Sunday, May 20, 2012

In God We Trust, All Others We Track: Battleship & the US-Japanese Fight Against Socialism

Once again, not everyone will be saying that director Peter Berg's action thriller Battleship is "a direct hit" because of the obvious pro-America and pro-capitalist message of the film: calling upon the deep, buried history of cinema, Battleship reminds us of where we have been so we know why we are going where we are (and it's not in the direction of socialism).
When we first meet Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), it's his 26th birthday and he's celebrating with his brother Commander Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard) of the Navy. Alex has long hair, no job, no money, no running vehicle and doesn't seem to care; his brother obviously has far more sense of responsibility, being an officer in the Navy, and, presenting a cupcake to his brother and lighting the candle for his birthday wish, tells Alex that he wishes him "Success, growth and happiness" because "Adversity is the state in which man can best come to know himself." At this moment, Sam (Brooklyn Decker) walks into the bar, wanting a chicken burrito but the "kitchen" is closed. Alex blows out the candle on his birthday cupcake, making his birthday wish on her. He ends up breaking into a convenience store to get her the chicken burrito, being tasered by police and arrested. Stone, disgusted with Alex's dissolute lifestyle, forces his brother to join the Navy, which Alex does, rising quickly because of his talents and skills. Alex's poverty (in more ways than one) in the beginning is clearly a reminder of the American dream and the options and potential open to Americans in finding a better way of life, not only for themselves, but for the country and the world.
For those of you who were so patient and full of faith in me as I took you on a seemingly unimportant journey through the science-fiction films of the 1950s, your faith has paid off! For those who have read my post Jaws & the Cleansing Of America, you remember that the monster shark Jaws symbolized American guilt over the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; you might also recall the bit regarding Godzilla, and how the United States' fears of Imperial Japan wrecking havoc on the world was mirrored when the Japanese created the monster Godzilla who symbolized for them the United States and the destruction we brought. However, there was also a conversion for Godzilla, and Battleship hasn't forgotten it. (Importantly, when we see the ships under water in the Pacific, we first see a large shark swimming around them).
Alexander Skarsgard as Commander Stone Hopper, Alex's (Taylor Kitsch) brother who forced him to join the Navy after living on his couch for so long, Stone couldn't take it anymore. Why is their last name "Hopper?" Because the opportunities in America allow them to "hop" from one social class to another. While they didn't appear to have come from much, their devotion to the Navy has allowed them to "hop" from the bottom to the top (rather like in John Carter with John "jumping" from the bottom of society to the top). After he informs Alex that Alex will be discharged from the Navy when they return to Hawaii after the RIMPAC exercises, Alex tells him to call someone to work it out for him and Stone replies, "Who do I call to teach you humility?" an accurate critique on what can definitely be attributed to an American pride that does need to curtailed when it prevents us from effectively participating in international peace-keeping teams (we see the international team in Captain America and American cockiness in Thor). Yet it's Alex who survives the film, not Stone, and we know that whenever a character dies in a film, it's because that character is all ready dead and we have to understand what the film tries to communicate to us philosophically about that death. When the alien ship blasts out all the glass from the USS Sampson, and Stone gets blasted in the face, that's an important commentary on him, because glass symbolizes "reflection" and being able to understand what is happening; Stone doesn't understand the full gravity of the alien ships and the face he's lost (compared to Alex "losing face" when he's kicked in the soccer match, then fails to make the goal) Stone--who is steadfast and reliable like a "stone"--is also inflexible and unable to "make the goal" that will need to be made but Alex can, because Alex is named for Alexander the Great who can "cut through" the Gordian Knot of conflict and politics and the problems of defeating the goliath aliens. Proof that Alex invokes Alexander the Great? Both have a passion for Homer, and Alex completes the quote from The Odyssey, Book XII, Admiral Shane begins, "Keep the ship out of surf and spray," and Alex completes, "or before you know it, the ship will veer to the far side, and plunge us to destruction."  Admiral Shane lets Alex know it disgusts him that Alex knows Homer that well, why? Because it's also a disgust with the way Fate favors those we don't really see as deserving favor. Without doubt, there are those who have many poor qualities, such as Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man) but who seem to get all the breaks. But like the Greek hero Odysseus, whom the film makes a point of quoting, Alex too must be broken before he can be fixed and fulfill the destiny that is his to fulfill. Why is this important for Americans? Because, ultimately, we, too, are called to fulfill a fate like Alex's, for we have been invaded by "undesirable aliens" and we have to rid our country of them, too (please see below for one more Alexander the Great comparison with Alex). 
