God Bless America
I probably need to be arrested and lead out of polite society, either that or annihilated from the face of the Earth altogether because after watching this film I feel that i’m no longer fit for modern society, nor do I really want to be. If you think that I’m overreacting then know this: I found God Bless – a film which opens on the image of a crying baby being shotgunned into a spray of gore, showering the unfit mother, who selfishly shielded herself with the child’s body, in blood – to be as near to a perfect moral statement as I have gotten from the movies in many, many years. What is the film’s message? That our ‘polite society’ needs to be purged of everyone who fails to comprehend what living in one actually means and the rules that you should abide by when doing so. The protagonist of the film, Frank, takes this idea literally, putting on his own back the task of banishing these bastards in the biblical sense; slaughtering everyone around him who commits the social sin of selfishness, even on the smallest of scales. Shopping centre parking lots, movie theatres, Tea Party rallies; nowhere is safe for the wicked when this man does come.
Now that may sound a bit much for many people, some of whom may even be wondering whether or not this sort of film should be aloud to exist; if you are one of those people can you answer me this? Does it make it any better to know that the film is a comedy? That we are supposed to be laughing at all of this? Bobcat Goldthwaite, the films director, is a Comedian first and for most and that comes across through his cinema; he simply puts on screen the kind of riffs and gags that people in his profession have been spouting to crowds for several generations ( See: Bill Hick’s bit on an un-produced pilot he once made called Hunting and Killing Billy-Ray Cyrus, the sentiment here is the same). Of course actually seeing these things happen is very different to hearing them, in the same way that actually going through on the threat you mutter under your breath about killing someone is much more shocking than simply having the thought for a second, and Bobcat capitalises on both of these facts throughout. You can, of course, tell instantly where each and every scene is going to go (Spoiler: The bad people get killed) but before that happens he has fun playing with the people and our reactions to them: he’ll have you thinking things like ‘Ok, those teens need to die.’ and ‘God! Kill those religious bigots already’ but the real shock comes when the film ends and he hasn’t condemned you for them. He wasn’t attempting to elicit that reaction ironically and you can’t pass it off as such, that sadism is all you.
If there are now more of you thinking that the movie is likely to be a sickening experience, then for once the majority might be right about something; though you should all know that the worst parts of the picture for me were not the murders or muderers but their victims. That sickening feeling of course stems from the particular banner of comedy that the film falls under, that being satire. God Bless America is Network dialled up to eleven-hundred; it’s mad as hell, plus mad as a hatter and it’s just not gonna take television anymore, or Twitter for that matter. Take any current social trend that you can think of and simply twist it a little, make it a tad louder, and what you imagine will be in this film, albeit a little broadly: Reality TV, Shock Jocs, Political pundits, Heiresses, entitlement, etc.. It of course is contradictory to say that the film is both big and small in its subversion but somehow thats the truth; on a whole this place and its popular culture seem utterly ridiculous, as out of scale as Frank’s reaction to them, but at the sam time they ring true and recognisable. The world in which all this wicked wretchedness takes place is a dark dystopia that depressingly only differs slightly from our reality and that is the scariest part. If we continue as we are, constantly upping the ante and going for bigger shocks and self-importance in every facet of our lives then we will soon be living in this place.
You criticisers may well be thinking now that you’ve discovered a dissonance in message here, a latent hypocrisy, and again you’re right. For as much as it may hate modern day media God Bless America is a part of it, it shocks and sexualises and gets off on all the wrong things. If Bobcat truly wanted to rebel against the system then he should have simply made Network, a movie that would put most to sleep these days thanks to its quaintness; he didn’t though, and there is a reason for that. God Bless gets into the system under the guise of fitting in and thus will be addressing an audience of assholes alongside those who know better; preaching to the choir never prevents anything. The hypocrisy is also thematically intentional, so much so that it is mirrored in the actions of the characters themselves; they occasionally slip-up and commit acts that have been listed as mortal sins during their late night bonding sessions. Their position isn’t supposed to be supported or tenable, there are cracks and fallacies in it for sure as there are in all approaches: think of a pet peeve you have and admit in all honesty that you’ve never once been guilty of it yourself. We’ve all spoken in cinemas, blocked someone in or said something selfish and yet don’t actually feel as if we deserve to die, no matter how we introduce our reviews. It’s in these grey areas of ambiguity that the film delivers its real moral message: moral messages are inapplicable most of the time and morals themselves are really hard, all of the time.
So there are certainly some very interesting things going on underneath the surface of this film, though unfortunately its front is less inspired. The relationship between the two leads is charming and their performances are wonderful but they aren’t given much to do besides spill blood and banter seductively; the story that binds them is lacking. World’s Greatest Dad was a flawed film too but it managed to win me into its world once the shock of Bobcat’s singular speech wore away, here though I was kept at a distance the whole way through. God Bless is an exercise in over extending a concept-driven bit and as a result it ends up a little too broad and bare on actual jokes, but at its core there is still something quite brilliant. As far as wish-fulfillment I’ve seen much, much worse.