Director Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon (2009) opens in total darkness. We see nothing but hear only the elderly voice of a narrator:
“I don’t know if the story that I want to tell you is entirely true. Some of it I only know by hearsay, and after so many years it remains obscure today, and I must leave it in darkness.”
so the schoolteacher narrator, now an
old man, begins his rendering in a series of flashbacks, depicting the
mystifying and horrific happenings that transpired in his youth . There is indeed something rotten in this
pre-industrial, ruthless Lutheran culture in a small, agrarian German village
shortly before the start of World War I.
We encounter the Pastor, his wife and children glumly seated at their dining room table. They are arbitrarily sent to bed without dinner, but not before being forced to beg their brutal authoritarian father for forgiveness. A special punishment, ten strokes of the cane, will be meted out and after their penalty “purifies” them, the pastor informs them that their mother will attach a white ribbon for them to wear, only to be removed when they have proven their trustworthiness.
Haneke’s films are not easy to watch, nor are they easy to understand. They confront the observer with aging, infirmity, and death (Amour), sexual perversity (The Piano Teacher), a critique of the media and the ways in which we avoid self-reflection (Cache), and hypocrisy (The White Ribbon). Hypocrisy knows no bounds.
The children, some twenty or twenty-five years later, will return
as the Fascists and Nazis of World War II.
They might have asked the forgiveness of their callous, fathers, fathers
who perpetrated psychic mortification and corporal violence, but the seeds of repressed hatred will break
Heneke maintains that his film is not an
explanation for the roots of Nazi terrorism, but the schoolteacher’s claim that
his tale “may clarify some of the things that happened in this country,”
asserts otherwise. It seems plausible
that Haneke, who grew up with the shame that plagued many of his generation,
wrote under the spell of unconscious survivor’s guilt.
The film, nevertheless, can also speak to us, who, are left in darkness. And weep.
For Sama is the most searing documentary about war that I have ever seen. Nominated this year for an Academy Award for Best International Film, For Sama presents some of the most unflinching war coverage and remarkable and courageous footage. A love letter to her infant daughter Sama, born in Aleppo, For Sama is a Syrian mother’s first-person account of the bombing of her beloved homeland over a period of five years. Aleppo, at the time, was one of the last strongholds resisting the Assad dictatorship.
Waad Al-Khateab is the Syrian
producer, cinematographer and hero of
this documentary. She and her equally heroic husband—a surgeon—stayed in Aleppo
through the worst of the battles, although their gut reaction was to flee the
war zone with baby Sama. It is a young family’s love story set in the terrors
of hell. While her doctor-husband saves countless civilian lives, Waad documents
the heart-wrenching horrors that civilians—young and old— experience.
It is difficult to pretend there is no place in the world where
human beings are being routinely slaughtered after seeing For Sama. A testament to human resilience and sacrifice
for the sake of a community, For Sama is highly recommended in
order to understand what really happens in war as we bear witness to pain and
unimaginable suffering, both physical and mental.
I challenge anyone to watch this film and not be deeply moved.
Note: This film is available on Netflix and Amazon
Prime Video. There are intensely
disturbing images of severely wounded civilians, especially young children.
What’s the psychological and moral cost to a
society that administers the death penalty? That’s the question raised in Clemency, the winner of the Sundance drama award last year.
So much more than a “death-row drama” ,
Clemency shifts the lens to the
impact of bureaucratized
human cruelty: a scathing
portrait of the toll the process of administering an execution has on prison
staff. We see how they are not executioners but bureaucratic cogs in a horrible
machine of death.
Sixty-something Bernadine (the remarkable African American actor Alfre Woodard in an Academy Award-worthy performance) prides herself on her professionalism in presiding over a dozen lethal injection executions. But the compartmentalization of her professional and emotional life is beginning to unspool. The first half of Clemency focuses on a perfectly impassive blankness and rigidity that masks Bernadine’s emotional self.
