By Govindini Murty. This past Memorial Day weekend we all paid homage to the brave men and women who have fought to defend America and Western democracy. As I reflected on their sacrifice this past weekend, I thought that while our troops continue to make every effort to physically protect America and Western civilization – there is no-one out there making a comparable effort to protect our cultural and artistic traditions from their anti-Western attackers.
For example, in the past two months alone we have had two major Hollywood movies – Robin Hood, directed by Ridley Scott, and the remake of Clash of the Titans – that have brazenly sought to undermine two beloved Western mythic figures who represent freedom, heroism, and individuality: Robin Hood and Perseus. To understand how deplorable this is in the midst of a War on Terror, in which Western civilization itself is under attack, one need only compare the remakes of Robin Hood and Clash of the Titans to their originals. Both the original Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and the original Clash of the Titans (1981) affirmed Western freedom and democratic values against the backdrop of totalitarian menace – the original Robin Hood against the growing threat of the Nazi menace in Europe, and Clash of the Titans in the dark years of the Cold War against the Soviet Communist menace.
Michael Curtiz’s The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) – starring the dashing Errol Flynn and the lovely Olivia de Havilland – is a colorful, joyous version of the Robin Hood myth that is also a stirring paean for freedom and democracy. England and America may not yet have been at war with Nazi Germany, but the threat of fascism was growing on the European continent, and Warner Brothers – perhaps the most socially and politically prescient of the Hollywood studios – felt this threat and made films to challenge it. Looked at today against the backdrop of European fascism of the ’30s, it is easy to see how Robin Hood and his Merry Men represented the freedom-loving British people, while Prince John represented the Nazi and Fascist dictators who operated outside the law to enslave democratic nations. When Errol Flynn as Robin Hood gives his rousing speech to the English people urging them to stand up and fight for freedom, it takes on a special poignance when one considers that a year later England would be at war with the Nazis and facing invasion of their homeland.
Moving forward several decades, the 1980s featured some extraordinary films that celebrated Western freedom and individuality in the dark days of the Cold War. 1981, the year Clash of the Titans was released, was just two years after the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan and Iran had fallen to a radical Islamic theocracy. The Western economies were still mired in inflation and malaise from the leftist mismanagement of the ’70s, and even though Ronald Reagan had just been elected the American president in 1980, no-one knew what a spectacular success Reagan would be in standing up to the Soviet threat. The Soviets seemed as strong as ever, and the Western media daily claimed that the West was doomed to nuclear war with Communist Russia if it didn’t unilaterally disarm. Indeed, all seemed gloomy, but in the popular culture – in a sort of intuitive artistic response – George Lucas was making his spectacular, optimistic Star Wars films (which were widely understood to be an allegory for America’s struggle against the Soviet Union) and Ray Harryhausen made his magical and inspiring Clash of the Titans.
Clash of the Titans tells the story of the Greek hero Perseus, one of the most important mytho-poetic figures in the entire Western tradition. Perseus represents the rational, heroic Western individual who defeats the forces of irrational, chthonian evil – as represented by Medusa and the Kraken sea monster – in order to rescue the beautiful Princess Andromeda, the embodiment of love, marriage, and civilized domesticity. In Greek mythology, Perseus is the first of the great Greek heroes, and through his marriage to Princess Andromeda, his descendants would include many of the most notable heroes and warriors of the Greek tradition – from Hercules to Agamemnon. Perfectly played by Harry Hamlin, Perseus has all the qualities of heroism, handsomeness, and intelligence that one could hope for in a hero. [Jason and I saw Harry Hamlin speak in person at a screening of Clash of the Titans some years ago at the Egyptian Theater in L.A., and we were both struck by how articulate he was in discussing the mythic and literary themes of the film.] Clash of the Titans also features an extraordinary array of female characters – from the beautiful and intelligent Princess Andromeda, played by Judi Bowker, to the vain and proud Queen Cassiopeia, played by British theater legend Sian Philipps, to the Goddesses Thetis, Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena played by such talented actresses as Maggie Smith, Claire Bloom, Ursula Andress, and Susan Fleetwood. And who can forget Laurence Olivier as the most authoritative, witty, and wiley Zeus ever?
