Hollywood’s 10 Most Controversial Political Allegories on Film

Articles | May 8th, 2007

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Many filmmakers have succeeded in lampooning the American or global political bureaucracies through satire, parody, and occasionally through a fat white guy telling you. But what you might not know is that some of film’s most beloved films were in fact intentionally made as serious political allegories, some challenging the ideological hegemony of the systems, others very subtly trying to break free from it. Along with the staff at ReadJunk, I have closely inspected the details of both the productions and the films themselves to decipher the real message hiding beneath the surface.

10. Saw (2004)
Conceived by many to be a straight-ahead puzzler/slasher film, this film is actually a complex look at Maoist China, with everyone’s favourite surprise killer Jigsaw as the representation of the Chairman himself. Director James Wan’s family was forced to flee Mao’s tyrannical rule, and he represents the torturous methods in which the leader would go to convince pedestrians of their lack of worth. In fact, Cary Elwes’ character’s situation is very similar to the punishment for stealing one’s bike – the criminals have the option of rotting away or cutting off their own leg, ensuring that they will never have the desire to ride again. Obviously some historians will point out that Mao didn’t just get away’ like Jigsaw did, but this is likely more connected to Mao’s early years, in which he changed the shape of China to come, eventually passing on his legacy to others (see Saw III).

9. Fight Club (1999)
Even after a single watch, viewers begin to realize that the idea of fight club, and its anarchic/post-Stalinistic measures of recruitment and national assault are remnants of Marxism blended into a post-modern pop culture pastiche. However, this is not the film’s ultimate goal. If you look closely at the financing of the film, you’ll see that the CIA put a significant amount of money to get it made. Real fight clubs began sprouting not long after the film’s release, and while some believes these were simply life imitating art, they were in fact recruitment fairs for the elusive agency. You see, at the time, many believe the CIA had gone soft, and wanted to create an underground operative not unlike the one in the film. Except instead of smashing the system, they were to be trained to protect it.

8. The Butterfly Effect (2004)
This is the film that the Bush administration doesn’t want you to see, and not just to avoid Ashton Kutcher’s torrid performance. Because it may well have been significant shifts in the time-space continuum that renegotiated the results of the 2000 presidential election. Rumour has it that the idea for this film originally stemmed from a Floridian man – a Republican – who claimed to be able to supernaturally revisit his past and change his own future. However, when the FBI got word of this, they convinced him to use his power to have him tamper with the Floridian ballots so that his brother could become the next president. Oops, did I say too much?

7. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
While the film displays a bizarre and in a way dystopic future, director Stanley Kubrick’s initial and most pressing goal was to display a need for Scientology. While not a member of the elusive religion himself, he was fascinated with founder L. Ron Hubbard’s theories and writings, and decided to imagine a future wherein Scientological thought was necessary for the progession of human life. The large black slab represents Dianetics, the groundwork text for the religion; it is what guides civilization through its progress. HAL 9000 is a symbol of drugs and vices, with its pill-like shape and oddly marijuana-high voice. Kubrick shows how Scientology shows that drugs are an unwise choice, as they will ultimately hurt you. Funnily enough, when Tom Cruise said it, everyone thought he was crazy. And yet they still think Kubrick is a genius.

6. Stand By Me (1986)
As one of the few adaptations of a non-horror Stephen King story, this film also stands as one of the clearest cut examples of Hollywood’s homosexual agenda. Besides the obvious message that it’s okay to go on a voyage of self-discovery with other boys in the middle of the woods, there are subtle signs that every character in this film is in fact gay, from Gordie’s dead brother John Cusack to local toughs Kiefer Sutherland. However, rather than using the commonly-cited closet’ metaphor, this film uses death as a representation of closeted homosexuality. Only in dying can Cusack come to terms with his true sexual nature; meanwhile Sutherland and the boys race to find the dead body, a surefire indication that they are using it as an illusion, a closet per se, to escape their own sexual realities. The gun used towards the end is an obvious phallic symbol indicating a desire to be with another man sexually. This film’s message is a well-known secret in the gay community, but remains relatively quiet on a broader scope; activists acknowledge the use of this film to teach acceptance to religious conservatives, most of whom fear death’ in the same way.

