What's Really Worth Watching

"Butter" and 7 Other Films About Politics That Aren't About Politics

By Scott Ross
|  Monday, Oct 8, 2012  |  Updated 6:52 AM EDT
View Comments (
)
|
Email
|
Print

"Butter" stars Jennifer Garner, Ty Burrell, Olivia Wilde, Rob Corddry, and Hugh Jackman. In theaters Oct. 5.

"Butter" stars Ty Burrell as a 15-time butter-sculpting champion who is forced to stop competing, leaving the door open for his wife (Jennifer Garner) to make a run at the title. But her dreams are derailed when she is confronted by a young upstart.

If the plot sounds familiar, that's because the film was inspired by the 2008 Democrat primary race, in which then Sen. Hillary Clinton's bid for the White House was derailed by a little known senator from Chicago named Barack Obama.

The film is just the latest movie about politics that's not obviously about politics, a rich tradition that includes some classics. Here are seven of our favorites:

"The Wizard of Oz," L. Frank Baum's beloved children's story appears to in reality be an allegory about the gold standard, and the American people (represented by Dorothy) being led away from the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, which represents the U.S. dollar. This interpretation was first put forward in 1964 by Henry Littlefield, but in 1990 Hugh Rockoff of Rutgers University really nailed it (PDF).

"The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover," Peter Greenaway's 1989 masterpiece stars Helen Mirren as the wife of a gluttonous and sadistic gangster who falls for a bookish man she sees at a restaurant, where the chef enables their liaisons. Greenaway said at the time it was "Maybe the only political film I ever made … a kind of diatribe against Thatcherite Britain." It's been argued that the Cook is the Labour Party (Britain's center-left political party), the Thief represents then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, The Wife is the British people, the Lover is left-wing intellectualism.

During Sen. Joe McCarthy's Commie witch hunt known as the House Un-American Activities Committee, director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Budd Shulberg "named names." Three years later they collaborated to make "On the Waterfront," which sought to justify their decision to rat on their friends and colleagues. The film is as brilliant as it is self-serving. "High Noon," Gary Cooper's 1952 Western presents the flip side to the HUAC hearings, showing the too rare man with the courage to stand up to McCarthy and his goons.

Yes, "There Will Be Blood" is about the battle between God and Money for the Soul of Man, but Paul Thomas Anderson's 2007 film is also a response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, where an overwhelming force invaded an oil rich desert to extract its treasure at all costs. For a foreigner's very angry view on the Iraq War, check out "Howl's Moving Castle."

Writer-director Sam Peckinpah's special brand of violence was always in the service of some higher message, and in 1969's "The Wild Bunch" his target was Vietnam. The film's story of a band of thieves terrorizing Mexico evoked the war and the part it played in the loss of American innocence, society's growing passivity in the face of wrongdoing, and the cultural desensitization to violence. It's also one of the greatest Westerns of all time.

Get the latest headlines sent to your inbox!
View Comments (
)
|
Email
|
Print
Leave Comments
NBC4's Camp4Kids
NBC4 launched Camp4Kids in 1993,... Read more
Follow Us
Sign up to receive news and updates that matter to you.
Send Us Your Story Tips
Check Out