There are two other important references to the science-fiction films of the 1950s which we explored: the scientists and Sam. In Howard Hawk's 1951 hit The Thing From Another World, it was the scientists who were anxious to be friendly to the aliens as the scientists are the ones inviting the aliens to earth in Battleship. The scientists' lack of concern for consequences goes hand in hand with the blurring of gender and sexual promiscuity also found in the film in the character of Nikki and is reincarnated in Sam. The many social consequences--and relationship consequences to a loss of intimacy--resulting in the US from World War II, caused a blurring of gender identity, aptly demonstrated in films with the "crossing over" of male and female names: Samantha becomes Sam,
Why is Alex celebrating his 26th birthday? Because, 26 years ago, the United States Justice Department declared that Austrian President Kurt Waldheim was an "undesirable alien" on US soil because of his rise and work in Nazi Germany; just as in The Hunger Games linking the 74th Annual Games to Hitler starting World War II, so Battleship links the aliens attack to socialists through the historical reference of Kurt Waldheim (who became an international problem regarding his work for the Nazis) and Alex's crew initially thinking the alien attacks were coming from the state-owned economy of North Korea.
While Godzilla symbolizes the horrors released upon Japan by the United States, later Godzilla films depict the Japanese calling upon Godzilla to save them from greater threats, such as Rodan and Mothra; what was the change of heart in the Japanese? As communism and the Cold War progressed, Japan knew its one-time enemy could be counted on--just like Godzilla--to protect them from the ravages of socialism taking over countries such as Russia, China, Cuba, Cambodia, Vietnam and North Korea. Battleship remembers the hostility between the US and Japan brought on by World War II so it can remind us of who emerged as the real enemy after the war: socialism and communist states.
Sam and Alex after the soccer tournament between the United States and Japan in Hawaii. Alex scored to bring to get the US on the board with Japan's 2 goal lead; he got kicked in the face by Captain Nagata (Tadanobu Asano) so received a penalty kick. Alex's brother Stone wanted someone else to take the kick because Alex was obviously suffering from the wound, but Alex stubbornly persisted that he could make the kick; then Alex misses the entire goal, he kicks it straight over the goal posts, losing the game. The kick in the face Alex receives from Nagata symbolically refers to the bombings of Pearl Harbor, when the US "lost face" by the attack (remember, please, this tournament is taking place in Hawaii and the Japanese Imperial flag is flying all over the ships watching the game); Alex's weakened condition also refers to how weak America was from the loss of men and equipment after Pearl Harbor and then the missed goal refers to the many failures of the United States in the early stages of the Pacific War. (More on Game Theory and Battleship below in the comparison with Moneyball, The Hunger Games and The Avengers).
This reminder is the reason why the "alien bombs" strike Hong Kong, China, first: Hong Kong is a leading financial center in the world because it is the greatest example of laissez-faire capitalism (free of intervention by the state) but only because of the 156 years Hong Kong spent as a British colony; had Hong Kong suffered the fate of the rest of China, it would not enjoy the economic prosperity it does (it was to Hong Kong that most fleeing the Communist Party fled), hence the reason for the aliens crashing into the Bank of China Tower: the Bank of China has been sited in the past for unfair favoritism in banking practices, which goes against the capitalist spirit of the country. The "alien bombs" striking the skyscraper and its crashing to the ground, people running away from the dust and debris clouds is a clear reminder of the devastation of 9/11 and puts the current attack by the "alien socialists" on par with the "alien jihadists" of 9/11. (This can be re-substantiated by the very next shot in the film: after the skyscraper falls, we see the Pentagon in the US, which was also a target of 9/11).
At his birthday "party" with Stone, Alex has a dilemma: does he blow out his birthday candle and wish for Sam, who just walked in, or does he blow out the candle and wish for a job? He should wish for Sam: it's very important to note, there are not any gay military personnel in the film (if this were a pro-Obama film, like The Pirates! Band Of Misfits) there would be references to homosexual military personnel because of the Obama administration lifting the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy; Alex's desire for Sam also re-enforces traditional masculinity (as opposed to the issues being brought up in the new documentary Mansome) because he will be providing for her--wanting to be with Sam means he wants to "court" her properly, which implies a job and his own means, not his brother's couch or car--and that he asks her father, Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson) for Sam's hand in marriage; this "outdated" tradition, as Alex calls it, means that it's still being done today because marriage as an institution, and traditional marriage between a man and a woman, is still being practiced despite some considering it to be "outdated." These conscious decisions being made by the film makers undermines many aspects of regrettable "social digression" which has taken place in America since World War II.
What's going on in the film?
