Films that don't make sense unless you understand the zeitgeist of the time

I’ve always heard that the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a parable of Cold War/ Red Scare paranoia. "Everyone’s secretly turning [del]Red[/del] alien. Um, ok; if you say so. As good a theory as any. My problem is (1). I was born long after the '50s and so never experienced the times. (2). I’d seen any number of “alien infiltration” themed science-fiction movies, TV shows and stories years before I ever saw IotBS, so the meme was cliched and predictable to me. I doubt I will ever “get” IotBS as it was intended to be perceived. So what other movies are lost on anyone who doesn’t understand the times in which they were made?

Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate seems like an annoying, mopey jackass nowadays.

It’s undoubtedly true that there was an element of Cold War paranoia in IotBS, but it’s not necessaary to appreciate or understand the film. Robert Heinlein apologized to his agent for re-hashing such a tired old theme when he submitted The Puppet Masters. Puppet Masters predated Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers, upon which the film was based. In other words, the meme of invading aliens taking over people’s bodies long predates that film, and even the Cold War. It’s a classic case of paranoiac fear (which doesn’t require a Cold war) and de-humanization.

Certainly they didn’t need the 1950s version of the Cold War when they remade the film so many times.

I suspect The Dark Knight will become one.

Though I don’t know which side history and culture will fall on.

It’s a film about terrorism. Terrorism versus fear. Terrorism versus privacy. Terrorism versus the surrender of political rights. A good film, maybe even a great one.

But I fully expect my hypothetical kids to ask me “why was this a political film? It’s just about Batman against the Joker!”

History will tell.

In the non-metaphorical camp, I think Cameron Crowe’s films made every few years (Say Anything…,Singles,Jerry Maguire,Elizabethtown) are perfect time capsules of their eras. It’s hard to imagine those films made at any other possible time.

I watched Midnight Cowboy and liked it. But without understanding the 70s scene, I probably didn’t enjoy it as much as I might have.

I think he did back then too, so far as I can remember. If you don’t get the movie, I don’t think that’s the reason.

Here’s something to think about the next time you see this movie. The Graduate came out in 1967. That means the people who were born around that time are now in the same age group that Mrs. Robinson was.

As for the original **Invasion of the Body Snatchers **Cold War/Red Scare parallels being dated, you can also think of it as a comment on the dangers of conformity. That’s something that’s mostly still relevant.

Or you can just enjoy it as a horror movie.

Just for clarification’s sake, is “don’t make sense” the same as or similar to “can’t be appreciated”?

If there are critiques available by competent reviewers, either of the same period the film was made, or with what would seem to be credentials for speaking of those other times with some understanding and reliability, then I would hope the “don’t make sense” part could be resolved even to somebody with no personal connection to those other times.

The “can’t be appreciated” side of things I would regard as more iffy.

To give a simple example, I have recently been poking around at YouTube for clips from old movies I saw as a kid. Things I saw on Saturday afternoons in the early 50’s. Even with the benefit of having seen those things at the time they were “hot items” and “cutting edge” and thus being part of the zeitgeist they emanate from, I find it very hard to “appreciate” them as I did back then.

I could bolster my opinion with countless examples from earlier decades, up to and including the first episodes of Star Wars, and perhaps even as recently as the fascination with making movies of comic books with CGI characters in the title roles…

But the bottom line to me is that if the movie has any guts at all it will be both understood (in the “make sense” sense) and appreciated by all generations. It will be universal. It would be a real challenge to name 100 such movies, and I wager that at least half of IMDb Charts: IMDb Top 250 would fail one test or the other, even with the help of a competent critic.

The original version of The Stepford Wives was made in 1975, an era when the women’s rights movement were just starting to hit its peak. The remake was made in 2004, a completely different era.

Same thing happened with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, made in 1967, and its remake Guess Who’s Coming in 2004. Interracial dating went from being drama to comedy.

As someone who lined up to see the movie (at a downtown movie place of the sort that mostly no longer exist) when it came out in 1967, I can say that nobody I talked to at the time thought this. We identified fully and completely. It’s those weird teens of 80s and 90s and 00s movies who are idiot slackers and wiseasses that nobody could possibly like. :stuck_out_tongue:

I’d put most of the so-called classic movies of the the 30s Golden Age into this category. We can’t understand the Great Depression. People are almost hysterical now in this recession and it’s a tiny pimple on the ass of the Depression. Those of us who haven’t lost our jobs are rich beyond the dreams of most people back then. And our lives aren’t that much different from the lives of the rich. They have a few better toys, but we have access to almost everything they do.

Not so in the 30s. The rich lived in a separate world. We don’t even have the concepts of high society and social position and playboys and exclusivity that living in the world of the rich meant. People really did wear tuxedos to go out to nightclubs and “dressed” for dinner (tuxedos again). Instead of playboys we have rich idiots who appear on reality shows.

I can try to imagine what that world was like, but it’s hard. The movie world was an exaggeration of that rich/poor split but at bottom there was a reality that’s unlike anything today. None of us will ever truly get it.

The point of The Defiant Ones (1958) starring Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier might be largely incomprehensible to those who didn’t live through that era of race relations. The movie was built around the idea that it was unthinkable that a white and a black prisoner would be handcuffed together while they were being transported to prison.

I’ve always felt that the climax of Peter’s Friends meant much more when someone saying “I have the disease that causes AIDS” meant said person had perhaps a few months to live. Saying it today seems to have a lot less of an emotional impact.

I came in to mention The Graduate - it’s essentially the opposite of a timeless film.

Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice.

Cool Hand Luke: Without the antiestablishment 60’s the hero is just an obstinate bum prone to destructive drunken rage.

This has always fascinated me, watching movies made in the 30’s. You have the rich, dressed in tuxes and evening gowns, riding in expensive cars, living in white art deco mansions with enormous flower arrangements in every room. They were always showing up at these VAST nightclubs, sitting at separate little tables with an art deco lamp on each one. Or, they were sitting, dressed to kill, in VAST auditoriums. In either case, the rich were watching The Big Show, Busby Berkely showpieces. (In other movies focussing on the proles who actually performed dancing and singing in these Big Shows, like 42nd Street, they were all very poor and their whole lives centered around The Big Show.) This stuff seemed so important in movies of the 30’s, both the wealthy getting dressed up and going out for the entertainment, or the opposite, being a poor chorus dancer whose very life depended on ‘being’ the entertainment. Fred and Ginger, screwball comedies on one side. Grapes of Wrath and Back Stage struggling dancers on the other side. Was this a common thing in the big cities? (My mom grew up in the depression in a smallish town, and of course went to the movies like anyone else, but the big deal in her town was a circus coming through, or some old vaudevillian showing up one nite only at the Bijou. Now, Mom just LOVES watching rich yakking housewives on TV, their fashion shows, their gay hubbies, their plastic surgeries, their fake dramas. I think this is the equivalent of some farm wife, back in the 30’s, escaping her life watching Carol Lombard mixing it up with her lower-class butler.)

Dr. Strangelove is probably hard to appreciate fully w/o understanding Cold War mentalities. Note the “fully” in that sentence-- I doubt that any films make no sense without understanding the current zeitgeist.

But Benjamin is also supposed to be the hero of the movie. I’m sure audiences in the late 1960s ate that up, but it just doesn’t quite play as well today.

And I love The Graduate, for the record. But I can also admit it’s time-capsule material.