The grave implications of an anthem
Review of American Straysá(1996) movie, by Stefan Stenudd
One of the characters in the movie points out the violence present in the Star Spangled Banner, claiming that it has fostered Americans to a life of violence. He says that it would have been much better if America the Beautiful would have been the US anthem.
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Indeed, the lyrics of the song are filled of war rhetoric. Actually, the French equivalent, La Marseillaise, is just as brutal — at least. I guess that it goes for a number of anthems, since they often emerged from a nationalist crescendo, which is usually related to a war of some sort. All in all, nations as such have a history of war, closely linked to their formation. Hey, that's pretty true about civilization. It's a mystery how this species has survived.
Anyway, in American Strays, we follow a few fragments of human lives, and how they connect, purely by chance, leading to a grand finale in the spirit of said anthems. It's a sinister perspective on Americans, but also partly a beautiful one. Yes, there is beauty in the midst of gun smoke and brutality — fragile beauty, but isn't that the very nature of beauty? When strong, it loses its shine.
The film is refined in how it follows some human fates, at the point of their catharsis, and does so without judging, without staying at stereotypes. It is satire, certainly, but done with a heart and with intelligence — and curiosity, too. The characters have several dimensions, far from being simple caricatures, and what happens to them is foreseeable, but still not the most obvious way out.
Yes, I'm impressed by this little study of human nature. Although the persons depicted are odd creatures, in rare circumstances, something general is being stated about man, about society, about the very torment for each of us in trying to find fulfillment. And that's the same, whatever the nation or its anthem.
19 January 2003
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I'm a Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction books in both English and Swedish. I'm also an artist, a historian of ideas, and a 7 dan Aikikai Shihan aikido instructor. Click the header to read my full bio.