life turns up more questions than it answers. The deeper he digs, the darker and more dangerous his quest becomes. By the time he discovers that Lime is, in fact, still alive he already knows that his friend has spent innocent lives for his personal gain and he is deeply involved in a city that has been turned upside down by bombing and post-war occupation. The regulations and price controls are so endemic that essentially everyone is in the black market. In fact, the black market is the market. Though one so massively hampered that the people are reduced mostly to barter.

The libertarian virtue of this film is the unmasking of the State and its wars. Harry Lime, as a heart-rending visit with his victims shows, is evil for the way he uses people and spends lives for his own gain. But he is only doing what the State does on a smaller scale. At the top of a ferris wheel, with the perspective of a bomber he says to Martins, “Look down there. Would you feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you 20,000 pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep the money? Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spend?”

Lime’s perspective is the lofty, heartless perspective of the State at war. Like the State and its apologists, he sees nobility only in conflict and makes fun of peaceful bourgeois accomplishments, “In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed. But they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love. They had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock.”

We can see that Harry Lime’s actions are evil, why are the same actions taken by the State so much harder to see for what they are?

Three Kings (1999)

Since World War II ended, the United States has bombed about 25 different countries. Number 19 was Iraq. Three Kings follows several U.S. soldiers as they separate from their Gulf War units on a cynical quest of greed into the heart of Iraq. Their motivations come to mirror the cynical motivations of the war itself. After getting a profound exposure to the deadly realities of what had originally seemed like an overseas adventure, the soldiers must make a choice between the gold that they sought and the Iraqi people that they have come to feel compassion for. A great anti-war film. Rated R for profanity, violence and gore. See this review.

Tucker: A Man and His Dream (1988)

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and produced by George Lucas, this is a love letter from these two great film entrepeneurs to the American entrepeneur. Preston Tucker was an actual inventor who designed a car in the 1940s to challenge the big three automakers. This film dramatizes his struggle to bring his product to market and the political/big business combination that puts a stop to his efforts. Many of his innovations werelater (much later) adopted by the big three automakers. At his trial, Tucker summarizes the terrible change in the U.S.: “We invented the free enterprise system where anybody, no matter who he was, where he came from, what class he belonged to, if he came up with a better idea, about anything, there’s no limit to how far he could go. I grew up a generation too late, I guess, because now the way the system works, the crackpot who comes up with some crazy idea that everybody laughs at, that later turns out to revolutionize the world, he’s squashed from above.” Though Tucker’s efforts were frustrated, the accent in the film is not on the tragedy but on the joy and genius of the innovative entrepeneur. Coppola tried to match Tucker’s spirit with fun and inventive film techniques. It hard to imagine the Austrian emphasis on the heroic entrepeneur being better represented in film.

Underground (1995)

“No war is a war until a brother kills his brother.” (Marko) This absurdist, black satire by Emir Kusturica follows three friends in Yugoslavia from the takeover by the National Socialists, through the Communist period under Tito and into the civil war which tore Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s. Marko and Blacky are two criminals who join the Communists, but they’re likable rogues. Blacky, for example, is usually followed around in the film by a gypsy brass band playing rousing, sometimes frenetic music. At one point, he shines his shoes with a squalling black cat. But they both are crazy about Natalija, a beautiful and famous actress. As their resistance to the Nazi-Sozis becomes more dangerous, they move underground with many others to produce weapons for the partisans in secret. Marko acts as the above ground liaison, but to have Natalija for himself he treacherously does not tell Blacky when the war ends. He continues to fool the underground crew into grinding out weapons, while he lives off the profits and becomes a socialist hero and friend to Tito. He keeps them there for 15 years. As they live trapped in a time warp singing absurdly patriotic songs about Tito, they become an allegory for Yugoslavia under Communism.

