Let’s recall some movies: Red Dawn– Plucky underdogs versus tyrant state. Star Wars, A New Hope ( the real Stars Wars number one) – Plucky underdogs versus tyrant state. Casablanca– Plucky underdogs versus tyrant state. Lord of the Rings- Plucky underdogs versus tyrant state. The Ukrainians…Get the picture?
The Ukrainian War plays into every good vs evil Western pop culture trope since WWII. Hell, since Agincourt and Shakespeare’s Henry V. It’s the first morally unambiguous war since Korea, maybe since the Second World War, thus setting up the good guy vs bad guy treatment.
And the casting? Perfect. We’ve got the brave little country led by a hero against a weird old tyrant. How Hollywood is that? We have the young leader, handsome and charismatic, with a lovely wife and cute kids. It’s former actor Zelenskyy’s role of a lifetime and he’s playing it with Oscar winning aplomb.
In the modern era we’re more used to the anti-hero in pop culture and politics up to and including our favorite films and successful politicians. The villains have remained a relative constant.
And you couldn’t cast a better villain than a bald bitter former spy allied with devious Chicoms. It’s irresistible. It’s boffo box-office to the tune of over $13 billion in US congressional sales after only two weeks playing in the geopolitical theater. Europe loves it too.
The Ukrainians have brilliantly designed this story to push every one of our emotional buttons. From the pretty girls in battle to the clueless henchmen of the tyrant, how did the Russians not see this, and its attendant geopolitical implications, coming?
The story has done something we haven’t seen since the early days of Vietnam, it’s brought America together. By wide margins both parties and their voters adore this movie. When Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy, when Bill Barr and Joe Biden, when everybody except MSNBC is singing the same tune you know this is a different script than Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq. It’s not, as some have claimed, Wag the Dog. But it’s written nearly as well.
We’re just past the first act, which was the buildup to war, words of courageous defiance from the leading man, and daring small victories of the good guys. Gotta hook the audience. Now we’re waiting for the next shoe to drop, the dramatic buildup, which will be the start of the assault into Kyiv. As of press time Thursday night, Russian units seem to be dispersing outside of the city to do just that. Then comes the main act, the Battle for Kyiv. It’ll be like LOTR’s the Battle of Helm’s Deep, except no Gandalf riding to the rescue.
The whole script will rest on the main act. Does the hero valiantly die or wisely flee at the end to fight another day and set up the happier sequel? Does the villain face ruin from his own coterie at home because of his failure to achieve initially expected goals or does he victoriously preside over a defeated charnel house? Can a miracle save the underdogs or are they doomed?
Well, in all reality, it’s likely to be close to the last scenes in The Alamo. That’s not a very pretty ending, not a dry eye will be left in the house. But you see, the realities of war are less forgiving than the movies.