Free Market

Films on Liberty and State

The Free Market

The Free Market 19, no. 2 (February 2001)


I have come up with a brief list of films I’ve happened upon that I think are of particular interest to the cause of liberty. I am not vouching for ideological purity in any of these films, but they do underscore the case against managed societies and economics. Also, I have selected films that are generally high quality. 

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946): Deals with American veterans returning from World War II. Akin to the many films that deal with the post-war trauma of the Vietnam War, this film stands out for dealing with World War II as a traumatic event for American soldiers and for its subtle power. A real classic of American filmmaking.

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 humor, 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. 

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!

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.

To Live (1994): Follows a common family from the 1940s in China through civil war, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. The film focuses on the resilience of family in the face of political madness. In Mandarin with English subtitles.

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.

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?” Lord Acton taught us that “power corrupts.” In these three masterpieces by Francis Ford Coppola, we have this lesson retaught 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?”

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.

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-Lewinsky), 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 and Dustin Hoffman.

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. 

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 World War II 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 and Russian with English subtitles. 

Harry’s War (1981): “Taxes are the lifeblood of this nation,” begins this comedy about a man who decides to declare war on the I.R.S., after an I.R.S. agent wages a twelve-year vendetta against an old lady. Harry’s protest finds him holed up in the old lady’s home, surrounded with tanks, his children hostages. . . . Where do they come up with such unbelievable stuff? 

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.


Stephen W. Carson is a software engineer and a graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis (


Carson, Stephen. “Films on Liberty and the State.” The Free Market 19, no. 2 (February 2001).

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