Signs of The Times

Leslie took Wednesday off and we treated ourselves to a movie. Although there’s a number of movies we’re interested in seeing this Christmas season, we decided to see Trumbo which was only playing in Federal Way. That’s a little further than we usually drive to see a movie, but her brother Jeff had written a few days ago that it was well worth seeing so we made the drive.

Good decision. I haven’t seen many movies this year, but Trumbo is my favorite so far, though not quite up to the standards of previous year’s favorites “Up” or “Despicable Me.” I prefer what I call “small” movies. I’m interested in character development, not action movies, and definitely not violence.

In other words, Trumbo seemed written with me in mind. The McCarthy Era epitomized the kind of invasive government that makes me fear government surveillance, no matter how benevolent, or, necessary, it may seem to government authorities. Having grown up during the Cold War and having regularly practiced huddling under my desk in case of a nuclear attack, I recognized the irrational behavior that inspired politicians to use fear to gain political power. Unfortunately, it’s not too hard to recognize parallels between those politicians and Trump’s call for targeting the families of terrorists, though it’s not clear whether he was inspired by McCarthy or by Mexican drug cartels. (Would killing terrorist families include assassinating a 9-year-old boy in an alley, or would it rely solely on drones?)

If the movie had just been about how awful the House Un-American Activities Committee was, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it very much because I had learned about their tactics long ago from a Portland State film teacher who had been blacklisted. What was really moving was seeing how the House Un-American Activities Committee’s tactics personally affected so many people, especially Trumbo and his family. The scenes of Trumbo in prison were frightening, but his desperate attempts to make a living afterward were even more moving because he alienated himself from the people he loved most, his family, while trying to provide a living for them.

Luckily John Wayne had already alienated me with The Green Berets, or I would have been devastated by his portrayal in the movie. It was hard seeing a childhood hero turn on his fellow actors and movie producers the way he did. One of the greatest revelations of the movie for me was how different actors and directors reacted to the blacklist.

We decided to end a pleasant morning with lunch at a Greek eatery in the commons. Just as our food arrived out at the entrance there arose such a clatter from the entrance that I nearly dropped my Gyro. Shoppers scattered as a large black man ran by closely pursued by a policeman. The woman pushing the baby carriage quickly disappeared through the door briefly opened by the ice cream store vendor. Not hearing gunshots, I figured it would be safe to continue eating our lunch. I must admit, though, I wasn’t quite ready for what I saw at the entrance when we left nearly twenty minutes later. There were at least six police cars with lights flashing while three or four policeman tried to lift up the handcuffed shoplifter who had obviously been tasered. Hoping not to witness another example of police brutality, I was somewhat reassured by two black women who worked at the mall say they were glad to see the man arrested, that he was “a bad man.”

Sitting here listening to Bing Crosby’s Christmas album, it’s hard to miss the irony of celebrating the holiday season by viewing a movie that depicts our government ignoring its Constitution while pursuing imaginary enemies, followed by a close encounter of the wrong kind. It’s enough to make me wonder if I shouldn’t shut myself in and turn off all media until Christmas has passed. Unfortunately, I need WIFI access in order to purchase Christmas gifts from Amazon.