Doublethink: Trumbo and the critics

Back in November, we took a good long look at the new movie Trumbo, which makes a hero and martyr out of blacklisted Stalinist screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. During the last couple of days we’ve been examining reviews of the picture by critics who’ve somehow failed to grasp that, while the Hollywood blacklist may well have been a bad thing, that doesn’t mean that Stalinism was anything other than evil. 

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Bryan Cranston in Trumbo

We’re not done, because (as it turns out) there are plenty more clueless critiques of this film to ponder. Take this bemusing sentence by Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Set in the years after World War II, when fear of the ‘Red Menace’ – of creeping communism – spread across America, Trumbo details how fear and suspicion wormed their way into the movie biz, with actors and filmmakers branded as Stalinist sympathizers.”

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A protest to free the Hollywood Ten, with Trumbo third from left

But of course it wasn’t just “fear and suspicion” that “wormed their way into the movie biz”; Communism itself wormed its way into the film capital, as part of a highly calculated plan hatched within the walls of the Kremlin itself. And saying that Trumbo and his cohorts were “branded as Stalinist sympathizers” is like saying that Harry Truman was branded as a Democrat. Or a male. Or a Missourian. These guys were Stalinist sympathizers. They were Stalinist tools, Stalinist operatives – conscious and willing enemy soldiers in the war of ideas between the free world and the Soviet bloc. They were, quite simply, Stalinists  – full stop. Rea writes as if all this was invented by paranoid right-wingers, as if the “Red Menace” and “creeping communism” were nothing but feverish fantasies, as if Americans’ “fear and suspicion” of Communism were as unfounded as a fear of ghosts or vampires or werewolves.

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Trumbo wrote in the bathtub

One of the signal attributes of the totalitarian society depicted in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 was something he called “Doublethink” – the “power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” That’s what going on in many of these reviews: even while the critic accepts the fact that Dalton Trumbo was a Communist (how could he not?), he ridicules the “Communist witch hunt” as a paranoid, hysterical effort to unearth enemies of freedom where none at all existed.

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Cranston as Trumbo, writing in the tub

Then there’s Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir, who knows very well what Stalinism was (and is), and who doesn’t try to disguise his fondness for it. “I cannot pretend to any objectivity when it comes to this subject,” he admits. “My mother and her first husband (who many years later was also her third husband) were both members of the Communist Party. My stepdad knew Dalton Trumbo, and worked on the defense committees for both the Hollywood 10 (a group of movie people, including Trumbo, who went to federal prison for refusing to answer questions before Congress) and for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, American Communists who were executed as Soviet spies.”

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The Rosenbergs

These are, it must be said, rather curious formulations: of course, the Hollywood Ten weren’t just “a group of movie people” but a group of dedicated members of the Communist Party, all of whom were dedicated to the overthrow of democracy in the United States; and the Rosenbergs weren’t just “executed as Soviet spies,” they were Soviet spies, who passed the atom-bomb secrets on to the Kremlin. (Ethel Rosenberg even lied to her two sons, assuring them in a goodbye letter that she and their father were innocent – a claim proven false many years later by declassified KGB documents.)

Yes, there have been a couple of intelligent, well-informed reviews of Trumbo. We’ll get to them tomorrow.  

 

 

2 thoughts on “Doublethink: Trumbo and the critics

  1. You are SORELY mistaken in your criticisms. Communism was an IDEOLOGY. Witch-hunts were a POLICY. It is the SADDEST chapter in American cinema history. Communism never did any harm in our own country. Extreme paranoia did.

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  2. Haha, Suuuure Saul, you can keep telling yourself that. Because we all know communism would have been Sooo tolerant if it took over America LOL

    Like

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