Thursday, 5 June 2014

Walker: A Brutal Study of American Imperialism

A little while back, my friend J.D. Lafrance of the awesomely-named Radiator Heaven wrote an article on the 1987 movie Walker. Having finally gotten a chance to watch it on American Netflix I thought it would be worth sharing my own thoughts on the film. The first thing I should bring up is that this is not exactly an accurate depiction of what really happened. It's inspired by real events but it is also littered with deliberate anachronisms, most of which are subtle and take a bit of  research to find, though others are so jarring I had to look up discussions on IMDB to fully understand what the director intended, but once that was clear, it actually seemed to work.

The story is loosely inspired by a man named William Walker, who after seeing his wife die just as he was ready to settle down with her, takes a job from a wealthy businessman to lead a group of armed men on an expedition to Nicaragua (located in Central America), a country currently caught in a civil war. In theory, the purpose of the expedition is to bring both sides of the war together and restore order to the country, but the reality turns out to be a dark reign of violence and tyranny that only makes things worse.

In short, rather than being a straight-up biopic, the story of William Walker becomes a sort of allegory. In fact this could considered an example of the "radical film" (a concept we discussed in my film class: basically it's a film that takes a non-conventional approach in challenging a dominant ideology, known to be selfreflexive and alienating). In this case, the issue that the film makes you think about is the image of America as "the good guys", and more specifically the country's long history of jumping into other countries' problems in an effort to resolve them peacefully only to make things even more chaotic in the process (Vietnam and Iraq would be two more recent examples).

This movie actually has some really interesting scenes. One interesting moment that happens early in the film is when Walker has a private moment with his deaf wife, and we witness an entire argument in sign language. There are subtitles provided but the scene is otherwise completely quiet outside of one outburst from Walker himself (that breaks the silence rather abruptly). Later on we have some strange scenes that convey Walker's growing obsession with his quest and distancing from his own principles, such as during the first battle scene, where he walks through open streets as men are shot dead around him, apparently oblivious to the carnage.

Ed Harris does a pretty good job as Walker, going from a well-meaning if misguided anti-hero to a ruthless bloodthirsty dictator. It's hard to tell when and where one extreme disappears and the other comes along, but somewhere or other it does. When that happens he goes from being a sympathetic, at times even likable protagonist to something utterly terrifying. The supporting cast does a reasonable job as well but it really is Harris who carries most of the film.

If you're looking for a realistic depiction of what actually happened, you're not going to find it here, but if you'd like to see an interesting approach to examining the issue of corruption and the dangers of prejudice and the misguided notion of superiority, it is worth checking out. As weird as it gets, it also can be very interesting and it will certainly make you think about the problems with American politics.

No comments:

Post a Comment