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#089. Mr. Smith

Perhaps the most generic surname in America is “Smith”. While most do not practice the craft of blacksmithing from which the name originates, it remains a popular name. There are many reasons that people chose this last name, foremost of which is to blend in with their surroundings. If your last name was something unique, you’d be easier to remember, but also easier to harass. By taking the name of Smith, many just wanted to blend in and be one of a crowd: accepted and therefore ignored. Of course, this becomes somewhat cliché when it comes to spies and their generic names like “John Smith” and “Jane Doe”. And yet, somehow we can relate to the Smiths in that they represent the “ every-man” that holds our beliefs and ideals. This week’s two films look at two very different Smiths.

Mr. & Mrs. SmithMr. & Mrs. Smith
Year: 2005
Rating: PG-13
Length: 120 minutes / 2.0 hours

A certain amount of anonymity goes along with the name “Smith”. Often, it is used by government agents who cannot reveal their real name. Or, it is used as a cover-all for agents like Agent Smith in The Matrix. Even further to the point is the addition of the first name “John” to the equation. “John Smith” is such a common name, that if it was truly offered as someone’s moniker, one would almost immediately ask if that was really their name. Most of the time, “John Smith” is the go-to made up name if you don’t want someone to really know who you are, and any conspiracy theories linked to the name are merely wild speculations. Nevertheless, the trope of “John Smith”, along with its female counterpart, “Jane Smith”, remains a staple of any spy-related media.

What happens when you fall in love while bearing a secret identity? While the easiest solution would be to tell the truth, if the truth would compromise your livelihood, the best option is to maintain the ruse, even after marriage. Of course, if your spouse ever found out that you’d been lying for years, things wouldn’t end well. By the same fashion, what if you found out your spouse had married you under the false pretenses of an assumed name? How would you react? John (Brad Pitt) and Jane (Angelina Jolie) Smith, are in just such a situation, albeit both are using the assumed name for cover while they work as assassins. And yet, their secret life together soon becomes known by their employers, who want the problem fixed the only way they know how: hits placed on both Smiths.

Mr. Smith Goes to WashingtonMr. Smith Goes to Washington
Year: 1939
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours

The name of “Smith” is nearly as American as apple pie, baseball, and freedom. For some reason, we inherently trust the name as if we have known the person our whole lives. Some of this mystique probably comes from 1950’s idealism, which placed the wholesome image of an American dream in our cultural consciousness. “If you can’t trust your neighbor, Mr. Smith, then who can you trust?” The name evokes a sense of the average American, to whom we can all relate to in some fashion. Since the name is almost eponymous with America, we cheer the idea of a Smith standing up for the Constitution and fighting against corruption, especially in Washington D.C.  After all, what’s more American than standing up for American ideals?

Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) has been chosen to fill an empty seat in the U.S. Senate after the death of a Senator in his home state. While he has no political experience, since he’s only known for being a leader of the local Boy Rangers (an obvious attempt to not be sued by the Boy Scouts of America), his naivete causes him to be an easy target. As it turns out, corruption runs thick through the Senate. Even though Smith just wants to help his constituents, he tries to pass a law that will financially benefit some of the unscrupulous Senators. As it the case in most political battles, things get ugly fast. Smith’s opponents sling mud like there’s no tomorrow, spreading rumors and lies about the honest Senator, whose only recourse at this point is to launch into an unending filibuster.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Smith stories

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3 responses to “#089. Mr. Smith

  1. Pingback: End of Act Two | Cinema Connections

  2. Pingback: #002. Self-Aware | Cinema Connections

  3. Pingback: #280. Brad Pitt | Cinema Connections

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