Summary: Films must resonate with our hopes, fears, and visions to gain an audience . “Transformers: Age of Extinction” does this effectively, and terrifyingly. Film reviewers hated it with good reason, since it’s schlock. A ramshackle plot moved by stilted dialog. But the big opening box office proves that it mirrors things in our minds. Some things too disturbing to discuss, but can be seen in fiction. SPOILERS.
“What is too dangerous to say in words can be sung in music.”
— attributed to Pierre Beaumarchais, French playwright (1732 – 1799)
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” is a horror film. I refer not to the endless jumbled scenes of giant robots boxing and shooting one another, but to overall context of the film’s events. It shows us a world in some ways like our own, exaggerating aspects of America we prefer not to see. Michael Bay plays America’s court jester, saying for entertainment what serious people dare not mention.
The the battles in Chicago and Hong Kong created thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of civilian casualties. Dead and injured unremarked by the characters (who reacted afterwards as they would have to a great roller-coaster ride). No ambulances, no rows of corpses.
This mirrors our awareness that our lives mean nothing to our leaders. As we see in the daily news, from GM’s long history of massive recalls for safety defects — to Obama’s extending the Afghanistan War for 8 more years on the flimsiest of reasons (probably his real reason being to look tough and strong).
Also, there was no mention (or even hint) of investigations, arrests, or justice for the powerful billionaire and CIA agents responsible for the carnage. Especially by the Chinese government, who would want to know why these American-made robots fought against the Autobots — wrecking their city. Michael Bay understands the American worldview. Our actions lead to destruction overseas; we assume that we will not be held accountable for the death and destruction. We meant well!
Update: For a deeper analysis of this see Bluestocking’s comment here.
The US government’s treachery
The US government betrays our allies, the Autobots — who saved us in the first two movies — exterminating them for their metal and technology. This mirrors our history about things we strive to keep in the memory hole. Our treaties with Native America tribes. Our fake pretexts for wars over more than a century: with Spain in 1898, dozens of interventions in Latin America, to Iraq in 2003. Encouraging subject peoples to rebel, then allowing them to be slaughtered — from the revolt of Hungary (1956) to the revolt of the Kurds (1991).
Americans killing government agents
Hostility to government agents has grown during the past several generations. We have come a long way from the law enforcement heroes such as Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (The FBI, 1965 – 74) and Dragnet (1949-70). A massive increase in regulations. An almost unbelievable militarization of tactics and equipment (e.g., SWAT teams killing innocent people when serving warrants based on intel from criminal informants). And surveillance of a degree we used to associate with totalitarian secret police (e.g,, the Stasi).
On the other end of the stick are people encountering our security services (formerly known as “law enforcement”) at places like Ruby Ridge (unconstitutional kill on sight orders, followed by promotions and awards for the Federal agents), the Waco siege (military CS gas improperly used, killing children), and casual brutality at the Occupy protests (e.g., deploying pepper spray for political oppression).
Now begins the push-back. Armed resistance to the Bureau of Land Management by Cliven Bundy and his allies at his Nevada Ranch (see Wikipedia). Cop killing by members of the Sovereign Citizen movement.
Regular film-goers don’t go for that madness, of course. But American society has deteriorated so far so that audiences enjoy watching movies like “Captain America” and “Age of Extinction”, where employes of the government’s security services die like flies. In the 4th Transformers movie one of the heroic everymen kills two government agents with the tires of his car.
It’s a sign of regime decay. Advanced decay. Implied in the film by the flags shown flying in the background, ironic contrasts with the action in the foreground. We’re not ready to admit this yet. But truths too disturbing to know can be sung to us by Michael Bay on the big screen.
It’s a powerful movie …
if it motivates us to change. America is a nation of hope and change. What matters is not our past (most people’s have dark pasts), but our future and our fidelity to our ideals.
(1) The best review of a Transformer movie (as art), ever: “Michael Bay Finally Made An Art Movie“, Charlie Jane Anders, i09, 24 June 2009.
(2) The most insightful review of a Transformer’s movie: “Transformers 4 is a master class in economics“, Ezra Klein, VOX, 6 July 2014.
(3) A great analysis of the social implications, what it says about us: “Transformers 4 is the Greatest Film Ever Made About 21st Century America“, Locke Peterseim, 7 July 2014.
For More Information
(a) See the FM Reference page listing all posts …
(b) About films:
- Does the Tea Party movement remind you of the movie “Meet John Doe”? , 27 January 2010
- About the movie “Fight Club”, 28 March 2010
- Robocop is not a good role model for the youth of Detroit, 12 March 2011
- We want heroes, not leaders. When that changes it will become possible to reform America., 11 January 2013
- Loki helps us to see our true selves, 15 May 2013
- My movie recommendation for 2010: Vitual JFK (the book is also great), 30 June 2013
- Hollywood’s dream machine gives us the Leader we yearn for, 30 June 2013
- Rollerball shows us one aspect of America, and a possible future, 13 August 2013
- In “Network”, Howard Beale asks us to get mad and do something. He’s still waiting., 19 October 2013
- Are our film heroes leading us to the future, or signaling despair?, 28 October 2013
- “Ender’s Game” is a horror movie, showing us our dark side. No worries; we’ll forget faster than we eat the popcorn., 2 November 2013
Bad News, America. We’ll save to save the Republic. There are no heroes but ourselves