The RIMPAC naval exercises (Rim of the Pacific) are to take place and Alex is aboard the USS John Paul Jones, his brother Commander Stone Hopper is on the USS Sampson and Admiral Shane commands from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (the only ship upon its christening to be named for a president still living). The alien aircraft have landed close to Hawaii because that's where the signal sent by scientists have come from and they need to be able to send the signal back so they have made a protection field sealing off Hawaii from the outside world; the USS John Paul, USS Sampson and Japanese ship Myoko are the only ships within the protection field, being sealed off completely from the outside world, hence, it's up to those ships to save the world.
A wonderful character presence in Battleship, Lt Colonel Mick Canales, retired, and a double-leg amputee. Sam is a physical therapist, and Mick has had great difficulty adjusting to being without his legs, which creates the situation of a fabulous Ronald Reagan film, King's Row, when Ronald Reagan's character has both his legs intentionally amputated by a bad doctor who wants to "keep him down," and Reagan responds, does he think I am my legs? And, in defiance, gets up and resolves to go on. Mick, on the other hand, lost his will when he lost his legs (because feet/legs symbolize our will and our "standing" in society) so when he and Sam have gone on a hike and encounter the aliens who have landed to use the communications satellite, he's found another war. Symbolically, however, Mick represents other ways the military has been "amputated" by the government, which I don't need to go into here,...
Symbolically, the USS Sampson, named for William T. Sampson, invokes the Spanish American War in which Sampson won the final victory, ending the war for Cuba's independence (Cuba struggling for independence from Spain then is rather like the Jews struggling for freedom under Hitler in Captain America, and reminds the audience of the reason the US becomes involved in wars, the protection of people from tyranny; I know there are plenty of  liberals out there who will accuse the US of tyranny, but they can move to China for all I care). One reason the Spanish-American War would be sited is because it was a war forced by Democrats onto Republican President McKinley when he didn't want to go to war; likewise, in (the book) Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, although it's a socialist work, author Seth Grahame-Smith unwittingly reminds Americans how it was the Democrats who started the Civil War.
Captain Nagata who acts as a continual bane to Alex, first in the soccer match, then (in the scene pictured above) when they get into a fight in the bathroom. When war breaks out with the aliens, however, Nagata and Alex pull their forces together and willingly sacrifice their lives to save the world.
Alex, on board the USS John Paul Jones, is very much like the ship's namesake, American Revolutionary War hero and father of the American Navy, John Paul Jones, who always intentionally sought out danger.  Captain Jones' bravery and confidence in his and his crew's ability to to fight is the spiritual backbone of the US Navy, and what Battleship wants to remind Americans, of the US itself.
Alex with Petty Officer Cora "Weps" Raikes (Rihanna). When the RIMPAC exercises begin, Alex gives a aggressive speech to his crew that they are to win and destroy, and Raikes mutters under her breath how Alex is a mutation of Donald Trump and Mike Tyson; the comparison to Mike Tyson comes because Tyson compared himself to Alexander the Great in his post-Lou Savarese knock-out in June of 2000. Alex is likened to Donald Trump because of Trump's commercial and financial success but both Tyson and Trump could be called "the come-back kids" because both had huge career blows (like Alex in Battleship) but they came back stronger after them because they adapted and created new strategies.
To summarize heretofore, the "aliens" are socialists because after the protection field has been put up by the aliens, one of the crew members says, "It's the North Koreans, I'm telling you!" referring to the country's communism and the "protection field" is meant to divide the country (Hawaii is cut off from the rest of the world and Stone, Nagata and Alex are cut off from the rest of the fleet), a clever reference to the American Civil War because Obama's policies have divided the country more than any other president. But there is another reference to North Korea as well: at least one of the veterans on the USS Missouri wears a N. Korea veteran's hat, meaning, he helped to fight against the spread of communism in the North Korean war (which could regrettably ignite again any moment). It was in the Korean War that "Mighty Mo" sailed against the communist threat, and it's precisely for that reason it's called a floating museum, a "museum ship," (well, it is a museum, too)  but the Mighty Mo carries the history of the US and her cause with her everywhere she goes, including around Hawaii to destroy aliens sending the wrong signals.
This is a great moment for RihannaSentimental Journey which coincided with the end of World War II and the returning home of US veterans. With this simple line, the purpose of World War II has been officially re-instated because, as Nick Fury says in The Avengers, "We are at war," and Battleship gives us one of our most important weapons to fight it: US history, and the cause of why we did what we did (regardless of the thesis of The Hunger Games) and how we can win that same war again.
