Captain American: The Winter Soldier – A Portrait of Modern Life

A text I wish to analyse is the 2014 film “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. I wish to examine how the film paints a portrait of 21st century life. It centres around a conspiracy involving the Nazi organisation HYDRA and the mythical Winter Soldier. In the words of Owen Gleiberman from Entertainment Weekly

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the first superhero since the terrorist-inflicted The Dark Knight

that plugs you right into whats happening now”.

I believe that “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” mirrors modern life on numerous fronts. It show’s the main anxieties people have in this age, and the challenge’s they face involving the unknown and their supposed ‘freedom’. I will start by examining three central characters and what they represent in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and how they relate to the general public.

Peggy Carter an-ex British soldier, and later on co-leader of the foundation S.H.I.E.L.D,  is confined to an old age home and is suffering from alzheimer’s and dementia. Carter along with S.H.I.E.L.D shaped and the built the pre-World War II world and political landscape. Her character echoes the “Greatest Generation” and the “Baby Boomers” who rebuilt and shaped the modern world after two world wars and countless threats. Both the above generations and Carter have regrets on how they shaped the world, as Peggy remarks to the Captain – “You saved the world. We rather mucked it up.”

The head of S.H.I.E.L.D Nick Fury is the opposite of Carter. He represent modern governmental institutes and regimes. The publics anxieties of their governments is represented in this character. As the Captain remarks, Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D are holding a gun to the publics head and calling it freedom. Fury like modern regimes is critical of the actions taken in the past in response to threats. Like today’s government’s Fury can see the world as it really is. This is shown when he retaliates against the Captain and states “S.H.I.E.L.D takes the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be.”

Steve Rodgers also know as the titular Captain represents the majority of the public. Lost in the modern world and holding on to what he knows, after being frozen in ice for almost 70 years. A polar opposite of Fury, Rodgers is the character most like the audience. He see’s good in the world and will do what it takes for the public to be free. Rodger’s is a pinup of what the public should inspire to be like. He hold’s the ‘ideals’ of America such as helping others and protecting the weak. Lost in translation with the modern world Rodgers want’s to do good but is unsure how a person does good anymore. In his own words “ For as long as I can remember I just wanted to do what was right. I guess I’m quite sure what that is anymore.”

As we can see the three principal characters represent the many faces of modern life. All three characters have different ideologies and react differently when faced with a threat. The said threat in this film is the Nazi organisation HYDRA. The re-emergence of this group in the MCU echoes the emergence of extremist groups in the 21st century.

HYDRA’s main philosophy as said by their head Alexander Pierce is that to build better world one has “to tear the old one down.” This is similar to modern extremist groups such as ISIS who wish to create a world based on one political / religious philosophy through the destruction of the old one. Within the film’s universe HYDRA infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D from it’s very beginning. This acts as an opposite of our political system where far right groups are now gaining votes in elections all across the world. Modern ‘extreme’ groups, such as England’s UKIP, who are using the political system in order gain power is directly similar to HYDRA using S.H.I.E.L.D a government institute in order to gain control.

The ways in which HYDRA aims to achieve it’s goal’s is through mass surveillance. Everything from internet history, bank transactions, tweets, and exam results are examined by a complex algorithm used to determine the future habits of the public and to exterminate the threat before it can happen.

With the recent news of Facebook using users information in order to manipulate their news feed and the news from whistleblower Edward Snowden that the NSA were keeping telecommunication records on citizens, the methods used by HYDRA seem to familiar be to the general public. In a world where everything about an individual can be easily accessed online HYDRA acts as an efficient metaphor for these organisations that invade the public privacy in order to examine threats.

Finally within the final third of the film the workers of S.H.I.E.L.D are faced with the revelation that they people they have been working for have been infiltrated by the enemy. The way in which the characters know little of the institute in which they are working for acts as a window into states which are generally seen as closed of to the west such as North Korea.

When faced with this revelation a number of the workers stand up for their beliefs and a face-off ensure’s between the two conflicting side. Sharon Carter a minor character working for S.H.I.E.L.D was one of the first ground workers to stand up the the HYDRA agents. When faced with the belief that she picked the wrong side,  “Depends on where you’re standing.” This clearly resembles the ordinary people in corrupt states, who when faced with the knowledge of corruption stand up for what is right and risking everything in the process.

In conclusion Captain America: The Winter Soldier clearly paints a portrait of life in the 21st century. The characters and plot lines within the film and the MCU as a whole act as a metaphor for ordinary people in the world and the larger problems they face when they see the world as it is. I’ll finish with a quote uttered by Peggy Carter in which I think sum’s up the films resemblance to modern life –

“ The world has changed and none of us can go back.

All we can do is our best,

and sometimes the best we can do is to start over.”

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Representation of Love in The Media . . .

Love is a constant theme in almost any tv series or film. No matter what genre the piece is the theme of love will find it’s way into it. Love as a plot device can be seen as overdone and boring at this stage, in this light I decided to examine a few of my favourite representations of love in media that don’t follow the stereotypical view point.

1. Laurence Anyways – Xavier Dolan

“I call her A.Z because it all begins and ends with her . . .”

This 2012 film by Xavier Dolan centres around a transgendered woman named Laurence and the story of her love of a woman called Fred. The story which spans a decade follows the lives of the two characters and the trials they face. It is an honest portrayal of transgendered people and love. It shows the difficulties and differences in love after Laurence comes out as transgendered. Unlike most love stories this one does not end with a happy ending. It honestly shows the deterioration of the relationship and the inner conflicts of the two characters. It presents a realistic portrayal of love – people change and emotions change.