And of course, the original Clash of the Titans featured the extraordinary animation of Ray Harryhausen. (And Ray is every bit as charming and fascinating in person as his creations are on screen.) Harryhausen’s imaginative stop-motion animation of the mythological monsters and divine creatures in Clash of the Titans – Medusa, the Kraken, Pegasus, Bubo, Calibos, Charon, Cerberus, et al – gives the film an uncanny, dream-like quality that no computer effects can match today. There is something about the tactile physicality of Harryhausen’s creations – and the strange, intuitive intelligence he imbues them with – that lends a considerable portion of the charm to Clash of the Titans. Harryhausen’s creations are unreal and yet real at the same time, and thus they act as the bridge between our waking lives and our dreams.
Ray Harryhausen intended Clash of the Titans to be the crowning statement of his career. It is also one of the better articulations in cinema of the bravery, individuality, beauty, and freedom that lie at the heart of the Western tradition.
Now in the midst of the War on Terror, Hollywood seems bent on reversing these pro-Western, pro-freedom messages. In the new Robin Hood (2010) directed by Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe as Robin Hood and Cate Blanchett as Marion (no longer a maid), all magic and romance is removed from the film and replaced with a thudding, literal-minded revisionism. King Richard the Lionheart is not the figure of purity and nobility as in the original Adventures of Robin Hood, but is a drunken, bloated wreck who is guilt-ridden over killing Muslims in the Holy Land. And Robin Hood is not the dashing, puckish, green man of the wood who leaps over parapets and climbs castle walls to woo lovely ladies – but is a dour archer who lectures King Richard in front of his entire army about killing innocent Muslim women and children in the Holy Land. In a completely nauseating scene from Scott’s film, Robin stands up to King Richard and describes how as he and the English army killed over 1300 Muslim women and children, a Muslim woman had looked up at him pityingly – for she knew “That from that moment on, we were godless.” (As an aside: one wonders why Western liberals like Ridley Scott who so consistently deride Christianity and belief in God are nonetheless so eager to affirm Muslim religiosity.) Also in this new Robin Hood, Robin is not really Sir Robin of Loxely, but is instead a lowly army deserter who steals the armor and identity of the real Robin of Loxely (how post-modern!) in order to impersonate him in England – so he can avoid capture by the king’s army.
If that isn’t enough, in a bizarre addition to the plot, Robin Hood is now not simply a hero who stands up for British freedom, but is also a social legislator responsible for promoting the Magna Carta! Apparently this new Robin Hood had a father who was killed when Robin Hood was a child (because every liberal hero must have a childhood trauma – preferably revealed in desaturated, slow-motion flashbacks), who had drafted a British bill of rights that would become the Magna Carta. It’s as if Ridley Scott doesn’t believe the basic myth of Robin Hood is sufficient to entertain audiences – Robin must also be a proponent of socially conscious legislation as well. (Robin Hood as Nancy Pelosi.) The left always complains about Christians being literal-minded and taking the Bible as actual history – but here a leftist director does the exact same thing by taking the myth of Robin Hood and turning it into literal, political history. By making it literal, Ridley Scott drains the Robin Hood myth of all symbolic resonance and imaginative power. The remake of Robin Hood thus undermines the traditional story of Robin Hood and turns it into sour, charmless, political propaganda.
The same process of undermining and revisionism is carried out in the remake of Clash of the Titans (2010) released this past April. Whereas in the original Clash of the Titans the hero Perseus respects the gods and accepts their help when he embarks on his quest to capture the head of Medusa and save Andromeda, in the remake Perseus (played by the blank, bland Sam Worthington) hates the gods and rejects their gifts. Also in the remake the gods are almost completely unconcerned with humanity, and Zeus has even forgotten that he has a son named Perseus! All the warm concern for humanity shown by Laurence Olivier’s Zeus in the original Clash of the Titans, all the efforts of the gods and goddesses to arm Perseus with magic gifts to help him in his heroic stand-off with Medusa (magic gifts that are in themselves symbols for all the good things the gods give humanity), are almost completely removed in the remake. In the remake, Perseus and the other mortals repeatedly state how much they hate the gods, and Perseus (who doesn’t even look Greek and sports an anachronistic crewcut) contemptuously rejects Zeus’ gifts and treats Zeus with insolence when the god comes down from heaven to speak with him.
