The Conspirator: Redefining Important. (Redford 2010)

This film would have remained unknown to me if it had not been for @sree (sree srinivasan) who is not quite a facebook friend but is a well known Journalism prof at an eminent univeristy. While Mr Redford’s directorial efforts often attract one;s attention , it was not after the Milagro – Beanfield wars that one was impressed by anything the man did (Baggervance was speilbergian psychobabble, Horse whisperer was Appalachian Psychobabble and a river runs through it was an IMAX film before its time)

Walking into a “history lesson” by Mr Redford with such a frame of mind, one was pleasantly surprised to see  the Iron fist in the velvet liberal narrative in the film about a chapter of American history that Ought to be forgotten, and was , by everyone except the winners, who have been repeating it, many times over, for the benefit of all those they have engulfed in forgetfulness powder, which is the American way of writing history.

Mary Surrat (played here by Robin Wright Penn) ran a boarding house where the conspiracy to kill Abe Lincoln was hatched, by, among others her son, John Surrat. When the good president was killed, the Secretary of war (the 19th century equivalent to Hillary Clinton) navigated a witch hunt through an emotionally scarred and paranoid union , even as the confederacy surrendered slowly, and confederate rebels appeared to splinter and fight on. and they lived among US. (every southerner was suspect, remember, of confederate sympathies to Richmond) . The trial of mary Surrat, a southern catholic woman, (three strikes) among the conspirators was supposed to be a foregone conclusion, except for those insisting in the due process of the law because it was clear that in an effort to make justice speedy, the prosecution had been sloppy, and there was room for reasonable doubt if the matter was tried in civilian court under peacetime rules. It was not. The millitary tribunal  trying the Lincoln conspirators, like all millitary courts had only one plea in mind: Guilty. So far, this plays out like a Khalid sheik mohammed trial that’s going to take place sometime next year in Guantanamo Bay. (Mr Mohammed has confessed to many Sep 11 related crimes , allegedly under the influence of waterboarding, which is a technique classified as torture under the Geneva Convention, if he is tried in a civilian court he walks…probably back to Karachi where he may or not be part of an Anti American terrorist group) .

The drama in the film then takes a turn for the cinematically operatic as Mr Redford slowly and unsubtly ratchets up the outrage at the civil liberties being outraged in such a dastardly fashion “Inter Arma Silent Legis” concludes the Public Prosecutor to Fredrick Aiken(played ably by James Mc Avoy, a redford stand in If I ever saw one), the Union General , now a lawyer defending Mary Surrat. ” in the time of war the law is silent.” The film then makes a point that the year after, the US supreme court unanimously declared the writ of habeus corpus was applicable in war and in peace and to every person citizen or alien anywhere in the world, and because of which, the more suspicious son of Mary, John Surrat escaped punishment. Justice was blind here.

Redford’s Outrage 

So what is the director outraged about? That an innocent woman died from a witch hunt? that laws were suspended at the time of war? that the protagonist of his tale didn’t prevail even if his cause was just? All this but I saw something more in his reshaping of historical narrative to make a point. It was the vital role of liberalism in building and maintainong civil societies.

Some parts of the world (including some parts of the US) are always at war. Going by the logic of Guantanamo Bay (and Abu Gareib) there will never be a time when the war on terror will be over. Does this mean that the legis (civilian law) is silent forever when it comes to the voices of those inter arma( the people that take it upon themselves to declare war on other people) ? and redford’s answer seems to be YES! unless there is liberal outrage at the violation of civil liberties of , not the strong and the majority , but of the weak, the single , the straggler and the unrepresented. Reminds  me of Gandhi’s quote of development ” is not true until the last person in line has seen his life benefit from it” .

By this yardstick, today’s liberals screaming as they are for humanitarian intervention in libya,and the invasion of Iran, the laws be damned, have failed in their duty to act as an electorate’s conscience. America is a Nation without a conscience, Because its liberals have let it down.

The Indictment is handed out in a tone of didact from the pulpit of history with a measured distance by the film which attempts to redefine the word Important, as it applies to films. We have been through stylistic and  literary movements that concentrated first on the structuralism of the art and then when this became wildly successful, used form to subvert meaning and function and took a post modern turn into stylish reducio ad absurdum that consumed every last vestige of meaning in art, because , it was held, the Soviet Union took with it the potent power of burgoise art. We were, in Post modernism , celebrating the fall of the Soviet Union, while the people that injected us with that drug went and drove planes in Buildings, declared America under military law and color coded alerts, and upped defense related spending to unrealistically high levels.( you gotta have a defense related business in your portfolio to make money these days.) With all those weapons we criminalized nationalism , demanded that nations capitulate their patriarchal modest  values to our female empowerment agendas, declared war for oil and profit honorable, made chinese slave manufacturing and robber barn Capitalism the king and speculated away our houses, all for another fix of the drug called post modernism.

