Our foe did not come only to destroy our things or our people. They came to desecrate our way of life. To foul our beliefs. Trample our freedom. And in this, not only did they fail, they granted us the greatest gift—a chance at our rebirth. We will rise renewed, stronger, and united. This is our time. Our chance to get back to the best of who we are. To lead by example with the dignity, integrity, and honor that built this country. And which will build it once again. May God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.
—President Benjamin Asher, “Olympus Has Fallen”
The night is darkest just before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.
—Harvey Dent, “The Dark Knight”
And the Great American Movie continues, set off by The Dark Knight in 2008, followed-up by The Dark Knight Rises in 2012…and just keeps going…and going…and going…
By 2013, as The Year Of The Mask continued, what was previously only “comic book kid stuff” started to become the honest-to-gods template for ideology, politics, and even international relations. And one of the most successful movies of that year would, in its way, give the tragic Harvey Dent/Two-Face storyline the sort of happier and more idyllic ending the nation needed.
The Joker—good for some memes, some sales, some nascent and vaguely-sketched ideas of anarchy for the dilettantes, the fanboys, and budding Libertarians—had become the “old hotness.” Quaint, almost, in the wake of Sandy Hook and other incidents.
The United States could not tolerate a house divided, the ambiguities of a Janus-faced populace divided by social and political issues. Harvey Dent had to be rehabilitated, and fast. Because Dent was a man we could all believe in…someone who could make America great again just as he did with Gotham City.
Enter Olympus Has Fallen, a movie starring Aaron “Harvey Dent” Eckhart as the president of the United States. The film, about evil Koreans bombing and taking over the White House, did gangbusters at the box office…strangely enough, around the same time North Korea suggested, through a conveniently placed bulletin board in a war-room photo, that they were readying missiles for Washington, D.C.:
How weird was that? Did art represent life, or did life reflect art?
What was the psychological impact on an American citizen from watching Olympus Has Fallen and then having this news plastered all over our media right afterwards?
Some (like myself) might theorize that this intersection between entertainment and real life international politics made the American people more fearful and paranoid—but I would offer that the prevailing feeling throughout the public, at least according to the social media of the time, was one of gung-ho patriotic jingoism—of the “well then we’ll just bomb them into the stone age” variety.
But such an instinctual and joyously defensive appeal to said patriotic impulse also distracted the populace from such domestic issues such as financial crisis —instead, giving people a shared threat to rally against. Some commented that Kim Jong-un himself looked as if he just stepped out of central casting for a James Bond movie.
Let’s look at the cast for Olympus Has Fallen…
The film’s protagonist was played by Gerard Butler—who of course also portrayed the mighty warrior King Leonidas in 300.
Leonidas was the ulitmate macho war-dude, rallying the “troops” to battle. A throwback to the aging Action Movie Heroes™ who were grumbling during the 2012 election about getting back “their country,” perhaps?
The president was portrayed by Aaron Eckhart, part of the symbolically-loaded Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy. POTUS had the name Benjamin Asher, which has very Biblical overtones; both Benjamin and Asher are part of the Tribes of Israel. So we are talking about a very “Old Testament” type POTUS.
One person the president in Olympus Has Fallen did NOT seem to allude to was our current president at the time, Barack Obama. Often, movies such as this will choose an “analogue” to the sitting president. But this did not seem to be President Benjamin Asher’s function. Asher seemed to function as some sort of idealistic character straight out of the Good Book; functioning in what was essentially an Apocalyptic film as the representation of the United States as a “promised land” that needs defending from the Philistines.
HOWEVER, when Asher was incapacitated in the Korean takeover, Morgan Freeman’s character, Speaker Allan Trumbull, is made Acting President. Freeman also played the U.S. president in Deep Impact, alluding to the recent spate of asteroid paranoia that has recently filled the news.
While Freeman resonated both the President-During-The-Apocalypse symbol as well as a possible “stand-in” for our own president, I would also suggest that in the bigger scheme of things, he also resonated a paternalistic, transcendent, “God” figure (as he literally was in Bruce Almighty).
And Freeman, of course, was also a figure in the Nolan Dark Knight movies, especially the third one in which his character was the creator of a bomb that Bane hijacks and threatens to use on Gotham; as Kim Jong-un threatened to do to the U.S.
All-in-all, rather than being a true eschatological movie as Deep Impact or 2012, Olympus Has Fallen was more a narrative designed to rally the American public against the outside Enemy—as the successful Red Dawn remake had done (featuring the North Koreans), and as Iron Man 3 would soon do (with a twist, of course).
In truth, we had moved out of the end-of-the-world cycle of films, spurred on by the 2012 “prophecy,” and were traveling into a “we can win this war dammit we are Americans!” phase; the phase of “let’s bomb them into the stone age!”
This narrative, running through both news media and entertainment, attempted to push the United States out of the “paranoid,” untrusting-of-government periods of the 70s, 90s, and 10s and into something more manageable…like the 1980s!
If we only could get that new Patriotism Narrative going…
…if only there was only a Harvey Dent to believe in, some sort of cult of personality based on a flaxen-haired savior vowing to “clean up Gotham”…