Monthly Archives: May 2019

Cold War (2018)

cold war

Cold War is an exquisitely filmed, critically acclaimed film by Paweł Pawlikowski about a late Stalinist era bandleader played by Tomasz Kot and his muse, a singer played by Joanna Kulig. While it lost the “Best Foreign Language” film Oscar to Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, it did manage to pull in close to 20 million dollars at the box office. In other words, while it didn’t play at the suburban multiplex, a lot of people in the English-speaking world saw it. So, is it worth 90 minutes of your time?

First of all, as mentioned above, the cinematography is beautiful. Each frame could be a painting. All through Cold War, I was constantly reminded of the German romantic era painter Caspar David Friedrich and, probably more significantly, of Wim Wenders’s great film Wings of Desire, easily the best film ever made about the Cold War and the division of Europe into East and West. Yet, unlike Wings of Desire, which managed to convey an enormous amount of romantic desire into a rather odd story about a fallen angel in Berlin and his love of a French circus performer, Cold War leaves me, well, cold.

The first 20 minutes of Cold War start off promising. It’s the late 1940s in the Polish countryside. We’re introduced to Dwa serduszka,  a folk song about unrequited love. We first hear it performed by two working-class men playing accordions — the camera focuses on their dirty, rough hands so we know they’re working class. There’s not a lot of feeling. Both men are long past the days where unrequited love would have meant anything to them, but there is a certain authenticity. Poland has just survived a genocidal occupation by the German Army, which killed over a third of the population, and yet Polish folk culture has survived intact. We meet Wiktor Warski and Irena Bielecka, two theater directors whose relationship with the Polish Communist Party is left vague, who have been given funding to open up a music school in a dilapidated estate, battered, but left standing after the war. We also meet Lech Kaczmarek, a Stalinist functionary sent by the government to watch over them.

What Wiktor Warski and Irena Bielecka are doing in the Polish countryside is actually quite similar to the old New Deal Federal Theater Project, and you could probably do worse than to think of Warski as a Polish version of Orson Welles or Alan Lomax, a man from the educated elite given money by the government to preserve the country’s rich folk traditions and transform them into mass, popular entertainment. What makes the early parts of Cold War work is its vision of the genuinely Polish version of socialism that might have been. Kaczmarek, who’s actually a complex, sympathetic character in spite of his ultimately destructive role, gives a speech to Warski’s incoming students about how they’re the descendants of the Polish working class taking over one of the estates of their former masters and using it to make something beautiful. Warski  finds his star performer, muse and lover in Zuzanna “Zula” Lichoń, and eventually they transform the simple Polish folk song we heard in the film’s opening into a transcendently luminous performance in Warsaw. Even Kaczmarek seems genuinely touched.

The Polish Communist Party, of course, doesn’t know a good, actually socialist, thing when they see it. They demand that Warski and Bielecka stop making art about unrequited love and the survival of Polish folk music, and add in a few things about agricultural policy, “world peace,” and the greatness of Comrade Stalin. Bielecka wants to fight for her original artistic vision. Kaczmarek unsurprisingly is more than willing to please the party leadership. Warski is strangely inert. While he obviously disapproves of the government’s plans to transform the thing he so lovingly nurtured for years into crude, Communist propaganda, he never says a word in support of Bielecka’s half-hearted rebellion. She disappears from the film altogether. He, at first, gets along by going along, and then defects to the West, ending up as a successful, if emotionally unfulfilled musician in Paris.

After Warski’s escape to the west, Cold War shifts from the difficulties of making art under a Stalinist government to the romantic relationship between Warski and Zuzanna Lichoń. Here’s where the film loses most of its steam. Joanna Kulig’s performance as Zuzanna has received most of the film’s critical acclaim, but I think the film’s narrative lets her performance down. I understand what Pawlikowski is trying to do. Zuzanna, who was supposed to defect to France along with Warski but who, at the last moment, lost her nerve, doesn’t love him as much as her loves her. He’s stupidly devoted to her. She can take him or leave him. As the film progresses, we begin to realize that Warski is becoming the peasant boy in Dwa serduszka, a man destroyed by unrequited love.