She’s experienced something no human should– a dozen times. The unnerving and opposing forces wrestling inside Bernadine’s mind begin to be magnified as we witness her heartbreaking need for redemption, etched on her face as if her feelings are surfacing for the first time. Something has broken in Bernadine. And her marriage to empathetic schoolteacher Jonathan (Wendell Pierce) is lost. She can no longer process her world separate from being a warden.
Clemency‘s central plot includes a death-row inmate’s perspective–Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge in a career-defining performance)–who has been in prison for fifteen years: accused and convicted of killing a police officer during a robbery. As his appeals for clemency filed by his deeply committed lawyer (Richard Schiff) have been denied, Anthony Woods is also complicated and emotionally shut down. Both Bernadine and Anthony Woods are maddeningly emotionless and flawed. Bernadine’s womanhood and blackness are inextricable from her sense of professionalism, but she cannot be reduced to either. And Anthony Woods, a young black man, never rages about possible injustice. The viewer wonders: Who needs the clemency more? The warden or the prisoner? Maybe it’s both.
A lot of performances get praised for subtlety
that are merely wooden or impassive. Alfre Woodward is a phenomenon to behold! With the subtlest of
facial movements, she conveys not only what she is feeling but how it feels to
be feeling what she has to feel. In a
camera close-up lasting over three minutes, her face held this viewer in a way
both unforgettable and unimaginable. Alfre Woodard is the reason to see Clemency. She simply
possesses the space, the screen, every scene…and your heart.
Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT)—is the focus of The Report, a provocative Amazon political thriller. A Senate staff researcher, Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) is assigned by Sen. Diane Feinstein (Annette Bening) to investigate detainees held by the CIA in “black sites”. A shameful chapter of American history unfolds , where torture was re-introduced as a legitimate tool in pursuit of national security.
The Report employs flashbacks of “enhanced interrogation techniques” that are frightening and harrowing. Flashing back to 2001 immediately after 9/11, the anxiety and deep fear of another terrorist attack incites George Tenet to ramp up the Counterterrorist Center at the encouragement of President George W. Bush. Tenet hires two psychologists, Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, to design torture methods without calling it torture. The CIA’s intention is to elicit information to capture possible terrorists. Although both men are psychologists, their educational background, professional training and experience have nothing to do with military interrogation. Not surprisingly, little useful information was collected.
Nonetheless, the CIA was impressed
with the “menu” of twenty
enhanced techniques including waterboarding, sleep
deprivation, “stress positions,” stuffing
prisoners into small boxes, and slamming
them into walls.
After political maneuvers, attempts at cover-up
and threats of countersuits by the CIA, the Senate intelligence committee releases
part of its report in 2015,. As expected,
the Department of Justice tried to table the report. This time portions of the more comprehensive
investigation, totaling 6 million pages, become public. Sen.
Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman, concludes that
“under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured.”
Adam Driver and Annette Bening, under the direction of Scott Z. Burns (“The Bourne Identity”), deliver truly outstanding performances with gripping pacing rivaling the best action thrillers.
Note: John Rizzo, CIA acting general counsel at the time of Jones’ report,
described in his book Company Man, that the techniques were
“sadistic and terrifying.”
On October 13, 2015
the American Civil
Liberties Union filed a lawsuit
against James Mitchell and Bruce Jensen with regard to the EIT methods they
designed, claiming their conduct
constituted torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and war crimes. A settlement was reached before trial in
the major government officials were ever indicted and the subcontracting
psychologists who earned $81 million for EIT development and consulting were
indemnified by the US government. Some reviews have considered The Report
polemical and politically one-sided, but transcripts of the investigation
available online speak for themselves.
The Buddha taught rats first, among the animals in the Buddhist pantheon, and rats rank first on the Chinese zodiac. Though people who follow Western animal symbolism do not consider the rat either adorable or auspicious, nevertheless the characteristics of the rat are considered spirited, witty, alert, flexible, and that of a survivor. The Chinese New Year will begin on January 25, 2020 with the final celebration on February 11.