One of the recent films Battleship begs comparison with is Captain America, because it takes place during World War II, but also because, like Steve, Alex in Battleship reflects the trend of many films of the 1950s demonstrating how the US was nothing before WWII, and then became a superhero afterwards because of the heroic sacrifice of our men and women and the prodigious production capacity of our factories, fueled by the patriotism and determination to win the war and stop communism/socialism/fascism/imperialism (other films include, for example, Breakfast At Tiffany's and Annie Get Your Gun).
Great shot of the aliens, how they appear "nearly human" but have deformities, specifically, in the hands (pictured above) which have only four finger digits instead of five; why? Hands symbolize strength, so what the aliens stand for--socialism--means that it doesn't have the strength of capitalism. Just as the aliens first appear in the Pacific, so it was in that same area the spread of Communism threatened the United States during the Soviet Union's advancement of Communism in its satellite countries in southeast Asia (Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam). One of the crew members tries on the helmet of an alien and realizes it's like a big pair of sunglasses and, like lizards, they don't like light. Light symbolizes truth, because truth will set us free the same way as light frees everything from darkness, and so the aliens not being able to tolerate truth reflects how socialists are ignoring the truths about socialism empirically failing throughout history and how over 60% of Americans don't want it. Whenever light is shined into the eyes of the aliens, they become completely blinded and are easily defeated, and that's what we need to remember.
Because Battleship is based upon a game, we have to discuss game theory. ("Game" is based on rules, meant to enhance certain advantages of players all ready in power, like tall basketball players; "play" is the creative interpretation/understanding of the rules or circumstances to undermine the advantage created by the rules or inherent in the opposition's capabilities). Nagata introduces water displacement--monitoring the tsunami buoys caused by waves--to see where the alien ships are, reflecting methods of playing the actual Hasbro game. The Art Of War (a Chinese work) is finally understood by Alex and applied in the last battle sequence, "Fight the enemy where he is not," and through a cunning "fake out," Alex manages a sneak attack, winning the battle (please recall that all of RIMPAC is a "war game").
Alien bombs (the round objects) coming in for an attack. The bombs seem to adhere to certain "rules" as well, only taking out certain portions of highways and not killing children playing baseball.
But it certainly takes out our military.
This isn't the only means of understanding how Battleship employs game theory, however, because capitalism is very much a "game" as both Moneyball and The Hunger Games have taught us. The other understanding of game theory is that rules are good and necessary, and we can see this in the "chicken burrito affair," when Alex, desperate to score points with Sam, breaks into a convenience store to deliver her the sought after item.  Battleship, it could be said, is covering its bases, that there are means of "playing the game" which go against everyone's interest, even when it looks like it suffices, but the tazer marks on Alex's back the next morning reveals to the audience that the debacle of the previous night has "scarred Alex" and only re-learning the right rules so he can correctly play the game will redeem him.
Aboard the "Mighty Mo," the USS Missouri, which fought in the Korean War. Battleship using the Missouri as a "game piece" in the film, and the "Sea Salt," the retired veterans, is itself an employment of game theory because it makes history--the Korean War and the goals of North Korea today--a major component to getting its point across regarding what socialism does.
In the greater context of films being released, this is an important moment in Battleship because Moneyball (2011, Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill) aptly taught the American public how the economy is like a game, we have to take what we have and make the best of it, and when we do that, we are bound to win; this certainly happens in Battleship when the destroyers have been destroyed and all that's left is the battleship the Mighty Mo, but they make do with it and, capitalizing on their advantages, still manage to win (please see Moneyball and the Great American Economy).
Contrariwise, is The Hunger Games, which--my interpretation of the film posited--suggested that, if it hadn't have been for Adolf Hitler starting WWII 74 years ago (when the Hunger Games were instituted to commemorate the great sacrifice made to end Hitler and Communism) the United States would be a far more socialist country today than it is (because of the Great Depression and Roosevelt implementing many socialist programs at the time). I willingly concede to The Hunger Games that this is a real possibility. Yet the film goes on to show humans trying to succeed in a game meant for enterprise, i.e., in the do-or-die world of capitalism, companies are either killed or they kill their competition; to make a case for socialism (which isn't a very good case) it tries to demonstrate how violent capitalism is. Battleship, on the other hand, in the very appearance of the aliens, tries to demonstrate how socialism has recognizable features but is still "alien" to us.