The problem I think is that Pawlikowski, who received funding from French and British producers, is trying to market Cold War in both Poland and the West. Zuzanna is fairly sympathetic as a “feminist” character, but in the end it’s not her story. It’s not a French, British or American story about a strong woman who breaks free of men and goes onto a successful music career in the west. It wants to be that, of course, but it also wants to be an Eastern European story about a doomed romantic love than can exist neither in Stalinist Poland nor in the capitalist west. By trying to be both it achieves neither. Tomasz Kot, who’s certainly a good-looking actor, as well as tall enough to be a minor Game of Thrones villain, simply doesn’t have the charisma to make Zuzana’s ultimate rejection of her cynical decision to marry Kaczmarek and give up artistic ideals she never really had in the first place believable. The ending seems empty, forced, and unnecessarily perverse.

Chelsea Manning is Showing Us What Real Resistance Looks Like

Why is Chelsea Manning still in jail for resisting a grand jury subpoena anyway? They’ve already indicted Julian Assange.

The Most Revolutionary Act


Chelsea Manning (photo courtesy sparrowmedia.net)


Throughout history, human civilization has been cursed by tyranny. Time and again, power is concentrated in institutions that rule by coercion and force. Humans have suffered through totalitarianism, dictatorships, and fascism repeatedly. Untold suffering and death have occurred.

But such times have always been marked by resistance. Courageous individuals and movements have fought back with a variety of tactics from open revolt to furtive sabotage. The rate of success in overthrowing particular tyrannical institutions has been mixed (though none of them ever last forever anyway of course) but that is not the only way to weigh the value of freedom fighters. Is it not worthy, in and of itself, to strive on behalf of life?

Here in the USA, we are living through a time of increasing tyranny. Certainly, the entire experiment has been tyrannical from the start, given the genocide and slavery that…

View original post 493 more words

The Espionage Act

germans

I wonder why this German ape has so much lust for white (presumably French or Belgian) women when there are actually plenty of white women in Germany.

It’s important to put the Espionage Act (which is being used to prosecute Julian Assange) in its historical Context. Back in 1917, Wall Street had loaned billions of dollars to the French and English ruling class to prosecute their war against the German ruling class. Was there any moral difference between them? Maybe. German was an authoritarian state and (France at least) was an emerging democratic republic. There was of course that little Belgian genocide in Congo, the British Empire, and the vicious antisemitism, as well as France’s alliance with Czarist Russia, that probably negated any moral superiority the Triple Entente had over the Germans and Austrians.

In any event, in 1917 there were plenty of German and Irish American (still I think the two largest white ethnic groups in the United States) who weren’t exactly thrilled about going to war against the German Empire in favor of the British. So Wall Street had a problem. If the Germans won (which they were likely to do without American intervention), Anglo American bankers would lose hundreds of billions of dollars. So the Wilson Administration had to take decisive (and decisively authoritarian) action against any possible dissent. One particularly blunt tool in Wilson’s toolbox was the “Espionage Act,” which not only effectively outlawed all dissent, but effectively branded it as “Pro German.

There are citizens of the United States, I blush to admit, born under other flags but welcomed under our generous naturalization laws to the full freedom and opportunity of America, who have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life; who have sought to bring the authority and good name of our Government into contempt, to destroy our industries wherever they thought it effective for their vindictive purposes to strike at them, and to debase our politics to the uses of foreign intrigue …

I urge you to enact such laws at the earliest possible moment and feel that in doing so I am urging you to do nothing less than save the honor and self-respect of the nation. Such creatures of passion, disloyalty, and anarchy must be crushed out. They are not many, but they are infinitely malignant, and the hand of our power should close over them at once. They have formed plots to destroy property, they have entered into conspiracies against the neutrality of the Government, they have sought to pry into every confidential transaction of the Government in order to serve interests alien to our own. It is possible to deal with these things very effectually. I need not suggest the terms in which they may be dealt with.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Espionage_Act_of_1917

And by “citizens” of course Wilson means “Germans” and to a lesser extent the Irish.

