Oct 25, 2008

Alexander & W.

WARNING: this post (probably) has spoilers for both movies.

I'VE recently found myself borrowing a lot of movies from my local library. I always thought borrowing movies made much more sense than buying, but never had an easy, well-stocked, and convenient library system to use. But now I've just gotten the hang of taking out stuff from the local library system.

Anyway, a pattern has emerged. I've been taking out movies by directors who've released new movies recently. For example, after Burn After Reading came out, I took out and watched the Coen brothers' The Big Lebowsky. Will write about that later, maybe. Right now I want to talk about the titular movies.

When W. was released, it was just totally new to me because I haven't been following upcoming movie news from Hollywood. I just learn about new movies from Roger Ebert's reviews. So I thought that W. seemed like an interesting movie to watch. And as it turned out, I did get to watch it last weekend in the cinema. Definitely worth the ticket money.

Seemingly by chance, I'd watched Alexander recently as well--I'd seen it once already but just wanted to refresh my memory. Had forgotten that Stone had directed it, but after watching W. something just clicked and I found that he was behind both the movies. So now, with the context out of the way, I can explain what I found similar between the two movies and their title characters:

First off, obviously, they both focus on a single person on his journey through life and rise to power. If you put the two of them in parallel and look at it like that, it's a very startling similarity. I don't know to what extent Stone wanted to do that consciously, or just ended up doing it because it's his style, but the similarities are definitely there.

Both their fathers are leaders. Alexander's was Philip, king of Macedonia and obviously W.'s father is an ex-US president. They both have something to prove to their fathers--that they're worthy of leadership. Stone tries to show that neither can take criticism--Alexander blows up at his generals when they question his decisions to marry a foreign woman, to keep pushing on into India; and W. angrily crashes his car when Laura tries to critique one of his speeches.

Another thing I noticed, and I don't know how symbolic this is, is that both have armies of conquest in Asia. Alexander in ancient Persia, and W. pits the US into a war in modern-day Iraq and Afghanistan, not too far away. Their armies probably would have crossed each other's paths several times if they were in the same time period.

Ultimately, Alexander is both a tragic and triumphant figure in history--he brings a taste of civilisation and unity to half the known world, he wants to emulate Prometheus, who brought fire to mankind--but it all falls apart after his death. In W., President Bush and his inner circle are trying to bring democracy to the Middle East--they see themselves as lighting a fire of freedom that will spread throughout the region. So what if they really want to secure a continuous supply of oil? As Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) says of Alexander, 'no tyrant ever gave back so much'.

At the end of the movie, in a dream sequence, we see W. tilt back his head in expectation, trying to catch a baseball that's just been hit, the crowd going wild--but the ball never comes down, and the sky is pitch black. This tells me that we've yet to see the outcome of his tenure.

Of course, we have new information since the movie came out, and it doesn't look too good.

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