“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana
History books can often, even for the most avid readers, prove to be quite tedious or dense. Some may end up loathing the fact that the fascinating events of the past are hidden behind books inaccessible to those who aren’t engaged deeply with the scholarship of History. If you find yourself relating with this predicament, this article is specifically tailored for you. I’ll be listing various films that are sure to provide you with important historical knowledge which may otherwise be locked behind 800-page long books usually full of intellectual jargon. While most films cannot encompass entire historical events in a comprehensive manner, they are nevertheless a simplistic and entertaining source of historical knowledge. With that said, let us dive into the depths of History, as portrayed by a diverse range of films:
- In the Year of the Pig (1968)
In the Year of the Pig is a gut-wrenching documentary film directed by Emile de Antonio. The film, released in 1968, aims to illustrate the vile face of imperialism. It begins with a historical analysis of French colonialism and its irrefutable horrors in the First Indochina War. Offering a comprehensive examination of this colonial barbarity, de Antonio gradually moves onto the US involvement in supporting the French colonialists. The film also portrays a sincere view of Communist leader Ho Chi Minh; in an epoch dominated by anti-communist propaganda, this representation provides a more progressive, anti-colonial view of History. De Antonio makes a vocal case against US involvement in Vietnam, making use of appalling historical footage and imagery from the Second Indochina War. The film offers a historical analysis of the First and Second Indochina War, with the help of interviews revealing the true nature of the War. De Antonio’s film is entirely relevant today; while providing historical knowledge, the film is also a haunting reminder of the ever prevalent threat of imperialism.
- Reds (1981)
Reds is an Academy Award winning cinematic masterpiece directed by Warren Beatty. Following the fascinating story of American journalist John Reed, the film is the perfect montage of drama, romance, and revolution. Focusing on John Reed’s life, the movie is a great source of historical education pertaining to the Russian Revolution and its historical significance. It is also a cinematic marvel, with extraordinary acting skills that encapsulate dramatic and revolutionary emotions. Beatty’s film is also unique; in an industry so obsessed with the glorification of the Czar and the demonization of the Bolsheviks, the film provides an impartial view of the October Revolution, whilst also showing the prevalent political currents in the U.S during the time of the First World War. Asides from the themes of revolutionary politics, the film also focuses on John’s personal life and his relationship with Louise Bryant, thereby vivifying the film with drama and emotion.
- Malcolm X (1992)
Malcolm X is an astonishing biographical film. The director, Spike Lee, provides the viewer with an honest perspective of the controversial Civil Rights Activist. The film portrays a young Malcolm’s difficult life to the viewer, and definitively succeeds at gaining their sympathy. Throughout the film, we see his hardships from the streets of Harlem to the confines of prison till the end of his life. Denzel Washington expertly depicts the charisma, bravery, and principles of Malcolm which made him the leader capable of bringing a social revolution. The film manifests the story of Malcolm in an awe-inspiring manner, and shatters any controversy surrounding the man. In short, the film offers a close view of a great historical figure and the forgotten tendencies of Black radicalism.
- Rosa Luxemburg (1986)
Rosa Luxemburg is a German biographical film, directed by Margarethe Von Trotta, which depicts the life of revolutionary Marxist Rosa Luxemburg. The film is the perfect manifestation of the legacy of one of history’s finest people. Barbara Sukowa, (the actress that plays Rosa’s role) flawlessly embodies her great valor. The film extensively depicts the troubled life of Rosa, from personal to political hurdles, and thus exhibits her unwavering courage. The biopic also includes her growing frustration with the German Social Democratic Party, radicalism, and staunch opposition to WW1- views for which she was frequently jailed and suffered for till her death. The film is extremely relevant today. Rosa’s courage and valor alongside her enduring spirit is a source of inspiration, especially in times of mass propaganda aiming to turn imperialist women into role models.
- The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006)
The Wind That Shakes the Barley is an epic historical drama that portrays the Irish War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War. Focusing on the fictional life of two Irish brothers, the film exquisitely depicts the horrors imposed by the British upon Irish soil. The film is filled with drama; emotions of love, rebellion, comradeship, and betrayal as it takes the viewer on a riveting journey of Irish history. The protagonist, played by Cillian Murphy, skillfully captures the essence of rebellion. Combined with a thrilling plot, the film leaves the viewer astonished and passionate about Irish history.