I just came up with this guideline for myself:
Watch out for movies that center on a majestic wild animal/indigenous person befriending a domesticated hero.
Are these stories ever anything but emotional porn that strokes our "I'm wild at heart" pleasure centers (but don't need to give up any comforts)?
Or romantic schlock seducing us with the idea that a wolf would recognize us as a kindred spirit (if only it got the chance)?
After watching such movies, I leave the theater full of nostalgia for wildness, yet oddly stupified.
And dirty, as if I've just paid to be lied to about what a sensitive soul I am, and how therefore it's not my fault that bad things happen to wild things. Which, of course, I have.
The icky secret is that there's a lot of pleasure in feeling fellowship with oppressed wild things--from a distance.
We feel pleased with ourselves:
We are so sensitive.
We are so superior.
We are so... safe.
As with horror movies--we enjoy the elevated emotion because we're safe.
Except I don't enjoy it when I cry over a story I know is a lie.
Twenty years ago, I walked out of Dances with Wolves when the film was almost over, after Kevin Costner has joined with the Indians, to avoid just that.
I knew was coming:
a sentimental slaughter that would leave me emotionally devastated yet weirdly self-satisfied.
I hate this, but it's harmless enough, I guess, if we don't buy the luscious lie that we are exempt from responsibility for wearing furs because we weep for the wolf. Or buy that one side is wholly good and the other wholly bad.
It's so tempting to buy that, and so easy to overlook the implications.
A guy recently told me, for instance, he had no sympathy for the white farmers in Zimbabwe killed by black people taking over their land. In his eyes, it was a simple matter of justice being done--outraged innocence avenged. And he got to feel good about himself for being on the side of justice.
I told him if he felt that way about land redistribution, I'm sure he could find a local Ojibwe family to give his house to.
He did not feel moved to do so.
Well, neither do I. But I don't want to be reassured that I'm off the hook because I cry for the beloved country.
When I walked out of Dances with Wolves years ago, I wasn't particularly thinking about the cultural politics of race, I just didn't want to be emotionally jerked around against my will.
But recently, I came across this wonderful article:
[Other movies I've walked out of.]