James Truslow Adams said of the “American Dream”, a set of ethos laid out by the Declaration of Independence, “[L]ife should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement.” It’s not an ideal that is a part of any national creed, oath, or government document, but the idea of the American Dream roots its premise in the very hearts of our founding principles. Most notably, it is embodied in one of our countries most treasured heroes, the Man of Steel; Superman. He fought for truth, justice, and the American way, a slightly altered phraseology for the ideals of the American Dream. However, the ethos of Superman and the man himself has been in the proverbial toilet both culturally and cinematically as of late.
The simplest reason that Superman has fallen on such hard times within our culture is that it has slowly shifted to having a very dim and pessimistic view of the American Dream. While I will not expound on whether or not that is a good thing (that can be for you to decide and argue in the comments), I thought a recent article by our friend and Reel World contributor Wade Bearden at Christ and Pop Culture examined how recent 2014 movies are reflecting and informing our culture’s misgivings about obtaining wealth, fame, and success.
“Many of these narratives suggest that the American Dream, if taken to its logical extreme, can come to represent an illusory vision of freedom rather than true freedom itself.”
Wade takes three movies for his examples; Nightcrawler, Gone Girl, and Foxcatcher. While I am not surprised at all that David Fincher continues to poke and prod at the illusory nature of the American Dream (Fight Club), Dan Gilroy and Bennett Miller have not explored this territory previously. The growing number of films outside of these three that overturn the dark underbellies of success, achievement, and wealth (Whiplash, Selma, Snowpiercer) is not necessarily a heel turn by our movie makers, but indicative of a bigger, more fundamental change in what movies are doing. Let us know what you think about Wade’s article and what movies are saying about America and the American Dream.
You can read more of Wade’s articles in the film section of Christ and Pop Culture and/or at Wade’s website:
Josh Crabb (@HeyItsThatJosh) is an editor, writer, and sometimes talker for Reel World Theology. He has been married to Tina for 9 1/2 years and has four amazing children. He is also a pastor at Appleton Gospel in Appleton, WI and church planter for the EFCA planting in Neenah, WI.