This weekend finally brought me some much needed down time (you know, squeezed in among everything else...). I actually accomplished getting groceries AND getting the house cleaned. I'm like Mrs. Cleaver here! Anyway, I also got a change to see In the Valley of Elah. It's the first in a spate of Hollywood films that are taking on the war right now, critiquing it in sync with the war actually happening. Tommy Lee Jones is probably in the running for an Oscar for his performance of an emotionally restrained former army sargeant whose son goes AWOL upon returning from Iraq. What the film does rather well is to hone in on the ways in which soldiers have to divorce themselves from the violence they see (and commit) everyday as part of their "work" so that they can continue living "normal" lives. The film ominously portrays what happens when those two worlds come together and the violence cannot be compartmentalized (think echoes of the Vietnam-era film Jacob's Ladder). It's an awful and tragic film that questions what happens to soldiers when they are asked to perform horrendous acts of violence in a morally ambiguous war. There are a lot of problems with the film (like, for instance, the contrived "on base" vs. "off base" action and the annoying tangential story of Charlize Theron's character who faces gender discrimination at work. Ho hum.). That said, the film is really about Jones' journey from the past to the present. His character is so baldly from another generation. He truly believes what he's been told about the war and the need to send his son into harm's way. His life is dictated to by the conventions of life he learned early on and the discipline of the military. In short, he is very recognizable--in all the good ways--as a "good American". Hard-working, loyal, patriotic, and frugal. To watch him unravel as he realizes the ways in which the country has changed and the ways in which the concept of "fighting for democracy" has been bastardized, is painful. I'm certain that some viewers will see the last scene as over the top, but it has a certain poignancy for me that resonates with the character's changing understanding of our contemporary society. His final move in the film is the ultimate patriotic act, the meshing together of past and present, and a call for new times and new thinking. The movie takes a hard, moral stand on the moral ambiguities of our current administration. What I like about the film even more is the way it is raising issues that we don't often talk about. Hollywood is doing a full court press on the war and the administration as it tries to provoke conversation and thought about our times. With all of its virulent consumption and materialism and rampant excess, when Hollywood becomes the moral compass for the United States, you know we're in trouble.