The Metal Rat Year is going to be a strong, prosperous, and lucky year for those who conduct financial research and follow through on investments. For investors in real estate, or venturing on their own to start a business or to invest money in a long-term project, major decisions on money matters will affect the entire twelve-year cycle of the zodiac–until 2032.
On the political front, those who fight against corruption will be accused of duplicity and hypocrisy. Political unrest will continue and revolutionary disruption of the establishment will gain momentum. Increased tensions and misunderstanding between allies will occur.
To avoid escalating conflict by
unscrupulous populist governments who overlook
or ignore the common interest of society, moderation, patience and compromise must
be recognized and practiced. In
addition, all nations must implement strict and disciplinary measures to
ameliorate climate change. Jealousy of
those who have polluted the plant will rise.
Here are the reviews I wrote this year with the criteria that they were available online or were at local movie
theaters, although not necessarily under broad distribution nor widely
distributed through move theaters. Of
the 43 reviews, here are my favorites. Another difficult year to make my listicle. As in past years, both television and cinema
have continued to produce phenomenal story-telling and intriguing characters.
The following list is not ranked, only
grouped by genre and date of review.
INDIES and FOREIGN CINEMA
1) Lo and Behold–Reveries of the Connected World (January 13 review)
Lo and Behold gives the viewer a spellbinding,
lesser-known walk back in time through the birth of the computer and its
subsequent impact on our daily lives.
We see extremes: medical marvels
saving lives or electromagnetic waves that debilitate. Each chapter introduces
a different positive or negative dynamic of the internet.
documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? explores perhaps more
clearly now than at the time the show was produced is just how
revolutionary Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood actually was.
Even through the tumultuous Sixties, subjects of political violence, racial
discrimination, and the degrading messages children and adults frequently heard
were never side-stepped or sugarcoated.
this combination of black comedy and Nordic noir, we are treated to a series of
scenes involving gangster mobs, drug trade, a father’s revenge, kidnapping, and
snow plows. In Order of
Disappearanceis part “Fargo” and part other Coen brothers’
comedic treatment of snow country.
this gripping 2010 Academy Award nominated HBO documentary, Which Way Home opens with something large and bulbous
floating down the Rio Grande. The viewer soon learns it is a corpse, perhaps
that of a child, and an observer comments matter-of-factly that this happens
multiple times a day.
Netflix Original Always Be My Maybe gives us a reason for
watching rom-coms again. A modern riff on “When Harry Met Sally.” Set in San
Francisco, Always Be My Maybe is
a story of childhood sweethearts who go their separate ways only to meet
up fifteen years later. Sasha Tran (Ali Wong) and Marcus Kim (Randall
Park) were best friends who, as teenagers, had sex for the first time and
then stopped talking to each other.
comedic drama opens with the tagline: “based on an actual lie.” The
universal theme– of the gathering of a family clan harboring secrets and
lies, told and sometimes motivated by love.
7) Late Night—Women Do
It Right (November 5 review)
In Late Night we
see a notoriously, male-dominated world of late-night network TV in
which a woman–Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson)– is the host of her own
talk show. (Think “The Devil Wears Prada” and Meryl Streep as the
“bitch-boss from hell”).
Carter, a sixteen-year-old gifted student, has to adeptly maneuver
between two worlds — her poor, mostly black neighborhood and a wealthy, mostly
white prep school. Facing pressure from all sides, Starr must find her voice
and decide to stand up for what’s right.
9) Rocketman—Seeing the Light Through the Darkness (July 28)
backstory of Elton John’s childhood is the emotional core defining his
self-worth and genius. Although we soon find out that Elton was a deeply
lonely child, unloved by his parents (Bryce Dallas Howard and Steven
Mackintosh), but nurtured by his grandmother (Emma Jones), he introduces
himself with a lie: “I was actually a very happy child.”