2. Robbers – The 1975

“Be a riot, cause I know you . . . “

“Robbers” is a 2014 single from The 1975’s debut album. The song inspired by the film ‘True Romance’ tells the story of a heist gone wrong. The video which debuted in April follows the two main characters before and after the heist. It shows us how close the characters are and let’s us peak into their messed up lives. Lives which are filled by drugs and alcohol. Behind this hedonism is love. A messed up love. It is a violent and passionate love. A love where two people could express affection by physically attacking one another. Matt Healey lead singer of the band explained that the love here is an all or nothing love. A selfish love with only two players – “couples so intoxicated with one another that they fear nothing in the pursuit of the realisation of each other, actions fuelled by blind and unconditional love”.

3. American Horror Story : Coven – Ryan Murphy 

“I love you more than jazz babydoll . . .” 

American Horror Story created by Ryan Murphy is a horror anthology series that often contains unconventional love stories. The third series co-titles ‘Coven’ centres around the withes of New Orleans. By the seventh episode the head of the coven Fiona Goode and the spirit of the real life Axeman of New Orleans engage in a sexual tryst. What is different about this portrayal of love is the age of characters. This representation of sex and love among older characters is a fresh of breath air in a world dominated by youthful presentations of love. There are no jokes or wise cracks about the characters age but instead a hedonistic sexual love affair dealing with themes of ones inevitable death, ageing, and the loss of youth. This portrayal also deals with manipulation and deception within a relationship. It shows that two people can be a match but that they mightn’t always want the same thing.

4. Lost in Translation – Sofia Coppola

“Let’s never come here again because it would never be as much fun . . .”

Above is the now iconic final scene of Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film Lost in Translation. The plot of the film is simple. Two characters, Bob and Charlotte, navigate through downtown Tokyo while trying to make sense of their lives which they are ultimately unhappy with. In terms of romance and love the two main characters reject long standing notions of life time love and dating. The main point of the film boils down to one moment of attraction between two people. Both characters are lonely in downtown Tokyo and find solace with one another. They fear of getting too close and ruining their delicate relationship. This shows clearly the real life tension between two people who are finding their emotions. The kiss at the end of the film offers a post-romance view of love. The kiss isn’t sweeping and romantic and the start of a new life. The kiss is a goodbye. The kiss is the moment of attraction where the two characters finally connect fully. Keeping with the post-romance writing the kiss doesn’t ignite anything. It doesn’t change the characters perception of love and romance. What it does is offer the moment of connection.

5. Orange is The New Black

“(When asked what love is) Pain. Horrible pain. That you want again and again . . . “

Orange is The New Black is groundbreaking on many fronts. It shows real women’s stories and presents them is an accurate light. Like ‘Laurence Anyways’ it shows an honest representation of love between transgendered inmate Sophia and her ex-wife Crystal. It shows the early struggles between the couple and the effect of Marcus/Sophia’s choice to get a sex change. It shows Crystals willingness to stand by her husband and her hesitations over her husbands choice. Eventually the relationship deteriorated and Crystal makes the choice to start a new relationship with her wife’s blessing. Although at first Sophia is angry and dismisses it but then gives in and allows Crystal to move on with her life. This honest portrayal of people and love shows how people change.

Xavier Dolan: L’enfant Terrible.

Fresh off the success of his fifth film “Mommy”, the 25 year old Canadian directer is set to expand his brand with a submission to the 87th Academy Awards under the foreign language film category. “Mommy” tells the story of single parent Diane (Anne Dorval), her violent and troubled son Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon), and the assistance they get from their new neighbour Kyla (Suzanne Clement). After already winning Prix du Jury and being nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, Dolan is set for global domination.

Fans of Dolan will notice some recurring themes in the above trailer. The most notable being the cast. Anne Dorval already appeared in Dolan’s debut film J’ai Tue Ma Mere in 2009 which also starred Clement who also  appeared again in Dolan’s award winning 2012 film Laurence Anyways. Dolan’s work primarily deals with everyday issues such as family conflict (J’ai Tue Ma Mere), unrequited love (Heartbeats and Laurence Anyways), and loss (Tom a la Ferme). Although the themes presented seem to be ordinary and overdone, it’s the execution on Dolan’s half which transforms these films into award winners. Elements of surrealism and avant garde litter Dolan’s works.

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The artistic aspects coupled with slow motion shots turn mundane plot points into works of art. Ordinary life is turned on it’s with the inclusion of magic realism, poetic fallacy, and the strategically placed music.

Anyone at all familiar with Xavier Dolan will know the importance of music to the over all feel of the film. His films soundtracks could be linked to those of Sofia Coppola. “Mommy” features 90’s pop hits by Counting Crows, Dido, and Oasis making it the most mainstream in terms of music. “Laurence Anyways” employed the use of Moderat’s “New Error” in it’s trailer as well as music by The Cure and Duran Duran. The use of music in Laurence Anyways expresses the passing of time and the characters true nature. Dolan’s most well placed piece of music has to be Dalida’s Italian cover of Sonny & Cher’s “Bang Bang” in “Heartbeats”. In “Heartbeats” the music and accompanying scene shows the audience the shallow nature of the two main characters – Francis (Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri).

The above is only a selection of the artistic means in which Dolan transforms his films into pieces of art. With Mommy, which has been described by The Gurdian’s Peter Bradshaw as being “a splashy, transgressive treat, from trailer-trash chat to unexpected sex and surprising emotional depth”, set to be released into the world Dolan’s fame is set to continue growing. While the name Xavier Dolan is currently known most in the Canadian and LGBT film industries, it is set to make long overdue splash in the mainstream media.