Red Dawn is the ultimate cognitive dissonance film. It is both simultaneously genius and unspeakably dumb; poignant and repugnant; militaristic and pacifist; racist and worldly, and most importantly it is reactionary and conservative at the same time. I can imagine that the target audience for this film are die-hard Republicans who are pro-war and anti-Obama – and yet at the same time I can imagine that anti-war liberals will get an enjoyment out of this too. Only a film this stupid can be so sneaky…
The main characters of the film are Jed (Chris Hemsworth): an egomaniacal Iraq War Marine veteran, and Matt (Josh Peck): an egomaniacal college football star. They live in a small town in Washington State and are learning to spend time together after Jed ran away and joined the marines after their mother died. This story unfolds for 30 minutes needlessly until suddenly one morning North Korean paratroopers begin to fall from the sky and successfully invade America. With no resistance. At all. (The North Koreans have a new super-weapon that completely wipes out all US defenses) Jed and Matt then escape to a cabin in the woods in order to start a group of insurgents that have to repel the evil foreign invaders. Jed teaches Matt and his friends guerilla tactics and rudimentary military maneuvers in order to rise up against the foreign aggressors.
What is so interesting about this film is that it simultaneously evokes rightwing America’s worst fear (being invaded by communists) whilst at the same time overtly defends the actions of America’s ‘enemies’ (forming an insurgency that defends itself against an invading nation). There are lines in the film where Jed is trying to rally the teenagers by saying, with no apparent irony:
“when you're fighting in your own backyard; when you're fighting for your family, it all hurts a little less, and makes a little more sense – Because for them, this is just a place. But for us, this is our home.”This could have come straight from the mouth of any Iraqi citizen from the last ten years. Later on in the film it shows the American public going about their everyday lives only now there are military checkpoints and communist propaganda posters everywhere. Sound familiar…?
So could you make the argument that the film is anti-American? Cautiously. The film may have moments that mirror the current middle-eastern quagmire, but the rest of the film celebrates current American obsessions: militia and second-amendment ideas abound alongside Football imagery and metaphors. I assume the filmmakers think that the current tension with North Korea as well as the fears of Americans that Obama is after their guns make this film really relevant - I feel it does the opposite though, just makes the film camp and immediately dated.
The film is also surrounded by (legitimate) concerns about racism as the original Chinese enemy was digitally altered to become North Korean – but what exactly do you expect from a film directed by a prolific stuntman with no other directing experience.