#376. Washington D.C.

As the national capital of the United States, it’s no wonder Washington D.C. has been the backdrop for many films. It’s obvious that political thrillers would use Washington D.C. as their setting, considering the vast amount of politics that occurs in this city. However, there are plenty of other films that have capitalized on the notoriety of the nation’s capital. Whether it’s the historical adventure of National Treasure (2004), a sequel for America’s superhero with Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), or the Die Hard (1988) reimagining of Olympus Has Fallen (2013) (not to mention the Die Hard sequel, Live Free or Die Hard (2007)), Washington D.C. has plenty to offer as a set piece. Heck, even sci-fi films like Independence Day (1996) have used it as a site for emphasizing alien dominance over humans. This week’s two films have Washington D.C. as their central setting.

Thank You for SmokingThank You for Smoking
Year: 2005
Rating: R
Length: 92 minutes / 1.53 hours

To get anything done in Washington D.C., you have to be part of the government. Even being a senator or representative isn’t a foregone conclusion either, as we saw in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). While pushing a political agenda might be difficult, there are ways to do it. Some might consider the “sleeper agent” tactics of The Manchurian Candidate (1962) to be preferable to the alternative: lobbying. Money talks, and when money is put in all the right places, all the right people start to push a particular agenda. In the end, the political machine is more like a business than a government, as money can influence the people in charge of the government to do the bidding of the wealthy. If money were removed from the equation, then maybe we might have a fair and unbiased group of representatives. Who knows when that will happen, though?

If there’s anything lobbyists are good at, it’s spinning the truth to fit their agenda. Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) has been talking his way around the fact that smoking kills by using studies funded by Big Tobacco to disprove this correlation. Even with his silver tongue attempting to convince consumers that smoking is safe, fewer people are smoking. Nick figures a few big-budget Hollywood films might be the shot in the arm cigarette sales need, but soon he has to defend against a bill being brought to the Senate that would put a skull and crossbones on packages of cigarettes. After Nick is abducted by his opponents and given a lethal dose of nicotine via nicotine patches, he still doesn’t change his mind or his message. Nick defends the public’s right to choose, even if the choice isn’t healthy. His years of smoking cigarettes saved him, but now that he’s unable to smoke ever again, he decides to start his own firm.

All the President’s MenAll the President's Men
Year: 1976
Rating: PG
Length: 138 minutes / 2.30 hours

The people who run the government from Washington D.C. can often be the most interesting topics of biographies. Individuals with as much power as a president certainly have stories to tell. Movies like JFK (1991) and W. (2008) look into these administrations and create an entertaining narrative from the events of their presidencies. Of course, there are others in Washington D.C. with plenty of power as well. FBI directors like J. Edgar Hoover (in J. Edgar (2011)) or FBI agents like Robert Hanssen (in Breach (2007)) have secrets to keep, and their stories are more interesting when these secrets are revealed. This can even be done to comedic effect, like in Burn After Reading (2008). When the government is out of control, though, the people need to know. That’s why films like The Post (2017) and All the President’s Men (1976) are important: they show us how the media should be keeping the government honest.

Shortly after The Washington Post published the Pentagon Papers, two reporters, Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) are tasked to report on the Democratic National Committee break-in at the Watergate complex. As they begin to unravel the story, it soon becomes apparent how scandalous the implications are. Unfortunately, with no reliable sources, the two reporters cannot confirm anything. When Woodward uses his anonymous source, “Deep Throat” (Hal Holbrook), he is encouraged to “follow the money.” Digging deeper, the reporters find the conspiracy entangles much of the current administration, including the president. While the two round out their sources, the White House issues an evasive denial of allegations, which means The Post could be in trouble if their story is proved false. Confident in their information, the reporters write the article, and the rest is history.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 different takes on Washington D.C.

#334. Amnesia

What were we talking about? Oh yes, amnesia. While this trope is usually associated with soap operas, it has been used in a variety of diverse formats and for a variety of different reasons. Sometimes the effect can be used for humorous purposes, much like the plot of 50 First Dates (2004). More often than not, amnesia is used to make the protagonist more relatable to the audience. Everything the main character re-learns is new information to the audience. In fact, this trope is typically used to not only provide lengthy exposition but to also give the plot a good twist at the end. If anything, amnesia can make characters more dynamic: acting one way as they regain their memories, then having to make the decision to either revert to their former life or pick up their new one once they learn the truth. This week’s two films highlight amnesia as a plot device.

Year: 2006
Rating: PG-13
Length: 85 minutes /  1.42 hours

The largest appeal of amnesia as a plot device is the erasure of any memories the main character would have that would bias their decision-making process. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000). The little hints the main character gives himself to avenge his wife’s death only act to propel him into an unintentional bias that drives him to vengeance. While Memento covers a medical condition, temporary amnesia has its uses as a plot device as well. When key memories fall into place for temporary amnesiacs, the plot is driven forward by the exciting revelations. Films like Total Recall (1990) and Unknown (2011) hide assassins in plain sight. However, when the entire cast of characters contracts temporary amnesia, figuring out who’s who and each individual’s alliances makes for exceptional drama.

Not to be confused with the Liam Neeson film of the same name, Unknown (2006) starts with a group of men regaining consciousness and trying to figure out why they’re locked in an abandoned warehouse. They also need to deduce why one of them was tied up, another shot, and why the rest of them have other, various injuries. Slowly, they begin to piece together that they are part of a failed kidnapping due to an accidental chemical leak that put them in a temporary coma and erased their memories. As their memories return, each individual realizes they’re either a kidnapper or the kidnapped. When the mafia returns to unlock the warehouse, they proceed to eliminate the witnesses, not knowing that one of the individuals has just remembered his actual job: acting as an undercover cop to infiltrate the mob.

The Bourne IdentityThe Bourne Identity
Year: 2002
Rating: PG-13
Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours

Memories are the moments that define our lives. We are who we are via the collected memories of our lives. These memories shape us and inform our decisions in life. If memories are erased, an individual can be molded into almost anyone. If a government can erase memories, they can create docile and obedient soldiers, much like was seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). Of course, memories are much easier to erase when they’re part of a cybernetic interface. Films like Robocop (1987) and Ghost in the Shell (2017) show this digital memory erasure still comes with some problems, though. But what if a well-trained super soldier loses their memories? Would they continue to call upon their ingrained training, being able to perform all their duties without knowing how they got that way? Would they continue to kill without knowing why?

After an unidentified man is found floating in the Mediterranean by some local fishermen, he only has one clue to his identity: a safe deposit box in Switzerland. While he doesn’t know who he is, he does retain a plethora of useful skills. Opening the box in Zurich, the man learns he has multiple cover identities and opts to use the one of Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). Unfortunately, his presence is soon identified, and he has to run away, mostly unsure why he is being chased. As he comes in contact with more people from his past, Bourne learns he was a highly-trained assassin and part of Operation Treadstone. Because he carries no memories of his time as a CIA black ops operative, he decides he’s better off cutting ties with Treadstone. Unfortunately, Treadstone does not want to lose an asset as valuable as Jason Bourne and will fight him to bring him back into the program.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 awesome amnesias