Most of the hysteria regarding Julian Assange is based on the fact that he’s accused of being a Russian spy. Is he? Who knows. But even if he is, I’m still glad he released proof of how the Clintons rigged the 2016 primaries against Sanders. In the end, Assange’s crime isn’t that he conspired against Democracy but that he conspired *for* democracy.

As for the Russians, their crime seems to be the same thing George Carlin says the Germans were guilty of (the last white people the USA bombed). They were honing in on “our” territory. Interestingly enough, Russiagate, which was cooked up by the Clintons and the Democratic Party, and which has some of its biggest supporters among liberals and feminists, weakens Carlin’s “bigger dick theory of foreign policy.” It seems like these days women are as belligerent as men.

From the war on terror to russiagate

Surely I can’t be the only one who’s noticed that John Walker Lindh was released from prison the same day as Julian Assange was charged under the espionage act.

NPR assures me the FBI is watching Lindh. It’s hard to believe it’s been 8 years since 9/11. Lindh of course wasn’t a terrorist, just an idiot who joined the wrong cause at the wrong time.

https://www.npr.org/2019/05/23/726175246/fbi-stays-on-watch-as-terrorists-finish-prison-terms-and-broader-threat-evolves

Ever once in awhile I think about Steve Earle’s great song about Lindh.

What to say about Assange. Clearly he’s a right winger of some sort. But does the American ruling class have the right to extradite him to the United States and lock him up in solitary confinement for life (which, let’s face it, is what’s going to happen) under the Espionage Act? Well, the Espionage Act was first used in 1917 by Woodrow Wilson to smash the anti-war movement. Back then the evil Russians were the evil Germans and our dissidents (like Eugene Debs) seemed of an altogether higher quality. Some things never change. Some things do. Clearly Assange is going to jail for life, not because he stole information, but because he stole information the American ruling class considers its personal property, not the property of the American people.

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/wikileaks-founder-julian-assange-indicted-new-charges-under-espionage-act-n1009441

The Death of Stalin (2017)

zhukov

It is I, Robert Mueller, and I have come to the White House to depose Trump and restore Hillary Clinton to her rightful place in the Oval Office.

For an American, or any westerner, honestly confronting the legacy of the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin can be especially difficult, or even impossible. On one hand, Stalin was a tyrant and a war criminal, an authoritarian who forever branded the idea of socialism with state repression. On the other hand, he’s a convenient scapegoat for ruling class apologists for capitalism and western imperialism, well paid propagandists who ignore, or even whitewash, their own demonic state criminals  in favor of pointing the finger at Russia or China. Any American politician who praised Stalin, or even Lenin, would find his career over the next day, but they all gush over Winston Churchill, Henry Kissinger, and the rapist slave owners who founded the American republic. Armando Iannucci, the director of The Death of Stalin, is one of these hypocritical western, ruling class propagandists.

That being said, The Death of Stalin is an entertaining film, but only if you keep in mind one thing. It’s not really about Stalin or the Soviet Union, and to be honest, it doesn’t even pretend to be. It’s basically an extended Monty Python skit about a grotesque, incompetent, ruling elite jockeying for power after the death of their overpowering father figure. Think of it as The Sopranos, only with British actors cosplaying as Russians instead of Italian Americans from New Jersey. Michael Palin plays Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet diplomat who negotiated the “Hitler Stalin pact.” He’s an incompetent bumbling masochist on the verge of senility. Simon Russell Beale, who’s a dead ringer for Dick Cheney, plays Lavrentiy Beria, the head of Stalin’s secret police, and a serial rapist. Georgy Malenkov, Stalin’s chief of staff, is played by Jeffrey Tambor. He looks a bit like The Joker gone puffy and middle-aged. Andrea Riseborough plays Stalin’s daughter. She’s anxious and generally annoying. Rupert Friend plays Stalin’s drunken, half-insane son, who’s last seen threatening Zhou Enlai, played by an actor named David Wong. Last but not least, speaking of New Jersey Italians, Steve Buscemi plays Nikita Khrushchev. There’s not much to be said about his performance other than that he’s the last actor on earth I had expected to see cast in the part, and that he looks tired, and old. Just about the only thing that could have saved his performance is if Iannucci had paid homage to Fargo and had Beria, or some other Soviet thug, put him through a woodchipper. Obviously, since Khrushchev lived to become the premier of the Soviet Union, that couldn’t happen.