Enough. The film seems to say. There is an ethical bottom line and this is it. good people need to feel the outrage, for this nation to remain the America of its ideals. The question is: are there enough good people whose brains are detoxed from the post modern drug, and are they sufficiently powerful to find it in themselves to demand this change from the outrage.

After all, Postmodernism criminalized outrage with “weapons of mass destruction”.


About rameshram

Name : Ramesh Ram... Email Address : (don't even ask) Blog: (never updated) Height/ Weight: 6'1 175 (varies between 160 and 185) Color of hair/ eyes black/ brown Bald? Nope (not yet, but give me 20 years.) Interests: Film (Bollywood/international indie), Travel (Germany/Japan/Central America/Sout/east/west Asia/ Northern Africa), Gizmo geek, Clubbing... What do I like in a good movie?: Women, Music, Auters, Special effects, Style. What do I like in a bad movie?: Women, Music, Auters, Special effects, Style. Favorite Critic: International: Bazin Domestic: J Hobermann Indian : me. (noone else comes close ...India or here..) Best quality: Humility. Outspokenness. Warmth Worst quality: Intolerence Favorite color : Yellow Black Blue Favorite Perfume : men: Grey Flannel(Geoffery Beene) Women: Celine dion: Obsession Boxers / briefs : Boxers Did I inhale: And how! Author: Marquiz, Rushdie, Murakami, Jong Last Book: The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton, Catherine A. Liszt Music : Patricia Kass, Alejandro Sanz,Nina Simone, Amir Diab Sports person: What am I usually in : White briefs and tees. Chianti or Burgandy: Chianti Food: French Japanese(street/fast food). Saw and liked: No Country for old men, Lust Caution Saw and disliked: Nishabd Didnt see: Aaja Nach le. Call me: Write me first.
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4 Responses to The Conspirator: Redefining Important. (Redford 2010)

  1. Matt says:

    The Milagro Beanfield War has a context which many do not understand. It deals with water rights. This is a serious issue in the Western part of the US. The film is playful to be sure and has an element pf magic realism that is not understood by US culture – but it is not a bad film. A River Runs Through It is far more than just an IMAX experience. Sure, it looks terrific. But the deep pain the films deals with far ourweighs the splendid look of the film.

    I am also not sure why you say the history in The Conspirator ‘ought to be forgotten’. Especially when you then contradict your view by saying ‘forgetfullness’ is the ‘American way of writing history.’ If this part of history ought to have been forgotten then how can you criticize Americans for forgetting it? You cannot embrace both views.

    Anyway, I look forward to this film. Thanks for you review. I should note there are many good books on this chapter in American history. It has not actually been forgotten by historians.

  2. rameshram says:

    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for your comment. There is no contradiction in what Im saying here. Im saying that America forgets (as in the general public in America forgets) but the (bad) habit lingers on.I guess What I really mean is that the BAD HABIT of suspending law because we happen to own the gun that can compell brute force, ought to be forgotten. History has had unspeakable barbarism and cruelty. chinese and Indians used to commit polygamy and have harems. The Japanese committed sepukku (ritual suicide) as recently as at the turn of the century. but when these practices went out of vogue, not only did people STOP committing them, they also actually stopped. , and not for mere lip service alone.

    Contrast that with the “suspension of human rights” episode we see here, Everyone deeply believes, these days, that America is a Nation of laws….except when the law is sorely needed to protect its most vulnerable…when a conspiracy of silence helps it revert to its old ways of learned barbarism/cruelty. There is no point writing books on the subject if the good people don’t LEARN anything from them.I mean the only people that seem to be getting n education is the people learning the torture manual .

    As regards Milagro beanfield wars, I DID like the film, and that was the last film of Redford I liked before this one, was my point , Im sorry that did not come through clearly above.

  3. Matt says:

    Well, unfortunately the suspension of human rights will probably always be with us during times of war. America has plenty of ideals that it does not lived up to. I’ll agree. But I don’t think it is only America. Most countries deal with these issues in one way or another. And I am not so sure history is such a strong subject in other places either. Among the educated you would hope it would be. But the educated often run the countries and they are the ones carrying out the laws. I don’ t think it would be better if the uneducated ran the country.

    But I think ultimately we [the US and western world] are ahead of where we were 100 years ago. So that is something.

  4. rameshram says:

    and that was the point to my review. specifically, the paragraph titled Redford’s outrage.

    As to “the West” being “Ahead” now compared to a hundered years ago, Im reminded of Gandhi’s quote bout Western civilization.

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