The remake of Clash of the Titans further undermines the myth of Perseus by eliminating his romance with Andromeda and cutting down her role to a mere cameo. Andromeda’s chief significance now in the remake is that she wanders around Argos feeding scraps of bread to the poor. [This is ostensibly to show that Andromeda has a social conscience, which is all the filmmakers leave her with after cutting her role down to nothing.] Worse yet, all the female goddesses who play such important roles in the original Clash of the Titans – Thetis, Hera, Athena, Aphrodite – are removed entirely from the remake. The only divine figures who get to speak now in the new Clash of the Titans are male gods – Zeus, Hades, and Apollo. In addition, the important mother figures of Danae and Queen Cassiopeia are killed off early in the remake (they’re not killed at all in the original). This elimination or ‘downsizing’ of seven important female characters is supposed to be made up for by the inclusion of one new female character, an immortal being named Io. However, since Io is basically depicted as an action figure who is “just one of the boys,” she does not make up for the loss of the symbolically rich female figures from the original. Further, by removing the romance between Perseus and Andromeda, the remake of Clash of the Titans also eliminates (by way of extension) all the related stories of Perseus and Andromeda’s many famous descendants. Thus the myth of Perseus is denuded of all complexity and meaning and is literally rendered sterile – for Sam Worthington’s Perseus is a bland, sexless creature more interested in violence than women, and thus can hardly be imagined to have descendants at all. What a telling metaphor for modern Hollywood’s sterile cinematic efforts.
But worst of all, in the midst of a War on Terror against a barbaric, non-Western, irrational enemy, the remake of Clash of the Titans features a band of heroic Islamic suicide bombers as the friends and saviors of Perseus! Yes, that’s right: in the remake of Clash of the Titans, Perseus refuses the help of Zeus and all the Greek gods – but he does accept the help of a group of mystical, half-dead Islamic figures known as the Djinn. (Not only that, but the film also takes ugly potshots at Hindus by depicting a thinly-disguised Hindu priest as a fanatical, murderous zealot in Argos; no doubt this is because India is America’s ally in the War on Terror, and so now Hindus – who form the majority religion of India and who are also victims of Islamic terrorism – have to be defamed as well.) For example, when Perseus is attacked by a giant scorpion in the middle of the desert and infected with deadly venom, he angrily refuses the help of the Greek gods – but lets the Islamic Djinn cure him with a mystic blue flame.
Later, when Perseus is facing off against Medusa in Hades, it is the leader of the Djinn – a figure named Shiekh Sulieman – who heroically blows himself up in order to distract Medusa and allow Perseus to kill her. To make this absolutely clear that Shiekh Sulieman is, indeed, a suicide bomber, the camera focusses on the Djinn’s midsection as a mystic blue flame explodes outward from his abdomen (like a bomb belt), blowing him up. This suicide bombing is depicted as the crucial act that allows Perseus to capture the head of Medusa, save Andromeda, and defeat the Kraken. Thus, one of the pivotal symbolic acts of Western mythology is credited to the help of an Islamic suicide bomber. It should be noted here that the Djinn’s blue flame that heals is also the blue flame that kills – a creepy conflation of life and death that is straight out of the symbolism of the German Romantic-Decadent movement and its barbaric progeny, the Nazis. One of the primal myths of Western heroism and individuality is now turned into a disgusting apologia for suicide bombing, terrorism, and totalitarianism.
Our brave troops past and present have defended our country and our liberty, and for this we honored them this past Memorial Day. Now who will make good their sacrifice and defend our Western cultural traditions from Hollywood’s suicidal, anti-Western assault?