Monday, December 06, 2004

Retro-Alexandrian Imperialism & Oliver Stone's PTSD

Oliver Stone's "Alexander" was on the silver screens of Taipei. I view it as a symptom of several intertwining problems of the global scene today. The evening I watched it, the Taiwanese audience was vaguely uncomfortable with the gay side of his bisexuality, but they liked his foreign bride. Feisty! And more desired than the white women! Wow! But the supposedly smoldering homoeroticism struck me as mere "acting" and trying too hard. I think that the whole film is Stone's worst. It is his worst film, not because of any pseudo-sexuality, but because of its weird imperialism and confused hero--complex.

I liked Stone's "JFK" despite the Camelot didacticism. I liked his "Natural Born Killers" because it is almost the only film to satirically out-violence the happy violence we've taken as entertaining. That is, I liked it because my students didn't enjoy it. It was strong medicine for them. His "Salvador" is a must-see. I even liked Stone's "Platoon" some 20 years ago because its blend of LSD and war terror struck me as the 1st genuine representation of the absurd Vietnam war. Looking back, I realize now that "Platoon" displayed a troubling hero worship -- the evil sergeant vs the good sergeant that got awkwardly apotheosized in slow motion sacrifice to swelling orchestration.

It is this same apotheoisis in slow-mo set to music that ruins what could have been a good film. In "Alexander" we get an awkward combination of "acting", of didactic preaching about the virtues of a multicultural empire, and yet again the transcendent Hero set to a confused mythography. The violent hero returns. Stone's message for the USA today is periodically sprinkled throughout the film, usually spoken by Alexander himself. An empire must open up and yet respect as equals the conquered. Stone is trying to correct the neo-conservative imperialism of the Bush administration with a retro-Alexandrian imperialism of his own imagination.

That "message" is an anachronism. The Age of Empires is over, in case no one has noticed. We live in a polycentric world where the old territorial domains are irrelevant: Deterritorialization is well underway due to boundary-less flows of finance, technologies, people, ideas, and even movies. As Stone's film shows in Taiwan to a lukewarm reception while the Chinese film "Hero" likewise plays in America is representative of such deterritorial flows.

Stone's message is further vitiated by his war hero-complex. The evident confusions of the film are symptoms of PTSD. This post-traumatic stress disorder is bravely worked out in the film's unfolding, but it fails to transcend. Like the repetition-compulsions of classic shell-shocked soldiers, the film ends about where Stone began, ready to begin again. The fascination of watching this is a psychological voyeurism -- we witness a suffering victim of Vietnam attempt to make his way back to sanity through the idea of multiculturalism through violence. But does this end justify the means? Or more to the point: can violence ever lead to intercultural respect?


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