Jokeris a devastating
portrait of a rapid descent into mental illness. This Joker, nemesis to the comic book masked superhero
Batman, takes center stage with only a tangential reference to Batman and
for good reason. Now we see the masked Joker as few could have
Netflix series — Narcos, Narcos Mexico and El
Chapo– are gritty, raw, and bingeable. Each chronicles the most
powerful drug lord and his cartel at the rise of cocaine and marijuana
production in Colombia, Mexico, and other parts of the world.
Chernobyl is an HBO
historical drama miniseries depicting the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear
disaster and the unprecedented coverup that followed. The flawed
reactor design operated by inadequately trained technicians is
jaw-clenching and chilling. That lack of transparency and flagrant
disregard for human life depicts greed, lack of moral integrity, and political
corruption. Chernobyl is a cautionary tale for today’s
criminal mastermind, calling himself “The Professor,” plans the biggest heist
in Spain’s history: to storm the Royal Mint and print billions of euros. He
recruits eight people who have the criminal talents he needs, knowing they have
nothing to lose.
14) Locked Up—Spain’s “Orange is the New Black”
(September 11 review)
with extraordinary writing and plotting, Locked Up‘s main
theme is unexpected consequences: the turmoil of events that turn
everything upside down.
A “Narcos” or “El
Chapo”-style drama about the rise of drug lord Teresa Mendoza (played by
the exceptional Alice Braga, niece of the renowned actress Sonia Braga),
we see a new first. Instead of a ruthless kingpin of a Mexican drug
cartel like Guzman (El Chapo), we see Teresa Mendoza. She navigates and
outsmarts a world dominated by men and machismo to become the queen (or
queenpin?) of Sinaloa.
This investigative journalistic documentary invites the viewer to take a closer look at four committed women who ran for Congress in 2018: Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Cori Bush of Maryland, Paula Jean Swearengin of West Virginia, and Amy Vilela of Nevada. First and foremost, however, Knock Down the House is AOC’s story. The former bartender from the Bronx turned first-time congresswoman needs no introduction.
of director Rachel Lears’s early access
to the four Congressional candidates, she and her camera have been in the war
rooms of the campaigns right from the start, making the footage even more
From a pool
of committed political neophytes, Lears selected four exceptional female
candidates — Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, Paula Jean Swearengin and Amy Vilela —
each with an emotionally riveting back-story and a politically established,
seemingly unbeatable opponent. Their back-stories propelled them into
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she had to
work double shifts as a bartender to save her mother’s home from foreclosure.
After losing a daughter to a preventable medical condition because of lack of
health insurance, Amy Vilela became determined to improve America’s broken health-care system. Cori
Bush, a registered nurse and pastor, was appalled at the police shooting of an unarmed black man and
the resulting army tanks that showed up in her neighborhood. A coal miner’s daughter,
Paula Jean Swearengin, watched her
friends and family suffer from the devastating environmental effects of the
for AOC, the other three women candidates–although giving everything they had
to win—were defeated. With a raw and blistering honesty, we see the camera
hover over their physical and emotional deflation after the results come in. All four were heavily invested personally:
“We’re coming out of the belly of the beast kicking and screaming,” Swearengin
says. But ten-year incumbents are hard
unsurprisingly, emerges as a telegenic,
exuberant force . She is all that and
more. In the closing credits, we see AOC
riding a scooter, circling in front of the Congressional building, enjoying the
thrill of her victory on a crisp,
January morning before the swearing-in ceremony. She’s a television cameraman’s dream: young,
attractive, and charismatic with the emotive, energetic oratorial skills of a much more
seasoned public speaker. Nothing seems
to throw her off her game, whether she’s mopping the floor before distributing
leaflets for her campaign or talking with someone who has decided not to vote
social media presence alone shows why she has crossed over into pop celebrity,
whether she’s tweeting or live-streaming on Instagram while eating popcorn,
talking about staying grounded and dancing on YouTube. She is a media darling and that makes her a
political star worth watching.
