As Jason Apuzzo, Co-Editor of “Libertas Film Magazine,” notes in his article in The Huffington Post (January 13, 2012): “These films form part of a major Hollywood trend toward reawakening memories of the Cold War – an era that is suddenly returning with a vengeance on the big screen, with long-term implications for our popular culture.”
Apuzzo asks the obvious question: What’s going on here? His response: “The simplest answer may be that the old Soviet Union is gradually replacing Nazi Germany, Imperial Rome and space aliens as Hollywood’s favorite antagonists.” He points out that Hollywood is hesitant to make films about today’s war on terror and memories of the Second World War have faded. This leaves strong-armed Russian leaders as the new safe, consensus villains.
This trend began in 2008, Apuzzo notes, with “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” which featured Soviet Communists as the enemy. This sent a signal to the left-of-center filmmakers that depicting Communists as villains was okay now. Soon to follow was Angelina Jolie pursuing Soviet agents in “Salt,” Ed Harris and Colin Farrell escaping a brutal Soviet gulag in “The Way Back,” and Richard Gere and Martin Sheen hunting down a Russian mole in “The Double.” With more to follow!
Newer, younger filmmakers seem less ideologically driven, according to Apuzzo, and they see the Cold War as fertile ground for storytelling – particularly stories about the struggle for freedom. They are assuming that they can create film plots for younger people than will attract them in the same way World War Two films drew in the older generation.
Filmmakers see a link between the Communist governments of the last century and the new repressive regimes of today. President Putin, a former KGB officer, who is now in charge of Russia and authoritarian Communist regimes in China and North Korea make easy targets in a world were popular revolutions against dictators are happening in the Middle East and northern Africa.
The trend is now moving to TV as well. Apuzzo reports that both HBO and FX are developing competing series about Soviet spies in the United States and HBO has another series in development about Cold war spies in Berlin.
As we witnessed during the height of the Cold War, the media in Russia is a mirror-image of that in the United States. Anti-American propaganda is widespread in Russia today, but the difference is that Russian TV and movies are largely controlled and funded by the Kremlin, whereas Hollywood filmmakers are independent and are not controlled by the party in power in the White House.
The power of popular culture, especially images generated by the film industries in both countries, makes the task of building constructive relations between America and Russia even more challenging. People-to-people networking through organizations like the Russian-American Institute is as important now as it was during the difficult days of the Cold War.