The film ends with Yugoslavia once again torn apart by war, this time with U.N. troops in the middle of it all. An East European correspondent reports that the distinctive gypsy music from this film was played while the Bulgarian people protested rule by the Socialist Party in the winter of 1996/1997, resulting in an election which tossed the socialists out. This is a wild, darkly humorous and artistically accomplished film that is an important document of the terrible experience of East Europe under the Total State and its wars. Winner of the 1995 Cannes Palme D’Or. In Serbo-Croatian & some German with English subtitles.

V for Vendetta (2006)

“People shouldn’t fear their governments. Governments should fear their people.” With this arresting tagline, V for Vendetta announces its two intertwined themes: Governments and the people that fear them. Based on an explicitly anarchist comic book by Alan Moore, the film is somewhat less explicit about its anarchism but entirely clear on the theme of freedom and what it requires. It is fear that keeps the people cowering before their tyrannical government. The masked “V” of the film gets people’s attention through spectacular, violent pranks that teach them to distrust and ridicule the government. This film is truly interesting and challenging, with enough ideas to keep people discussing the film for years to come. Rated R for violence. See this review.

Waco: The Rules of Engagement (1997)

This documentary covers the events of February 28-April 19, 1993 at Waco, Texas that resulted in a total of eighty-six deaths. Called the Waco Siege or Waco Massacre, it is an amazing illustration of the principle that every command and regulation of the state is backed up by deadly force.

In this case, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms initiated the raid due to suspicion that the people there were guilty of violating firearm regulations, (they ran a business buying and selling firearms). Ultimately, eighty-two people were killed including more than 20 children and two pregnant women, as a consequence of what was initially the enforcement of a business regulation. These people were not convicted of any crimes, but merely suspected of violating a government regulation. They were not accused of killing anyone or stealing from anyone. They had even expressed willingness to have the ATF inspect their inventory.

There is so much to be said about the horrifying events documented here. I would only add that here we see a dramatic example of the militarization of domestic law enforcement... A trend that has only become more intense since 1993.

No rating, but be warned that there are some graphic, horrifying images.

Wag the Dog (1997)

Hilarious satire of Washington manipulation. The president needs a war to distract from an embarrassing incident with a young girl, (amazingly, made pre-Lewinski I believe), so with the help of a Hollywood producer a war with Albania is staged. If only Washington’s distraction wars were simply theatrical! Stars Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman. Rated R for profanity. See this review.

War Letters: American Experience (2002)
June 4, 1918, “...Ever since I’ve volunteered, I’ve felt like a cog in a huge wheel. A cog may get smashed up, but the machine goes on.” This hour long documentary simply consists of the reading of letters written by U.S. soldiers over appropriate war footage. The letters are culled from “War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars” edited by Andrew Carroll. The dates of the letters range from the American Revolution to the 1991 Gulf War. I found this short, simple documentary to be one of the most powerful and moving films I have experienced... Nearly unbearable. I almost didn’t make it through the hour. Some letters are followed by a subtitle explaining that the writer was killed in the next few days after the letter was written. One letter from the Vietnam era notes that the government was lying about the number of casualties. But what makes this war documentary so powerful is that it simply ignores the great justifications and majestic sweep of usual war histories, instead focussing on the experience and fate of individuals. Most difficult is to be reminded of how many American soldiers died needlessly, fighting on the other side of the world in foreign wars.

The White Rose (1983)

Tells the true story of some German youth that revolt against Hitler by printing subversive leaflets and pay the ultimate price for their courage. Somewhat downplays the Christian faith that was actually central to their decisions, but otherwise quite well done.In German with English subtitles.

Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl (1998)

The destruction of the Cultural Revolution in China is portrayed through the corruption and debasement of a young girl sent off from the city to discover a worker’s life in a remote rural area. She finds herself stuck with a largely silent, but complex, Chinese master horse herder who watches helplessly as circumstances crush his young charge. Absolutely devastating. Directed by Joan Chen, known to some through her pivotal role in “Twin Peaks” as well as The Last Emporer. In Mandarin with English Subtitles. No official rating, but sex, nudity and gore. See this review.

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