Down the House will
knock you down too—with the energy that these women expended to advocate for
The title character, Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is an all-star athlete and model straight-A student who is expected to achieve greatness in college. Luce’s liberal adoptive parents—physician Amy (Naomi Watts) and financier Peter (Tim Roth) adopted Luce when he was a little boy in Eritrea, a boy-soldier who experienced unimaginable horror.
A volatile and
incendiary essay he has written for an English teacher, Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer), is brought to the attention
of Luce’s parents. The essay inflames
the liberal-minded community and most of all, his English teacher.
Luce’s parents do
not know who to believe, –his teacher and school administrators or their son–although
their intuition and gut-reaction is to believe their brilliant, beloved Luce. Other parents slowly face the same dilemma –who do
you believe in the face of unconditional love? Luce’s personal story unfolds as an attempt to
define what is the truth to the listener–the one that is acceptable and
therefore believed, or the one that shatters values you deeply hold.
A sense of sustained menace highlights the central theme of Luce: Do we really know who Luce is and how deeply his traumatic childhood experiences have affected him?
Luce is a
gut-wrenching story of love of child versus love of spouse. This film is also provocative in terms of
Luce’s achievements validating his liberal parents’ convictions about social
justice and racial equality, about transforming the human soul. There
are no easy answers.
Race and white privilege are
examined under a psychological microscope.
Sharp-edged and gimlet-eyed,
this is a difficult film that tries to say something nuanced about racism, making
for uncomfortable viewing.
Luce is boldly
ambitious in addressing so many questions in one film: Who is “anointed” by others to succeed? The
myth of the American dream and succeeding all on your own, especially in the glowing
light of suburbia (Arlington, Virginia), is painfully dissected.
with a chilling and morally ambiguous
ending. The creation of your own ending may depend upon your ethnic identity and
how much it has influenced who you are now.
No one person represents an entire demographic and Luce
shouts this to the audience loud and clear.
“You never really know what is
going on with people.” (Luce)
Note: Now available on Netflix.
Indochine (1993)–Heart of Darkness
Indochine is a testament to the hubris and delusions of first French imperialism and then American trauma to follow .The sense of time and place unfolds in 1930 French Indochina (Vietnam). from the years of French colonial rule to the stirring of a revolution by zealous and determined young Communist idealists,..
Indochine concludes in 1954 when the French are on the cusp of being forced out by Communist forces after a century of colonization. Seen through the eyes of a rubber plantation owner, Eliane (the ethereal Catherine Deneuve, nominated for an Academy Award for her performance), Indochine is an allegory for the corrupt and depraved. The often opium-smoking French are seen clinging to their delusional belief that they could sustain their dominion over the impoverished, virtually enslaved Vietnamese.
The narrative is a family drama between Eliane and the orphaned five-year old Vietnamese girl, Camille (newcomer Linh Dan Pham). who is adopted by Eliane . Indochine has another narrative as well: a love story between a French navy officer, Jean-Baptiste, and both Eliane and Camille.
As the struggle against French imperialism grips Vietnam, Jean-Baptiste and Camille have to choose sides. As the focus shifts to the love story between Camille and Jean-Baptiste, and the awakening of the sheltered privileged Camille to the plight of most Vietnamese Indochine‘s pace deepens and quickens.
The anticolonial revolt plays out in some expected patterns, with the decadence of the dying days of a fading colonial regime. Old paternalistic, often brutal customs have outlasted their lords and yet the patriarchs (and matriarchs, in this case) adhere tenaciously to property and servants with a certain stubborn and oblivious pride. They are yesterday’s story, but arenot ready to realize or admit it.