5. The Number 23 (2007)
Although both aesthetically and structurally this film seems to be a conventional thriller, it actually stems from a far greater worry. An unnamed concerned parents organization was very bothered by a sexual act that was being performed far too often by American youth. To figure out the connection between this act and the film, look no further than some simple arithmetic; if you multiply the film title’s number by 3, you’ll know the sexual position that had the organization worried. They hoped that by connecting the number and the sexual position with death, the kids might stop performing the act, and therefore wouldn’t get pregnant (it is unknown whether this organization actually knows what this sexual act actually entails). Even if the film seems to connect everything to the number 23, if you look at some of the more specific details, you’ll notice that there was other math that still needed to be done: the film opened on the 3rd Friday of February and ran for 3 weeks; students got a $3.00 discount; the film got no higher than 3 stars and was rated most frequently 3/10 at imdb.com. Coincidence? Or conspiracy?

4. Meet The Parents (2000)
It’s funny that this film was released one month before the 2000 presidential election, because its political connections were to become oddly relevant. The film is actually a remake of a 1992 American indie film that was co-written by a college friend of Laura Bush. Apparently, as Laura’s story goes, when she and young George W. were dating, his father met her with great disapproval. He put her through a series of ridiculous tests, which she kept failing, and subsequently making even worse. Eventually George Sr. conceded and the two got married, on one stipulation – that they never could live in the same house. George Sr. had a harried resentment for his daughter-in-law and he could never imagine sharing the same abode. Ironically, just a few months after this film, which was more than loosely based on clumsy Laura’s experiences with the Bushes, she would live in the very house her father-in-law had lived in just 8 years earlier. Oh, the hilarity! This directly inspired a short-lived sitcom called That’s My Bush,’ which failed solely from the lack of Ben Stiller.

3. The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
Initially considered by many to be pushing a conservative agenda by convincing viewers that it’s okay to wait until marriage before sex, the film actually has a very different undertone that carries through the movie. It yearns for a return of the freewheeling, liberal, and sexually promiscuous 1960s era; essentially the film suggests that it is tragic – and nearly criminal – that its subject has not had sex in his life. The film is a send-up of the sexually frigid and morally unexciting times in which we live; it is an indictment of what has become Bush’s America, one where a decent guy can’t even have sexual relations. The film suggests that times were much better in the late 1960s – no bras, lots of drugs, good music, and most of all, copious amounts of sex for everyone. If you need any further proof of this desire for an era past, just look at the film’s ending. Those really were the days.

2. Home Alone (1990)
A perfect example of easier said than done, the US government in the late 1980s was trying to eradicate youth homelessness, vagrancy, and runaways. With pressure from financial backers, teen film stalwart John Hughes was commissioned to write a script that countered all these issues. Instead, we got Home Alone. Somehow, in the writing process the story changed from a child deciding to run away only to find he can’t survive only to go back home to his family, to a story about a precocious child who gets left behind and manages to not just survive but defeat two robbers. Part of the problem with the latter’s approach was that it more or less mocked youths would didn’t have their own homes; sure, it’s pretty easy to survive in a palatial suburban house, but the same can’t be said for a cardboard box. The film ultimately convinced young middle class children that they don’t really need their parents, and many briefly took to the streets or attempted their own stay-at-home adventures. It wasn’t until Kindergarten Cop that order was properly restored.

1. The Sixth Sense (1999)
The message found in this film is simple: Big Brother is watching you. The film is able to fantastically convince millions of people that they’re being watched – don’t you get it, we’re the dead people – by placing a cute kid as the symbol for government surveillance. The fact that so many people are genuinely surprised by the twist ending suggests that they don’t realize at all the gravitas of the film’s real message: even those that realize that we’re being watched don’t have the power to do anything because they’re, well, already dead. Many people think that Bruce Willis’ moment of understanding brings him peace, but this is just the government working their power; Willis is one of the few freedom fighters left, and his battle has been lost. There was a significant amount of government funding put into this film to use it as a test – to see if people took issue with the cute young child who could spy on every citizen. Unfortunately, the audiences loved it, and the government has been tracking us ever since.