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Captain America - The Winter Soldier 
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Post Captain America - The Winter Soldier
Captain America – The Winter Soldier ... er_Soldier

Movie Review by Robert Tulip, 11 July 2014

Shield, the body established to protect world security and freedom, has been infiltrated and compromised by Hydra, a secret evil clique bent on world domination. Captain America, frozen for seventy years since the time of the Greatest Generation, returns to save the day for Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, with his trusty helpers Sam Wilson the Black Falcon, Natasha the Black Widow and Eyepatch Nick Fury, against the powerful challenge of Hydra’s mystery masked assassin, the Winter Soldier, and his shadowy conspiracy.

For the enemies of freedom, when history does not cooperate, history can be changed, in the words of the disembodied Hydra Nazi founder Arnim Zola. As another of their operatives says, Hydra aims to get rid of problems a few million people at a time. Order for seven billion people at the cost of twenty million lives is the suggested bleak deal for planetary control. Society is at a tipping point between order and chaos, and Hydra aims to push it over the edge, but which edge? Can Captain America defeat this shadowy threat?

Traditionally, the bad guys in American comics and movies were based on Red Indians and criminals, then Nazis and Communists, and more recently Arab terrorists and other assorted foreigners. But now the good versus evil trope in American heroic escapist culture is changing.

A trope is a commonly recurring device in literature, a motif or cliché in creative works such as in the comic book theme of good versus evil. The black helicopter conspiracy theory is a trope that is bringing the suspicion that evil has infected the heart of American power. The idea is that the very institutions entrusted to provide protection are now targeted and vulnerable to some sort of palace coup.

The new Captain America inhabits the uncertain political world of the internet and intelligence leaks, a multipolar world where terrorism and piracy present new asymmetric threats. He brings his magic shield, airman’s cap, five point star and instinctive heroic values of individual freedom and honour into the context of the matrix generation. Hydra, the secretive neo-Nazi evil organisation, grows a new head for each one that is chopped off. Hydra seems at the point of realizing its long held dreams of world domination through a fleet of super helicarriers, levitating copters with awesome weaponry able to defeat all challenges, defended by secret double agents at the top of trusted institutions and by awesome fighting power.

These cultural themes in Captain America are immensely interesting against what we can call the psychoanalytic framework of mythological archetypes. Psychoanalysis looks for hidden meanings, symbolic themes that are not explicitly known but inform the intent of a story. An archetype is what is the same among things that are different, at the highest and most universal level, revealed in the most popular clichés and tropes, providing necessary psychic order among chaotic surface impressions. Myths evolve memetically, as memes whose power is indicated by their ability to touch and express the popular mood of the time, the unstated feelings that analysis can make explicit.

Psychoanalytic categorisation of cultural tropes and archetypes requires that we identify which ideas are big and overarching, even when revealed within symbols and events that seem small and specific. For example, the ideas that good will triumph over evil, or that evil is constantly seeking to infect and destroy good things, are archetypes that are expressed in myriad evolving cultural forms, providing the dynamic momentum and excitement for the plot of action movies such as Captain America.

An archetype can be something you feel is true even if you can’t say why, welling up from the subconscious in symbolic or ideal form. Captain America expresses the deep archetypes of American exceptionalism founded in the ideas of world leadership through enlightened values and defence of good against evil. The psychoanalyst Carl Jung interpreted archetypes as autonomous and hidden forms which emerge unconsciously in powerful recurring symbols.

Comic movies such as Captain America that deal in stereotypes are intrinsically archetypal, seeking to reflect the zeitgeist, the spirit of their age, presenting archetypal themes that resonate emotionally with a mass audience. Such themes take the form of unconscious, unstated, inchoate evolving ideas. Analytic psychology endeavours to develop plausible conjectures regarding the real content of these unconscious ideas, dredging up the real hidden meanings that empower social identity, articulating the subliminal intentions that generate cultural power.

Superman, Iron Man, Spiderman, Batman and Captain America were mass circulation comics of an era when America was first in a hot war against Hitler and Tojo and then in a Cold War against Stalin and Mao. The values of honour, dignity, truth, freedom and justice were the American Way. These comic stories had a mythic propaganda function of providing meaning to peoples’ lives, at the popular level of simple mass cultural values. But now the comics hardly know right from wrong. The crazy suspicion is growing that the military is not providing security, but may threaten to deliver political stability through dictatorship, in conflict with its stated values.

Captain America directly expresses this subversive thought in his conversation with hidden chief villain, Robert Redford, right at the start of the movie. The Captain tells the concealed Hydra leader in Shield that he is worried the formidable helicarrier weaponry under development with its iron man levitation technology will not safeguard the freedom of the American people. The result of him expressing his doubts, speaking truth to power, is that Captain America becomes treated as a fugitive, and has to succeed against overwhelming odds. This is the American Story.

So lets put Captain America on the couch. How do his cryogenically preserved messianic values intersect with the modern situation? America has this sense that the rational values of the founding fathers are the source of its greatness. So the movie begins in Washington, with shots of the great monuments to Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, the great beacons of moral enlightenment, liberty and rule of law. How can their heritage be preserved in our plugged-in world where politicians and even the military have been corrupted by money and power, and there is no one you can trust?

An archetypal trope in action movies is that salvation seems impossible because evil is too powerful, but nonetheless good triumphs. Of course this is the whole idea of Captain America, where the goodies routinely confront insanely overwhelming odds, but emerge barely scathed from all the fights. Captain America, the living legend of honour, bravery and sacrifice, expresses the simple truths that an army runs on trust, punishment comes after the crime, and it is wrong to hold a gun to the head of everyone on earth and call it protection. He says freedom is not fear, and you should not hold your breath that Captain America will buckle any time to the forces of fear.

Can he save the world again? Are his views just empty clichés or do they point to big real problems? What should we believe? Captain America is worried that the scale of military investment in Shield’s Project Insight may not deliver justice, but could be corrupted by evil. I perked up and took notice when the movie expressed this subversive suspicion of the control systems within the heart of American power. Again, the liberal elements in Hollywood are peddling conspiracy theories, but now they are doing so with Captain America, an icon of the mythical establishment. Unlike the time of the greatest generation, directly referenced in conversation between Captain America and an old lady, values today are deeply uncertain, there are no bonds of loyalty, and America is at risk from within.

A starting point for rebuilding trust is to take out the small baddies, so Captain America rescues some hostages held by pirates infesting the Indian Ocean. Next question, do the big risks really come from pirates and terrorists? This movie imagines the real enemy as much more dangerous than that. The secret Hydra boss in Shield tells the World Security Council that he doesn’t take piracy seriously as a threat, indicating that fleet power is not challenged by such small problems. Fleet power is about military control of politics, a view that world order can be provided by a new totalitarian power system.

So, how close to the surface are these dangerous ideas in Captain America? The popularity of this sequel movie, with The Winter Soldier delivering the third biggest box office hit of the year so far, indicates that the writers have touched a popular mood. A movie like Captain America stands or falls on its mythic resonance, and how this strategic vision is expressed in plot and production. Its seemingly simple ideas have deep roots in an accurate perception of mass cultural trends.


Sun Jul 13, 2014 6:24 pm
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