Wildly violent new blockbuster aims to ruffle some feathers
September 27, 2018
While watching Sam Levinson’s ravishingly violent new blockbuster “Assassination Nation,” a quote from Tony Kushner’s seminal “Angels in America” kept popping into my head: “It’s not enough to be tolerated, because when sh*t hits the fan you find out how much tolerance is worth.”
We are living in a vanguard time for tolerance—a tolerance constantly platooned by America’s conservative pundits, politicians and president.
When “Assassination Nation” begins its narrative with a list of trigger warnings—an ingenious turn of narrative that I’m surprised hasn’t been done before—I imagine that the audience this film is most likely offend would be more offended by the idea of “trigger warnings” than the actual triggering images this movie contains.
But does tolerance actually affect those who are tolerated?
What Kushner is trying to say is that tolerance feels good for those privileged enough to do the tolerating, but what does it mean for the victims of a tolerant culture by name only?
Tolerance is a joke tacked onto a society that was designed without tolerance in mind. And “Assassination Nation” claims the only way to fix it is by burning it all down and starting again.
The stars of the show are four girls in high school: Lily (Odessa Young), Bex (Hari Nef ), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse) and Em (Abra). They all gossip and do homework at Sarah and Em’s house after school, but this is not the girl clique from your grandma’s teen movie—Cher’s coy comeons from Clueless would feel laughably childish here.
When a mysterious hacker begins to leak the cell phone data—which is supposed to be private, right?—of the residents of Salem, even the tolerant left cannot hide.
Perhaps out of fear of everyone else reading their data, everyone reads everyone else’s stolen texts. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
Secrets are revealed, lies are unmasked, and Salem. . . “loses its f*ck*ng mind.” In a sort of modern play on the Salem witch trials, Lily and her friends are targeted as the evildoers responsible—not for evil per se, but for the exposing thereof.
In a fit of confusion, the town rises up against a group of young girls, using the regular epithets of “slut,” et cetera. Take away the casual murder and you have chauvinism.
Change the impetus, and you have the Republican party (maybe keep the chauvinism). High schoolers are waterboarded for information they have on the attack, torch touting civilians hit the street to protest not what was done to them, but to project their own insecurities. “Assassination Nation” shows its fair share of actual killings, but what the townspeople of Salem fear most is assassination of another kind. Character assassination is viewed as an attack more violent and personal than anything that can be done with cartoonish shotguns and samurai swords.
The unrest that occurs over the course of this film are born from the systematic assassination of character that occurs when the most intimate details of an individual’s life are scrutinized by their peers.
And it turns out, unrest born of humiliation is just as violent and real as that born from economic depression or drone strikes.
For Lily and her friends, the naked pictures and salacious texts they sent marked them as enemies to lawful order. The most engaging part of “Assassination Nation” is when they fight back against this system playing by its own rules against it.
At this point in America’s political climate, tolerance is the name of the game. But just as black citizens are “tolerated,” so are the police who shoot unarmed black men. Just as women are now “tolerated” in politics, so can a sexual assaulter be elected president.
“Assassination” boldly shouts, “F*ck tolerance.” The oppressors are shot down, the flag is at half mast, and the streets are aflame.
It is only fitting that the movie ends with a parade, blasting a trombone rendition of Miley Cyrus in between the lanes of upturned vehicles.
Contact Peter Schutz at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.