If the Death of Stalin has a hero, it’s probably Georgy Zhukov, played by the Liverpool born Jason Isaacs. That Zhukov, who commanded the Soviet Army at Stalingrad, actually was a hero, the man who deserves more credit for defeating Hitler than the mediocre Eisenhower or the bumbling incompetent Churchill, is besides the point. Zhukov really isn’t Zhukov. He’s just another Englishman. Unlike the rest of the cast, however, who are all presented as lecherous, grotesque, doddering old men – I honestly left the movie genuinely concerned that perhaps Michael Palin is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s — Isaacs comes off as youthful, or at least vigorously middle aged. It’s actually the most hilariously ironic thing about The Death of Stalin. Armando Iannucci, in the end, is just another Anglo American liberal who turns to jelly in the presence of a troop, any troop, even a commie general like Zhukov. Iannucci’s gone through all the trouble of making a purportedly “anti-authoritarian” movie and all he really wants in the end is a military coup. The Death of Stalin would be the perfect date movie for Rachel Maddow and Louise Mensch.

To be fair, the scene where a terrified radio producer has to re-stage a concert because Stalin demanded a recording that hadn’t been made is fucking hilarious and well worth sitting through 90 minutes of hideous old westerners pretending to hideous old Russians to see.

Peterloo (2018)

hunt

Rise like Lions after slumber
(but not with this pompous cunt)
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you —
Ye are many — they are few.

Try to imagine, for a moment, that the March on Washington ended, not with Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, but with the Klan, supported by heavily armed federal troops, riding through the crowd in front of the Lincoln Memorial, killing babies, stabbing women in the belly, murdering US Army veterans. These days, at least in New York or Washington, mass marches are mundane affairs. You might get hassled by some right wing bikers. Someone will, inevitably, yell out “get a job,” but for the most part the ruling class simply ignores them. They aren’t much of a threat. Just before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, there were marches of a half million people in the streets of most major American cities. They had no effect. The corporate media barely covered them.

In 1819, in the North of England, on the other hand, a mass gathering of working class people, none of whom could vote, scared the living daylights out of their “betters.” The French Revolution, after all, was barely 25 years in the past. Every English country gentleman could imagine his beaten down workers and peasants setting up a guillotine in the town square. Only five before, Napoleon and the Grande Armee were rampaging through Europe, a man and an army, while not exactly representative of the French, or any country’s working class — Bonapartism was above all the ideology of the rising bourgeoisie — but a deadly threat to moldy old aristocracies. Napoleon not only had a lot of brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews he wanted to make crowned heads of various European nations, he also had a bad habit or ripping down hereditary elites and replacing them with elites made up of talent and brains. Perhaps there was also a bit of guilt. Perhaps, deep down inside, the typical English country squire knew that he was a piece of shit who lived off the blood of the English people and deserved little more than to have his head fall into a basket in front of some howling Jacobin mob.

The 70 or 80 thousand people, and those numbers probably aren’t exaggerated, who gathered at St Peter’s Square in Manchester in the industrial north of England did not consider themselves a Jacobin mob. Just the opposite. They were good Protestants, moral, non-violent. They were patriots loyal to King and country,  who gave their sons to the British Army that defeated the French at Waterloo in 1815, who were demanding their God given rights as English men and women. What’s more, their demands were perfectly reasonable. They wanted the vote. They wanted a representative in Parliament. They wanted a say in whether or not the crown continued to put a tariff on the importation of grain, the “Corn Laws” that benefitted British landowners but made the people go hungry. They wanted that thing the current American government claims it has to go overseas and invade foreign countries to bring to their oppressed masses. They wanted democracy.

