Libertarian Movies: Ten Movies With Libertarian ThemesNovember 14th, 2011
This Movie Monday, I’ve put together a list of ten movies that have always struck me as having libertarian themes. These are worth watching with your friends and local libertarian activist groups (such as your Young Americans for Liberty chapter or Liberty on the Rocks group among others) to have some fun and an opportunity for discussion afterward. You’d be surprised how many movies have subtle (or even not-so-subtle) libertarian ideas in them. Here are the first ten that came to my mind as I briefly brainstormed for this post:
1. V for Vendetta
Duh, right? When compiling a list of libertarian movies, who wouldn’t think of V for Vendetta first? A masterful work of art with layer upon delightful layer of symbolism, this dystopian film, like the graphic novel it was based on, tells the story of a man who enlists the public and its imagination in his fight against England’s vast and powerful police state. The movie and its trademark Guy Fawkes mask have become cultural icons that resonate deeply in libertarian circles.
2. Man in the Iron Mask
This 1998 film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio follows the elaborate capers of three aging musketeers who seek to overthrow the villainous king Louis in a silent, bloodless, stealthy coup by replacing him with his identical twin brother, who has hitherto been locked away in a prison with an iron mask to conceal his identity. The film depicts the many horrors and crimes of the megalomaniac, King Louis XIV, who in real life was a perfect exemplar of absolute monarchy and all its evils, including regulatory statism run amok and the terrible caprice of an unchecked executive. The film depicts a French public rioting in the streets as their economy suffers from Louis’ unpopular, self-aggrandizing wars. Sound familiar?
3. Star Wars
One of the greatest and most notorious of Hollywood films, Star Wars is decidedly a libertarian movie! After all, the film is about a band of rebels who fight against an oppressive government bent on dominating and ruling the entire known world with an iron fist. It even creates a weapon of mass destruction (The Death Star) to terrorize the galaxy into submission.
But in one deleted scene, a conversation between Luke Skywalker and Biggs Darklighter reveals the economic dimension of the Empire’s totalitarian rule, which in the tradition of a philosopher named Karl Marx (who would live a long time in the future, in a galaxy far away), involved the nationalization of businesses and farms:
Luke: “I know, but we’ve got almost enough vaporators to make the place pay off. I have to stay one more season. I can’t leave him now.”
Biggs: “What good’s all your uncle’s work if the Empire takes it over? You know they’ve already started to nationalize commerce in the central systems? Won’t be long before your uncle’s just a tenant, slaving for the greater glory of the Empire.”
4. Death Wish
Second Amendment / gun rights libertarians will be delighted by this 1974 crime drama. The film is set in New York City at the height of its violent street crime. The protagonist, an architect and family man, is a lifelong “bleeding heart liberal” who opposes capital punishment and sympathizes with violent criminals because of their economic circumstances and upbringing. But when some street thugs break into his home, murder his wife, and rape his daughter, he becomes a vigilante, patrolling the streets at night with his .32 caliber revolver and killing violent criminals when he catches them in the act of assaulting innocent people.
Besides being one of Hollywood’s best-loved comedies, Ghostbusters had an excellent libertarian lesson for its viewers. Consider its plot: after losing their grant funding from a university, three scientists of paranormal activity decide to commercialize their knowledge for profit and put it to productive use helping people. They open up a small business called “Ghostbusters” which offers its services as an exterminator for people who have ghost infestations in their homes or businesses.
They struggle at first, but after putting out some advertising dollars and running a (hilarious) marketing campaign, business starts to pick up and they become minor celebrities as they successfully rid the city of its ghost problems. They even create jobs for the receptionist they bring on and for a fourth ghostbuster they hire to keep up with the growing demand for their services.
Everything is going swell. The market is working. The Ghostbusters have a profitable business and more money than they had before, and their customers’ lives and businesses are improved because they no longer have to deal with ghosts. This is where the state comes in and decides to regulate. An agent from the EPA visits the Ghostbusters and arrests them for housing dangerous chemicals in their basement, and above all their objections, he orders their ghost containment equipment deactivated. When all the ghosts escape and the EPA thug realizes what a mistake it was, he of course, blames it on the capitalists– the Ghostbusters.
How many times have you heard this story? You could practically do a Mad Libs with it and change out different companies or industries with different government agencies to tell the same story a hundred different times.
6. Legends of the Fall
If you haven’t seen this movie: see it! If you think you would enjoy seeing both Anthony Hopkins and Brad Pitt being total badasses in one movie, then you need to watch this film. Besides all that, Legends of the Fall is a very libertarian movie. Played by Anthony Hopkins, Col. William Ludlow becomes disillusioned by the U.S. government’s treatment of Native Americans and moves out to the Montana wilderness to build a ranch with his three sons and his Native American friend.
The three brothers end up enlisting to fight in WWI, mostly to protect the foolhardy youngest who clamors to go fight over the objections of his father who hates wars and any U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts. After their return, the eldest pursues a career in politics and is shunned by Col. Ludlow for becoming part of the problem. The middle son, played by Brad Pitt, makes a living selling alcohol illegally in the black market during Prohibition.
This movie has some absolutely excellent libertarian quotes and very strong, very explicitly anti-government themes, drawing on real, poignant examples from U.S. history to make its case against government corruption.
7. Die Hard
Is there a hero that Americans identify with and love more deeply than John McClane of the highly-acclaimed action film, Die Hard? When taunted by his antagonist, who says: “Do you really think you have a chance against us, Mr. Cowboy?” McClane famously answers: “Yippee-ki-yay, mother******.” What makes this movie libertarian? The film might not be entirely libertarian as such, but it has incisive social commentary that most libertarians would love and agree with. To begin with, the heroes of the film are low-level policemen– blue-collar, hardworking men who love their families. The rest of the police in the film, especially the higher-ranking ones, bungle everything and only seem to make the situation worse. Meanwhile, the movie takes a savage dig at the media and commentates on its heartlessness, fecklessness, obsession with drama and profits, and its propensity to only make things worse.
Caught up in the pride and ambition of monarchs, two great nations go to war. This libertarian movie has strong criticisms for warmongering executives and their cowardly willingness to spill the blood of younger, poorer men for their own ambition and profit. Here are some examples from the film:
Achilles: Imagine a king who fights his own battles. Wouldn’t that be a sight?
Achilles: I told you how to fight but I never told you why to fight.
Patroclus: I fight for you.
Achilles: Yes, but who will you fight for when I’m gone? Soldiers fight for kings they’ve never even met. They fight when they’re told to fight, they die when they’re told to die.
Odysseus: [to Achilles] War is young men dying and old men talking. You know this. Ignore the politics.
9. Gran Torino
In American film hero, Clint Eastwood’s final film as an actor, he played a recently widowed Korean War vet who defends himself and others from gang violence in his neighborhood using his M1 Garand rifle, and becomes a mentor and father figure to a young man who he catches trying to steal his 1972 Ford Gran Torino. As the gang violence worsens and builds to a dramatic confrontation, Eastwood’s character solves it once and for all without the use of violence, in a way that will shock viewers and remind them of men like Gandhi and Jesus. Sometimes the proper weapon against overt aggression is an M1 Garand, but taking the grandest, most cosmic view of the fight against violence and aggression in our world, Clint Eastwood shows us that the most powerful weapons are meekness and love.
10. Silver Circle
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