For Siegfried Kracauer, associate theorist of the Frankfurt School, films express, albeit in a confusing way, our anxieties and aspirations, revealing the unconscious forces that operate beneath the surface of social life. Napoleon, Ridley Scott’s latest film starring Joaquin Phoenix, was released today, which aims to offer a portrait of the controversial historical figure that dominated Europe at the beginning of the 19th century. . The…
For Siegfried Kracauer, associate theorist of the Frankfurt School, films express, albeit in a confusing way, our anxieties and aspirations, revealing the unconscious forces that operate beneath the surface of social life. Napoleon, Ridley Scott’s latest film starring Joaquin Phoenix, was released today, which aims to offer a portrait of the controversial historical figure that dominated Europe at the beginning of the 19th century. . The film generated mixed reviews, especially in France. Beyond the indisputable audiovisual quality and the debatable historical rigor, it can be said that the premiere of Napoleon is well suited to the times in which we live. This difference with those who accompanied the premiere of Joker in 2019, five years ago, when Joaquin Phoenix played the deranged Arthur Fleck in the Batman prequel directed by Todd Philips. In Joker, Fleck ends a violent uprising against Gotham’s wealthy. For many the film of the year and Phoenix received an Oscar for his masterful performance. During those dates, protests took place all over the world—from Paris to Santiago de Chile, passing through Hong Kong and Beirut. With different motivations, economics, politics, gender, climate, together, they express an underlying global malaise, brewed since the Great Recession. Many of those affected by excessive economic globalization are identified in Fleck’s story and, during the last yellow vest protests in France that year, some of the protesters dressed as the joker in a clear allusion to the film.
The pandemic and its management by governments around the world since March 2020 has abruptly ended this collective effervescence and its possible excesses. For decades, the end of the State has been announced because of its apparent weakness in the face of economic and financial powers and, however, the reality shows that the State retains a monopoly on violence and has a great capacity to act. Governments rely on it to control populations for public health, often using authoritarian means. Except for the Black Lives Matter movement that gained momentum in the summer of 2020 and generated anti-racist protests in many places around the world, the cries of the streets became a distant echo, replaced by the noise of weapons and hot rhetoric. .
Scott’s film alternates between the character of Napoleon Bonaparte, his gradual rise to power, and the many wars he led. With a nod to Hegel’s theory, which sees the Corsican leader as the origin of the spirit of his time, we can interpret the premiere of Scott’s film as a reflection of the particular spirit that publishes itself in ours. It is tempting to identify with the particular dialectic of history conceived by Hegel, and later reinterpreted by Marx, some dynamic specific to our time. Keeping all the proportions, we can associate the French Revolution with the years of uprisings before the pandemic and the short period of Terror, with the Law of Suspects, with the period of extreme health surveillance where States fear to control the population. . Continuing the analogy, the current moment, where the citizens, tired after the experience of imprisonments and burdened by the new economic and geopolitical difficulties, seem to have lost the revolutionary enthusiasm, therefore helping to emerge of leaders or parties that, Like Napoleon, they seek to impose order from above and seek peace through war. This autocratic propensity existed before the pandemic. The difference between the pre-pandemic world where Joker was released and the current world where Napoleon was released is that the counterweight represented by the presence in the streets of a diversity of emancipation and protest movements of citizens, from feminist movement to yellow. vests, no longer there.
Despite the small touch that Scott gives to his film, by showing us a Bonaparte with a helpless look in front of a defiant Josephine – “you are nothing without me” – or apparently touched when he spoke of his mother, the Napoleonic universe that had emerged before. we remain mostly men, caught up in scenes of blood, fire and lead. Although we are not exactly in that context, the fragility of the changes achieved in terms of the rights of women, ethnic and sexual minorities is currently understood. In the short term, defense and national security have come to occupy a privileged place in the political and media agenda of many countries when they did not do so five years ago. However, following the Hegelian logic, we hope, hopefully soon, to witness the rise and reorganization of new emancipatory collective wills capable of learning from the past. mistakes and reach a new consensus for better coexistence and greater good for all.