Went and saw Frost/Nixon last night. I didn't read any reviews before I went, but now that I look around a bit, I see that there is some controversy over the movie's interpretation of the historical record. Or rather, its complete inversion of the premise of the interviews. (Spoiler alert!) While Frost is portrayed as forcing Nixon to concede that he engaged in a criminal conspiracy and then apologize to the American people for it, it appears that what actually happened was more along the lines of a premeditated choice on the part of Nixon that he would make a sort of public apology - and in the actual interviews, he never did admit to anything more than "mistakes".
So there's that. And that's important to know. But I think a more interesting part of the movie is of a rather different order and more-or-less untouched by the above convenient fiction. Namely, that the invention of the story of Frost as Nixon's antagonist - who, in the words of one of the characters, is using the interviews to get a "conviction" - makes sense and resonates because that intense desire for a conviction, an admission, for some sort of closure, actually existed for a huge number of people. Nixon's abuses really seemed to cause a national trauma, a tear in the fabric so to speak - people were pissed that Tricky Dick was going to get away with taking a shit on the constitution and acting like it smelled like a rose. In that sense, the movie's fictional take on history gets to the truth of its times, and it begs the question of why our times are different. Bush has broken the law, lied to the American people, and violated constitutional limits on executive power - yet I don't get the sense that we are emotionally invested in the catharsis of hearing him confess, that we will feel robbed of our due if he is never convicted in court.
Perhaps because we think of him as an idiot and not a mastermind? Perhaps because his crimes are not reducible to a single, dramatic incident, or because they are spread out over many people such as Yoo, Addington, Gonzales, etc? I think most likely its because Obama has served as that catharsis, campaigning on wiping away the sins of the past much as Jimmy Carter did, and constituting a near complete conviction of Bush in the court of public opinion. So are we going to be free of the need for revenge, or will Bush haunt us like Nixon clearly continued to haunt his generation?
Note: These reflections grew out of an extended conversation with Eremita in the aftermath of the movie-viewing experience, and are significantly indebted to her insights.
10 January, 2009
posted by Elliot at 12:30 PM