Indochine is ambitious, gorgeously photographed but also too slow, too long, and too languishly structured in the first half of the story. It is not altogether a successful film because of this. Yet it is still worth seeing, perhaps mostly for implying that the French still do not quite understand what happened to them in Vietnam, and they’re not alone.
Narrated by Anderson Cooper, Tricky Dick is a four-part CNN documentary that presents the lesser-known story of Richard Nixon’s life and times. The rise, fall and almost unbelievable comeback and final self-sabotage of his political career are adroitly deconstructed. Through access to archival footage never before seen by the public, the backstory of Richard Nixon’s complex view of opportunity and ambition unfolds.
The story of Nixon’s aggressive strategy for political success, together with his resentment of the elite and his animus towards the press, minorities, and Jews is a dramatic portrayal of resurrection from defeat and self-destruction. But the usual reasons for his failures when he was considered unbeatable are laid to rest here. For example, the televised debate debacle with Kennedy is usually explained as due to Nixon’s sweat and dourness while Kennedy looked polished, patrician, and relaxed. Tricky Dick’s archival footage, however, reveals that the moderator (Howard K. Smith) thought Nixon was too “nice” in demurring to Kennedy, thus elevating the inexperienced senator. Smith believed Nixon should have “fought back”, and that was the reason for the subsequent rapid decline in the polls. After the closest presidential election up to that time, defeated but not a quitter, Nixon determinedly runs for the governor’s seat in California, a major step down from being Eisenhower’s vice president, only to be profoundly humiliated with an unexpected loss. Nixon retreats from politics for the first time in his life.
Four years after JFK had become
president, with the US in crisis at
home and abroad, raging from an increasingly virulent Vietnam War, Nixon senses
an opportunity for a comeback. Confident he can shed his loser’s image, Nixon
plans his campaign which wins the presidency that should have been his.
As the anti-war movement gains
strength, Nixon suspects a conspiracy against him, one he will use any means
necessary to defeat. He isolates himself
with a handful of trusted advisors and
prepares for a second term.
In a historic landslide, Nixon is
re-elected but shortly into his second term, the cover-up of a break-in at the
Democratic National Committee Headquarters at the Watergate complex starts to unravel
his presidency. As the President wages a battle in the press and in the courts,
a desperate man becomes his own worst enemy, and movement to impeach begins.
It is the secret recordings in Nixon’s White House, often in the dark of night, along with a few brave whistleblowers and one Deep Throat, that truly are chilling. The perpetual subterfuge and self-loathing also reveal a deeply disturbed and aggrieved man, with flaws that Nixon never realizes he has. Tricky Dick is a portrait of a power gone unchecked, as we witness his unraveling from his own words on tape. Even if his self-aggrandizing mind has been wrong all along, he doesn’t know it and we are horrified by it. The parallels with today are frightening.
Joker is a devastating portrait of a rapid descent into mental illness.
This Joker, nemesis to the comic book masked superhero Batman, takes center stage with only a tangential reference to Batman and for good reason. Now we see the masked Joker as few could have imagined. And it is no small feat to have a performance which overshadows the also remarkable previous Jokers played by Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito and Heath Ledger.
In Joker a marginally
employed and aspiring stand-up comedian, Arthur Fleck (played by the
astonishing Joaquin Phoenix), has a series of menial gigs as a clown holding
a banner declaring a store’s bankruptcy or performing in the cancer ward of a
children’s hospital. He is a disposable,
invisible Gotham resident faithfully caring for his invalid mother with whom he
shares a dreary low-rent apartment.
Bullied, brutally abused and cruelly
mocked by almost everyone around him, Arthur Fleck devolves into the Joker as
the demented, bipolar mask of comedy and tragedy. Not yet evil or vile, but
more ignored and humiliated, his community fails him and his mental illness
In close-up shots of his clown-face
mask, this Joker is no clown, pulling down roughly on the corners of his face
to force a grin, more grimace and silent scream than a smile. The viewer feels
that Arthur Fleck is becoming ever more deeply damaged.
