The Politics of "2012"

If you saw "2012" over the weekend, as I did, you weren't alone. The film took in $65 million over the weekend, making it by far the number one movie in America and more than $200 million globally. It marks a big comeback for Roland Emmerich, the man behind Independence Day, a somewhat similar end of the world thriller, who made the awful and little-remembered "10,000 Years B.C." Trying to discern the temperament of the times from its movies is always a little dicey. For every "Easy Rider," which came out 40 years ago this week and seems so emblematic of the 60s, there's a misleading touchstone like the fact that The Archies, "Sugar, Sugar" was #1 forty years ago this week, too. Still, the age of Obama is apparent in this movie in ways that are obvious and subtle, encouraging and not.

There are some obvious political references to our time, a slap at a Schwarzenegger look-alike who tells the people of California "that the worst is over" just as the state sinks into the sea in the film's most intense sequence of global distruction. And the presence of an empathetic African-American president, played by Danny Glover, seems an obvious allusion to Obama although he's much older and a widower in this story. (Morgan Freeman played a better president in the overlooked asteroid-threatens-planet film "Deep Impact.") Not sure the White House would pick the Hugo Chavez-adoring actor as its first choice.

But the bigger talisman is the theme of international cooperation. I won't spoil the plot, but let's say that humanity comes together for the most part to meet the impending apocalypse, although there are lapses. Wealth and avarice lead to a bit of a Hobbesian struggle. But most of the film reflects an ethos of altruism, individual and national, that seems like what the Obamaites would want the most successful film in America to be promoting. On the other hand, there's a phenomenally disturbing lack of continutity in the chain of command that doesn't reflect well on Glover's aptly named President Wilson (an internationalist whose White House was barely governable after he became ill.)

Some films embody their age. "Death Wish" and "Dirty Harry" were obvious responses to an American fear of lawlessness. "Philadelphia" was a cri de coeur for gay rights and tolerance in the age of AIDS. "Birth of a Nation" embodied turn-of-the-century racism. If Obama's attempts at a renewed internationalism bear fruit, this film will be more than just a blockbuster. It'll be seen as iconic.

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Matthew Cooper is a managing editor (White House) for National Journal.

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