There is another aspect with The Hunger Games that Battleship shares, and with The Cabin In the Woods: the separated field of play. In all three films, there is an invisible force field/barrier separating the "game world" from the "outer world" and Battleship and The Cabin In the Woods share the orientation, while The Hunger Games has a different spin. In The Hunger Games, the field keeping the players within the "arena" could be said to be the government regulations artificially constructing a world where some are given advantages (like Katniss receiving medicine for her burns) but not all are when they need it (such as Rue dying). In this way, again, The Hunger Games tries to paint a picture of how inhumane our treatment of companies are and that everyone (companies) should be kept alive (i.e., all auto industries should be bailed out, all mortgages paid, no workers laid off, etc.).
Battleship and The Cabin In the Woods, on the other hand, show how we enter the playing field (the space cut-off from the rest of the world) with what we have and we have to make do (rather like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdom, an excellent example of play vs game). Because The Cabin In the Woods is a horror film, the assets of each "contestant" in the game is their moral integrity and ability to overcome their own weakness in the guise of the red-neck zombie torture family means survival or death.
Battleship puts this in similar terms because Alex doesn't have the humility he needs to survive in the outside world (the Admiral having Alex kicked out of the Navy after the war games are ended) but his exceptional skills "in the arena" of saving the world earn him an elevated place outside the arena (which is why many of our ancestors came over from other countries, so they could look forward to the possibility of class mobility for themselves and their children and Alex achieves this exact thing) but the "chicken burrito" affair is still remembered, as it should be, because in some ways, it mirrors the corruption of many (especially on Wall Street) who broke rules and brought about the melt-down of the economy from which we are still suffering.  But this leads us to our next comparison: The Avengers.
The credits song playing for Battleship is Credence Clearwater Revival's Fortunate Son, about the upper class and privilege which Alex in Battleship didn't enjoy, but was able to rise up to (becoming the Admiral's future son-in-law) because of his merit and skill. The Avenger's Tony Stark (Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr.) is a "fortunate son," because of having an immense inheritance, yet The Avengers clearly demonstrates the conversion of Stark from his self-absorption to self-sacrifice (Batman's billionaire Bruce Wayne will have a similar journey to endure this summer). Tony Stark starts out big because of his self-importance, but ends small because of his humility; Alex Hopper starts out small because of his self-importance, but ends up big because of his humility and both for the greater good of the country.
The "Goldilocks" planet discussed by the scientists in the featurette above, means a political world where it's not "too conservative, but not too liberal," and voters this November have to ask themselves if they really got the world of the choosing in the last election.
One last film Battleship bears a resemblance to: The Descendants. I thought The Descendants was done extremely well, an incredibly rich and intimate story, and if it weren't for the shared locale of Hawaii I wouldn't even have thought to compare them, but we can understand Elizabeth's skiing accident as a symbol for capitalism because it was a game in the form of a race (symbolically for wealth).  The death of Elizabeth, the mother, then symbolizes the death of the motherland, America, having died as a result of being capitalist and seeking only after "a better boat" (more wealth) and the "descendants" are of President Obama and his socialist state. Battleship doesn't let the mother land die, Battleship destroys the alien and protects the real descendants of the men and women who died in World War II, Korea and Vietnam preserving--not only freedom--but free markets as well, because "in adversity we come to know ourselves," as Stone tells Alex, so instead of creating a world wherein there is no adversity (socialism) Battleship encourages us to thrive upon it and adapt to it.
Battleship probably chose Hawaii because that is where President Obama is from and where he frequently vacations on his frequent vacations. The signal which the Beacon Project sent up began in 2006, coinciding with the voter dissatisfaction of the Republicans and then President George Bush; that signal of voter dissatisfaction was answered, and it invited the alien socialists to come and attempt a take-over in the name of "Hope" and "Change," (just like the scientists thought the aliens would come peacefully and in friendship) but instead, have waged war on the country and Battleship calls us to fight back "where the enemy is not" (to use socialist thought against itself) and fight socialism on the grounds of capitalism where it can't compete (and in terms of history).
Boarding the USS Missouri for her last battle with veterans standing ready to fight.
Lastly, the post credits scene: in the Scottish Highlands three school boys, Angus, Ronnie and Thom, are walking home and see destruction caused to a silo and barn, seeing a rock-like structure half-buried in the ground. They attempt to open it and cannot. A Scottish man, Jimmie, pulls up in his truck and decides he's going to get it open, trying all manner of things, including a chainsaw and welding. We are suddenly inside the "rock" structure and can hear the boys and Jimmie outside, then see Jimmie removing a part of the structure. As he peers in, a religious medal can be seen around his neck, then a second medal which clearly has Mary, the mother of Jesus, on it. The subtle yet definite religious introduction suggests that (if there is a sequel) it will take on a more religious nature rather than the political/economic one of Battleship.