Lessons From Red Dawn

Something you often hear about Very Serious Cinema is that “people will be talking about this film for a long time.” It will “change the conversation,” “stay with you,” etc. 

Obviously, sometimes this is true. But the dirty secret of cinema is that the movies with the most lasting impact among audiences tend to be precisely the ones the critics like to ignore. Forget Citizen Kane or Through a Glass Darkly, just look at the Best Picture winners over the last quarter-century. American Beauty? The Artist? Birdman? Who talks about those movies or quotes them in normal conversation? When they come out, we’re told these films will be long-remembered for their commentary on society. And a few years later, we’re like, “What was Birdman about again?” Or, “The Artist? Never heard of it.”

Meanwhile, among (mostly male) members of my generation, I can have whole conversations in which most of the idiomatic phrases are culled from Animal House, Caddyshack, Fletch, and Meatballs. I’m not arguing that Caddyshack is a better movie than, say, Network or A Face in the Crowd (two important films I love), I’m just noting that sometimes the most culturally influential movies, the ones that really do have a lasting impact, aren’t the ones that we’re told will have a “lasting impact.”

Which brings me to Red Dawn. I loved—and continue to love—Red Dawn. And while I’m fully aware of some alleged flaws—allegations you are only allowed to mention in my presence if you preface them with “I love Red Dawn, but…” or “Red Dawn is awesome, but…” Once you pay that rhetorical toll, I might indulge what follows the “but…”

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