Needless to say, they didn’t get it. Technically the United Kingdom still isn’t a democracy or even a republic but a constitutional monarchy. Let that sink in. Two hundred years ago, the landed gentry of the north of England, supported by the army and the crown, road through a crowd of non-violent protesters slashing and clubbing and shooting innocent men women and children, and utterly demolished the first genuine mass democratic movement in the history of England. It was a great victory not only for the British ruling class, but for the European and American ruling class. All the English working class had left when it was all over was the moral high ground, and, even though they had some of the most eloquent voices in the English language take up their cause, most famously Percy Shelley in his great poem the Mask of Anarchy, it got them nothing. 1819 was the moment when the English could have joined the United States and France and reinvigorated the movement for democracy in the west, and it was lost. Everything that followed, the genocide in Ireland, the conquest of India, the triumph of the global north over the global south, was made possible by what happened on August 16th, 1819 at St. Peters Square in Manchester. It’s not a date to celebrate, but an event that should be mourned.

So why would Mike Leigh, the renowned leftist filmmaker, make a movie about the Peterloo Massacre and not, for example, about the storming of the Bastille? Indeed, as wonderfully crafted, and as historically accurate as it may be, Peterloo has not only been a dud at the box office, at least in the United States, a lot of very good film critics have argued that it’s simply a bad movie. Eileen Jones, for example,  can’t quite bring herself to come out and say, “well it sucks.” In the age of bad reboots and crappy superhero movies, you really have to give any honest confrontation with history the benefit of the doubt. There are precious few Mike Leighs and Ken Loaches in the world of film these days. But she clearly hated it enough to give its harshest critics prominent space in her review.

San Francisco Chronicle reviewer G. Allen Johnson goes right for the jugular in a piece entitled “History Rendered Motionless by Mike Leigh in Peterloo”: “So much talking, with every actor bellowing lines from Leigh’s script. So much scenery chewed, so little action.”

https://jacobinmag.com/2019/04/peterloo-massacre-mike-leigh-movie-review

I think she misses the point. If Mike Leigh makes little or not mention of Shelley’s famous poem that’s because he’s not trying to make an inspirational movie, but a sobering one. To feature The Mask of Anarchy prominently would be to make the same mistake all of those scenery chewing British radicals did back in 1819. Bismarck once remarked that “the great questions of the day will not be settled by means of speeches and majority decisions but by iron and blood.” Bismarck was a reactionary, not a democrat, but Mike Leigh is essentially making the same point. Democracy isn’t won by high flown speeches, ostentatious non-violence, or winning the moral high ground, but by howling Jacobin mobs and revolutionary peoples armies. In the climax of last year’s film by Raul Peck The Young Karl Marx, which could almost serve as a companion piece to Peterloo, Frederick Engels confronts the leadership of a movement very much like the men, and women, who organized the demonstration at St. Peter’s square, the only difference being that the same people in 1848 were calling themselves “anarchists” not democrats. “Are all men brothers?” he asks. “The capitalists and the workers? Are they brothers? No. They are not. They are enemies.”

If there’s a real villain in Peterloo, it’s not the reactionary judges and ruling class courts – and bless Mike Leigh for portraying the capitalist judicial system as exactly the one sided mechanism of class oppression that it’s always been – the grotesque, decadent Prince Regent, the incompetent British general who abandons his command to go to a horse race, or even the frothing at the mouth reactionary landed gentry who kill innocent working class women and children with such glee, but the radical democrat Henry Hunt. Because of his arrest and long jail term after the Peterloo Massacre, Hunt has gone down in history as a hero of British democracy, and, to be fair, it’s hard to knock a man who gets dragged off the stage of a mass rally by the police and thrown in a dungeon for two years, but if there’s anybody who doesn’t deserve the moral capital he gets from an unjust arrest, it’s Mike Leigh’s Henry Hunt. Played by the excellent Rory Kinnear, Hunt is not only a snob and a pompous windbag, a celebrity leftist who actually despises the working class he claims to be speaking for, he’s a more effective enemy of the working class than three regiments of the King’s infantry. When informed by the leadership of the Manchester democratic radical that the gentry were in fact planning a violent attack on the demonstration and that the people should arm themselves at least with clubs and rocks, he self-righteously declares that at the least sign of militant resistance, he would pack his bags, and go back home to London.

