Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wag the Dog Movie Review

Wag the Dog was a hilariously clever movie about the guise of politics and the measures that some people will go to "spin" a story to protect their public image. Of course, the area of politics  (and in this case, the presidential election) is one that constantly under public scrutiny, especially in the United States where candidates must use their public image to secure votes from the American people. And candidates have to be very careful to depict themselves favorably, because if you do/say something, or act in such a way that the majority disagrees or finds what you do offensive or disappointing, you'll be on your way out! In the film, we see spin-doctor Conrad Bream (Robert DeNiro) and his team (including Anne Heche, Denis Leary, William H. Macy and Dustin Hoffman) concoct a plan to distract the public's attention from their candidate's alleged nefarious sex scandal by hiring a movie producer (Hoffman) to create a fake war with Albania. With all of the smoke and mirrors at their disposal, an effective distraction to the scandal is created, but then things get misconstrued and the movie ends up in a confusing mess of what is real, and what appears to be real.

This film surprised me, partially because I couldn't predict what it would be about based upon the title. Later, after watching the film and thinking about  how the plot could tie into the title, I remembered the caption at the beginning of the film:

Why does the dog wag its tail?
Because the dog is smarter than the tail.
If the tail were smarter, it would wag the dog.

Now, according to a little research that I conducted on that phrase, it means "a minor or secondary part of something controlling the whole." (Wikipedia). After reading about this, I began to understand the message that I think the director wanted to convey. In Wag the Dog, the minor or secondary part is Conrad Bream's team, who take control of the whole (the American voting public) in order to sidestep a scandal that could ruin the presidential candidate's shot for office. I think the director wanted to show how easily the media can mislead the public, especially because we rely upon and tend to naively trust the media for information. The fake war with Albania was created to distract from another (real) disaster to the candidate's campaign, and people seemed to believe it. At least for a while. The whole film just made me think about how easily I might be convinced to believe something untrue about anything, in this case a presidential candidate. What we perceive to be true may be a complete lie, and the film's director shows us with Wag the Dog just how easily that can happen.

I think this movie means to depict the people of Albania as down trodden and helpless, which they of course had to do to make people think that an actual war was going on there. I suppose one could assume that the few minorities in the film mean that they were irrelevant to the plot. I did not observe any instances where minorities were degraded or deliberately eliminated. The film director, Barry Levinson, however, is Jewish. Dustin Hoffman is from a Jewish family, but he was not brought up in any particular religious orientation, so I suppose he is "ethnically" Jewish, but not religiously. I am not sure if this had anything to do with the role he portrayed; I am just looking for ways to tie in the director's background with movie features. It may also be noted that Levinson has worked with Hoffman in other movies,  such as Rainman (1988) and in Tootsie (1982) however, he was un-credited.

People who are from different backgrounds probably wouldn't have to much of a problem with film, in terms of misinterpretation. Albanians may be offended by the choice to use their country in the ruse of a fake war, which may cause others to view them as helpless and unable to protect themselves.

The movie added to my visual literacy by introducing me to the reality that much of what we see in the media is fabricated and untrue. Now, I know that everything I see on TV is not real or true, but I didn't think about the campaigns I see government officials and hopeful elects as being complete lies. Wag the Dog showed me how it is so easy to spin things in one's favor, and to unfairly cover a mistake up with a bigger story to de-emphasize it. I don't follow politics as closely as some others, but I like to think that I educate myself pretty well when elections are at hand. The plot included details of what kind of artistic means that people might use to generate and carry out their fictitious creation. The movie producer had all kinds of tricks up his sleeve, he was a very powerful character in the movie. Initially I thought Dustin Hoffman's character wouldn't be too important., but as a movie producer, he had the resources needed to create an entire smoke screen using clever distractions and effects to really draw attention away from the presidential candidate's sex scandal. In the end, when Hoffman orders Bream killed and makes it look like he had a heart-attack, that shows how events can be twisted to seem to be what they are not. The movie made me feel like I have to be extra wary with my judgements, to not just think the first thing that pops into my head when I see something about a candidate on television, created by their campaign. They could be "wagging the dog" ;)

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