Joaquin Phoenix gives
such an unforgettable feral performance, this viewer was left wondering how the
actor could maintain his sanity after this manic act as the Joker. We are taken
on a journey to see the dissolution of sanity under a
Joaquin Phoenix’s exposed
bones and emaciated frame are part of the Joker’s makeup. His physicality is a
range of movements in madness, alternatingly unhinged and heartbreaking as he
dances after each horrific act, struggling to communicate and connect until he
surrenders to his insanity.
This is a character-driven plot, intensely cerebral and
at times subversive and disturbing. This
character study of the Joker will become a classic and a certain Academy Award
nomination for Joaquin Phoenix. A great
joke is inseparable from its ability to subvert, to say the unsaid and the unspeakable. Joker pushes all boundaries in its
portrayal of a deeply disturbing,
subversive character and I cannot think of a film with which to compare it–a
The HBO six-part series, Years and Years, is a dystopian drama of the near future that rivals “The Handmaid’s Tale” but with a focus on technology and financial crisis.
In Years and Years the
viewer witnesses a 15-year projection of nuclear strikes, technology that
allows sulky teens to project Snapchat-style filters over their faces, and
concentration camps for refugees and dissidents in Great Britain.
The harrowing image of Vivienne Rook MP (Emma
Thompson), as an outspoken celebrity business woman turned political figure à la
Trump, divides the nation with her
controversial opinions and policies. In
tandem, a second parallel story of one family– the Lyons family–details the
impact of an unstable world on their lives.
Beginning in 2020, three generations of the Lyons family watch the rapid change occurring around them due, in part, to the radical demagoguery of Vivienne Rook who eventually rises to power in 2027. With a mix of horror, confusion, and occasional glee individual members align with Rook or resist her autocracy.
In rapid-fire time-jumps from 2020 to 2035, Years and Years has Trump winning a second term as US president, Pence succeeding him and Rook seizing power and proclaiming policies in similar autocratic style in England.
In 2020 air raid sirens blast over
all regions of the UK, with news that
Trump has fired a nuclear missile at a Chinese island. Panic and misinformation spiral out of
In a series of unfortunate events, there
is a financial crisis due to the
collapse of an American investment bank.
A compulsory national IQ test is administered to exclude low-IQ
individuals from voting. Arrests and detention become the rule of law
for refugees, homosexuals, and dissidents.
By 2027 the coalition government of Great Britain has
collapsed, and Viv Rook becomes the Prime Minister, backed by unidentified
corporate moguls. Countries become unstable with similar governments being put
By 2028, Viv Rook promises freedom to her supporters but begins arresting her opponents, contracting with a giant corporation to maintain two “Erstwhile” concentration camps, intended as death camps with fascist oversight.
By 2029 attacks on journalists
increase, and the BBC is forced to shut down, having had its charter withdrawn.
Muriel Lyons, matriarch and grandmother, blames the family and global citizens
at large for the rampant dictatorships worldwide. In one of
the most powerful monologues (see
video clip) in television this year, she eloquently tells her family that many
small acts of indifference have had a snowball effect, creating the toxic environment everyone now
lives in. Today perhaps? And so it
now seems that there is little control the Lyons have over their destinies. The military isn’t storming parliament. The
change is more insidious. Dictatorship creeps up on us very, very slowly, and
yet with increasing speed, suddenly we are rendered powerless while ordinary
life goes on.
Years and Years, through
its flashbacks, forecasts the next decade-and-a-half with a pessimistic, quasi-nihilistic
lens. A sum of the problems and
anxieties currently playing out in Trump-land, this dystopia is a world-weary
projection, resonant of a prequel to Black Mirror’s astringent tales.
The sixth and last episode took me by surprise. The
tone seemed off, shifting gears into
much more futuristic science fiction.
We’re being given fake videos with fake news, but this seemed to me like a fake ending.