Eight Years Can Be a Long Time

November 15th, 2008 § 0 comments

W. is a difficult movie to get a hold on as it slides back and forth between fiction and reality, and realities that seem like fictions. Unlike JFK or Nixon, Stone’s latest political biography is strangely more biographical and less political than expected. The film comes across as an “oddly sympathetic” portrait of a sad man caught in a sad life that he is sadly still enacting. While it is clear than Stone, echoing a current 24% approval rating, is disgusted with Bush, he grossly underestimates the cunning, calculation, and sly tactics of our commander-in-chief.

bush sr & jr

The most frightening and problematic aspects of the film deal with time and timing. Though the conversations, motivations, and chain of events in the film are (somewhat) speculative, it is hard to separate actors in excellent “political drag” from the administration currently running our crumpling country. While we may have become resigned to what GW has already done, it is horrible to imagine while watching the film’s portrayal, what he is currently still doing. The questions of historical distance surrounding the film are awkward at best. Speculating on what else might happen between now and January of next year could drastically change how this man is perceived—an impeachment, perhaps? It is also too soon to contemplate the full consequences of what has been done, the administrations policies grasp on the future is too firm. If Stone wanted to call awareness to the man it seems he could have done it before the vast majority of the country was consumed by a buring desire to have him removed from office, and if he wants to offer us an insightful glimpse into GW’s deranged soul, it seems he should have waited. The film still has it merits, it is Stone after all, but it is uncharacteristically unpersuasive.

What I found most interesting about W, however, are the issues of time and timing. Towards the end of the film as it neared the present, I was stuck by how much this family and this president has defined American politics for almost an entire generation, mainly those of us born in the 1980’s. Age has a good deal to do with how history, especially recent history, is understood, and more importantly the manner in which it is understood. This difference splits into a distinction between an acute awareness and a vague awareness, the latter seeming, in some ways, more powerful than the former. The dates and events in the film seemed both familiar and surprising, and seeing the Bush presidency in reverse reminded me of where I was at the time and what I remember of these events; unlike in JFK and Nixon, this time I was alive.

Growing up without television and a public school education it is amazing that I remember Bush Senor and Barbara; when he took office in 1989 I was five. “Operation Desert Storm” is also an event I can recall (and in those specific words); it is associated with my father’s expiation of the conflict. GW took office in 2001, and I was sixteen. I thought about that as the film continued on. 9/11 happened shortly after, I learned about the World Trade Center, and two invasions followed that. Then there was the controversy over the Iraq war, my friends protested and were arrested in Chicago; I was eighteen or nineteen. The first election I voted in was the Bush re-election, we lost (Obama won the senate), and thus four more years; I was twenty. These details are important only because they accentuate the division between eight years of a countries history and eight years of personal history, and where the two merged together from sixteen to twenty-four.

For those who remember politics before the Bush white house, who were aware of the facts and all the events, the duration looks, feels, and remains different in significance—not more or less so, just different. The past eight years has constituted a grappling to comprehend what politics is and means in this country, how the system works and why. For a certain generation, then, for those of us in our 20’s, this film is not too soon but right on time. W. reminded me of hearing a bad but familiar song from the late 1990’s, it is nostalgic and horrible at the same time. The president is like a tune we have heard in the background of other, more life changing events, through all our teenage years. He might very well be known in the future as the worst president in American history, but he is the one who taught us American politics through bad rhetoric and stumbling world blunders. If we are overly optimistic now, I decided as Dylan’s With God on Our Side played and the credits rolled, we have a right to be.


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