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History is a nightmare - sometimes in 3D

Publication Date : 18-03-2014

 

Comedy, epic, drama, romance, action, sci-fi and more: the choice is almost endless for film-lovers. But enjoyment usually trumps everything - including some precious lessons hidden among the flickering images.

The influential Los Angeles Film Critics Association obviously enjoyed Her a lot, naming it Best Film of 2013 in a tie with "Gravity".

Along with Joaquin Phoenix's performance, the unusual plot must have wowed the critics. The sci-fi comedy romance tells of a guy who develops deep feelings for his computer's operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johannson.

People are sometimes driven by desperation to retreat from the real world. But whatever the reason, as long as we're happy and our actions aren't hurting anyone, it should be okay. Plus, a future world of "intelligent" computers could be a comfort. Disappearing into a personal world is, after all, the dream of many people.

People in Ukraine would love it, particularly after the turmoil in the capital city and in Crimea, which has just voted to join Russia.

Humans first made their home in what's now known as Ukraine at least 44,000 years ago, but the region has been carved and recarved by ruling powers ever since. Russia is the latest to wield the knife.

One way or another, small countries are always subject to their superpower-neighbours' appetites.

Which brings me back to films. In the 2012 American political thriller Argo, Ben Affleck plays a CIA officer who comes up with a plan to sneak six American hostages out of Iran by disguising them as a film production crew from Canada.

The result was nail-biting fun, but the film confirmed one thing: America's global dominance - which in this case sparks resentment among Tehran's leaders who ignite fury among the Iranian people.

Ukraine's plight was also foretold in Lawrence of Arabia, which tells of the role played by Britain in carving up the oil-rich Middle East.

The 10 Commandments, (1956) reaches back much further to Biblical times and shows us that superpowers' grip on their neighbours has existed for the longest time. Set in an era when the mighty Egyptian pharaohs had enslaved the Hebrews, the film depicts how Moses led them across the Red Sea to freedom.

Thanks to these and other histories, we have learnt much about powerful nations' control of others. Yet, superpowers' approaches have differed through the ages. In ancient Egypt, as The 10 Commandments suggests, force was the only means to win and maintain full control.

Cut to the 20th century and Lawrence of Arabia, and external control is asserted through diplomatic relations and assurances from other superpowers.

In Argo we witness US control being exerted on another country's leadership, but with disastrous consequences.

Now, Russia is opening a new chapter in the playbook on exerting control over another country. Local independent TV stations and news websites were reportedly closed or taken over ahead of Sunday's referendum in Crimea. A pro-Moscow campaign has been launched, targeting the Russian-speaking population in Crimea. Though 13 of the 15 member nations at the UN Security Council voted against the referendum, it went ahead as scheduled under the watchful eye of invading Russian troops. Headlines in the West are dominated by vows from US and European leaders that Russian President Vladimir Putin will pay a heavy price for his Crimea move.

All this would make a good plot for any producer wanting to explore how gaining power over others is human history's deepest theme.

For this, I recommend 12 Years A Slave, not because it just won the Academy Award for best picture but because it accurately describes how cruel humans can be.

The historical drama is adapted from the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup, a New York State-born free African American who was kidnapped in Washington in 1841 and sold into slavery. He worked on plantations in the state of Louisiana for twelve years before his release.

Solomon suffered and witnessed others' sufferings. To a free man, being held against his will must be torment.

Given the success of 12 Years a Slave, it is perhaps no accident that Channel 3 is showing a remake of the series Luk That (Slave's Descendants). It is set in the era when King Rama V announced the end of slavery, which stirred resistance from nobles who did not want to relinquish their absolute power over other men they considered their property.

Slavery is long gone but the mentality still exists among the powerful. Would the crises in Ukraine or Thailand have happened if our leaders had considered everyone to be equal? The reality is that they are twisting information for their own gain, enslaving others to their cause and for results that do not benefit all.

Ukraine's president was ousted because he sacrificed his people to please Russia. Crimean leaders proceeded with the referendum without giving a second thought to the Tatars - the ethnic group forcibly deported en masse from Crimea in 1944 by Josef Stalin. Once again, a country is being carved up by one side without much thought for the potentially bloody repercussions.

People are being enslaved. But no matter how much we hate the slave drivers, we can't leave. Leaders can change, but we can't change where we live or who we are.

Well, I wish I had an intelligent operating system to go home to. (No modification required, not even Scarlett Johansson's voice.)

 

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