The contemporary film industry, like today’s journalism, seems to thrive on radicalism. Therefore it’s a treat when something different comes along.
Run—do not walk—to your neighbourhood cinema to see J Edgar and The Iron Lady.
Both films are semi-autobiographical: the first deals with J. Edgar Hoover, creator of the FBI and its director through eight U. S. presidencies; the second portrays Margaret Thatcher, the longest serving western Prime Minister in the 20th century. The common denominator of these two remarkable careers lies in single-minded dedication: Hoover’s passion to keep America safe from leftwing evils and Thatcher’s conviction that the United Kingdom could only retain greatness if individual freedom and national pride were made preeminent.
J. Edgar is directed by Clint Eastwood—who, remarkably, also wrote the music for the film. Eastwood is, by all odds, one of the very finest living film directors. Though not a Christian believer, he understands and appreciates classic Christian values: witness his role as a Christ-figure, sacrificing himself for others, in Gran Torino. Leonard DiCaprio’s portrayal of Hoover across the decades is solid—not just in the technical sense (makeup conveying the aging of the FBI director) but through impeccable characterization. The only downside lies in the script, where Hoover, who never married, can be read as having suffered from repressed homosexuality; but this interpretation is nowhere forced on the viewer and cannot be supported by historical documentation.
The film clearly shows how Hoover’s entire career was colored by his opposition to the Bolshevik, Marxist, and anarchist attempts to foment revolution in America in the early years of the 20th century. This eventually led to overzealousness in combating left-wing evils and a tendency to let the end justify the means (thus his conviction that Martin Luther King was a crypto-communist and his collecting of damaging evidence on the private lives of public figures). But the film makes very clear that on balance Hoover created a national vehicle for law and order (the FBI) which—whilst he often confused it with his own persona—was a magnificent and essential contribution to the strength of the nation and to the rule of law.
In Iron Lady, Meryl Streep’s offers a stunning portrayal of Thatcher: even the English accent and speech style of the Prime Minister are faultlessly represented. Thatcher, on the other side of the Atlantic from Hoover’s America, with a single-minded determination paralleling the FBI director’s, accomplished what the British establishment lacked the courage to achieve: she beat the labour unions (especially “Red” Ken Livingstone’s coal miners) that were destroying the British economy, and thereby ushered in a period of unprecedented free-market economic growth. As a patriot, Thatcher did not tolerate for a moment Argentina’s attempt to retake the Falkland Islands: she won a military victory against great odds and great opposition, recovering the Falklands for the Crown. One of the most interesting scenes in the film is her encounter with the American ambassador, who sees the war as silly—expensive and involving a small and distant island. Retorts Thatcher: “So why did you not let the Japanese take Hawaii, considering its distance from mainland America”? Thatcher’s character is especially underscored when her psychiatrist asks her, in the early stages of her crippling Alzheimer’s disease, how she is “feeling.” This elicits a tirade in which she identifies not with those who feel but with those who think—particularly when the thinking involves ideas of real importance.
What can one learn from these two films? Lives built on solid values, even if fallible and shortsighted in certain respects, can have immense positive impact. Would that Christian believers in our time might demonstrate such conviction, courage, and leadership.
By the way, if you are still not sure these films are worth seeing, you will certainly agree on learning that even those most difficult of all moviegoers, the French, are raving over them—as I discovered on seeing both films in Paris.
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This issue of the Global Journal features two technical but powerful articles. Prof. Dr Thomas Schirrmacher, one of the foremost living European evangelical theologians, treats “Violence against Abortion Clinics” in light of the philosophy of right-to-life as espoused by evangelicals and by conservative Roman Catholics. And Rick Brannan of Logos Bible Software offers a powerful argument for the eyewitness nature of Acts 18:19—a passage frequently held to be non-historical by the higher critics of the New Testament. Prepare thyself, O reader, for serious study!
John Warwick Montgomery