Good, the people who did the real work of organizing the march should have said, go back to London and never come back you arrogant cunt. But the problem is that intellectually they aren’t much different from Hunt himself. Their democratic radicalism is moral, not realistic, idealistic, not class based. What’s more, they are in awe of Hunt’s wealth, style and education, his ability to give a good speech. So they give in to his foolish demand that the people should unilaterally disarm, and the rest is, as they say, history. As the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once argued, “The whole history of the British labor movement is intertwined with Christianity, far more indebted to Methodism than to Marx.” And that, Peterloo argues, is the problem.

Black ’47 (2018)

Black_47_poster

The Irish potato famine of the late 1840s is widely misunderstood in the United States.  First of all, it wasn’t a famine, and it wasn’t about potatoes. That it was a genocide carried out by the English and their collaborators against the Irish peasantry, who needed to be cleared off the land to make way for capitalism and the British Empire, is probably the mainstream view on Bainbridge Avenue or in South Boston. But for most of us, it’s almost always spoken of as if it were a tribal feud between Celt and Anglo Saxon, or as a religious conflict between Catholic and Protestant. There are also a lot of Irish Americans, all English speaking, culturally Anglo Saxon, and mostly part of the middle or upper-middle-class. Don’t expect to hear Joe Biden talking about the crimes of the British Empire on the campaign trail in 2020.

Most American film critics have labeled the Irish film Black ’47 either as a revenge film in the mold of First Blood, or as a “western.” They’re not entirely wrong. Black ’47’s hero Martin Feeney, a veteran of the British invasion of Afghanistan, does resemble Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo. He’s an elite soldier the local cops push a little too far, and when he finally decides to take his revenge, they have no idea what they’re up against. Australian actor James Frecheville, tall, dark, intense, looks a bit like a young Clint Eastwood. If Hollywood decides to reboot Dirty Harry they don’t have to look very far for their leading man. He, and costar Hugo Weaving, are perfect for the film’s high key cinematography, a style that recalls John Ford or Akira Kurosawa. If I were directing a remake of The Searchers, I know who I’d cast as Ethan Edwards.

These same critics, while correctly pointing out some of Black ‘47’s aesthetic influences, often miss the forest through the trees. Yes. It’s a western. But the best American westerns, like the above-mentioned The Searchers, are dealing with the same process that was going on in Ireland in the 1840s, genocide, the Anglo-American empire clearing “empty” land of its aboriginal inhabitants to make way for capitalism. Every American can tell you all about the “communist famine” in Ukraine or during the Great Leap Forward in China.  But how many Americans know that the population actually increased in China under Mao, so much so that the Chinese government in the 1980s had to implement a “one-child policy” to deal with overpopulation? The capitalist genocide in Ireland was a lot more effective. There were 8 million people in Ireland in 1840. There were 4 million in 1876. In 1923, there were only 3 million. What’s more, the staggering loss of life in Ireland would be dwarfed by the tens of millions of people who died in India under the British Empire in the 1870s and 1880s. Take that Stalin. Take that Mao. Compared to British ruling class, you’re amateurs. Yet try to tell this to an American. He’ll probably just start babbling on about Venezuela.

When Martin Feeney deserts the British Army in Afghanistan, and returns “home” to western Ireland, he may be a better killer than the typical British enlisted man of the day, but he’s not at all unusual. If the typical Irish American – like the typical German or Polish American — is a bit of a racist, this has to be seen within the context of Anglo-American imperialism. After Protestant England destroyed the indigenous, and Catholic, culture of the Irish and Highland Scots, they recruited Irishmen and Scotsmen as muscle for the British empire. The very best imperial stormtroopers in India, or in the American west, were the descendants of the very people who were subjected to the capitalist genocide of the Highland Clearances or the Irish “potato famine.” But what would happen, Black ’47 asks, if one of these Celtic supermen turned on his English and Anglo-Irish collaborationist masters? After Martin Feeney deserts the British Army and comes home to a home that’s no longer his and a family that’s been systematically dismantled and driven into madness and death by the local courts and the local police, that’s exactly what happens.

The first thing we notice that the landscape, a landscape a British Lord calls “too beautiful for the Irish,” is a landscape of death, Hieronymus Bosch damped by the filter of an austere desaturated, high key  photography. It is beautiful, but we also see row after row of stone houses, all of which had probably existed for centuries, with their roofs torn off. The collaborationist judicial system has been systematically arresting people for any reason, then using it as an excuse to evict them from their homes, tearing the wood and straw off the top of each house to make sure that anybody who remained would either freeze to death or get rained on and die of the fever. One family of squatters consists of the wife, teenage son, and young daughter of his brother Michael, who was hanged after he violently resisted the evictions. The teenage boy resents Martin’s service with the British Army, but Michael has food and money, and a plan to emigrate to the United States, which was probably the best course of action for the Irish in 1847. Better to deal with WASP American prejudice or even getting drafted into the Union Army and sent to Antietam or Fredericksburg than to stay put in the middle of an ongoing genocide. A few minutes later, however, just like that, Michael’s sister in law, nieces and nephews are all dead. That’s how cheap life was in Ireland in 1847.

When Michael sees his brave, militant nephew, a hotheaded young man on the cusp of adulthood, gunned down by local police, and his dark, beautiful sister in law frozen to death with his little niece after they lose their only shelter, the die is cast. What else could he possibly become but a remorseless killing machine dedicated to bringing the same death and destruction on the English and their local collaborators that they’ve brought to Ireland?

Most of the reviews I’ve seen of Black ‘47 have criticized Hugo Weaving’s character Hannah, another British Army veteran who knew Feeney in Afghanistan, but they largely miss the point. Hannah’s transformation from a brutal police detective who strangles a member of “Young Ireland” for defying his authority to revolutionary who aids Feeney’s escape from the British authorities than participates in an insurrection against a racist landlord, is perfectly logical when you understand that he’s a soldier, not a politician. He’s spent years enforcing British “law” against the natives in Afghanistan as part of a small core of white men who depended on fear to keep them alive. Killing a recalcitrant prisoner has become second nature. Nevertheless, like the young English private Hobson – who coincidentally or not has the same last name as the great English anti-imperialist writer who influenced Lenin – soldiers will rebel. For Hobson, it’s the shock of seeing grain being transported out of the country in the middle of a famine, and the gut-wrenching sight of bags of skin and bones following after the wagons hoping to get a taste of a bit of grain that might fall off. For Hannah it’s seeing Hobson, a fellow soldier, gunned down in cold blood, and knowing that he faces a moral choice. Does he betray a fellow elite imperial soldier to the piggish local police, or does he turn against the empire that formerly employed him. That it’s not an easy choice does the film credit. Hannah is an Englishman. Feeney is an Irishman. Feeney knows he’s going to die. Hannah wants to live, but in the end the old cliché, that soldiers don’t fight for a country or for an ideology, but for their fellow soldiers, is turned on its head. Hannah becomes a revolutionary precisely because he cannot betray a fellow soldier who saved his life back in Afghanistan. It’s not about the English vs. the Irish, or even about capitalism or imperialism. It’s about the bond two men develop during wartime. Turned against the ruling class, it can become deadly.

The genocide against the Irish in the 19th Century was a genocide against white men carried out by white men, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t involve racism. There’s an arrogant, young blond English captain who looks like he was pulled right out of a Nuremberg Rally.  Black ’47 consciously invokes the similarities between the genocide in Ireland and the ongoing genocide against the Indians in North America. “Some men live for the day when a Celtic Irishman is as rare in Ireland as a red Indian in Manhattan,” the most brutal of the film’s Anglo-Irish land lords remarks. When he sees a pretty Irish barmaid, he can barely control his dirty old man’s lust, mainly because he thinks she looks more English than Irish. The English in Ireland clearly believed the Irish were an inferior race, not their close genetic cousins. Irish Catholics in the United States have “white privilege.” Joe Biden will enforce American capitalism as brutally as any WASP. They sure as hell didn’t have it in Ireland back in 1847.