The End of America

"Good"

The End of America Review


There's a popular saying, long attributed (likely in an apocryphal fashion) to Upton Sinclair, that's gained some resurgence in the last few years due to the current political situation. (As an aside, one can always tell that things are bad when people describe their national mood and government as "the current situation.") It says that when fascism comes to America it will come wrapped in a flag and brandishing a cross. This may well be true, but it's hard to imagine that anybody thought the message of the incipient police state would be carried by as unlikely a messenger as Naomi Wolf.

In the calm but provocative agitprop film The End of America, author Wolf -- still best-known for her 1991 college-feminist masterwork The Beauty Myth -- stands on a stage before a studio audience and delivers a 10-point plan by which we shall know that democracy in America is no more. With her large wave of elaborately-permed hair, sensibly stylish suit, and colloquial manner, Wolf seems more like a particularly engaged PTA mom than the protest-marching Mother Jones-reading raconteur that her speech brings to mind. Probably that's for the best, as the proto-fascist program enumerated by Wolf is more disturbing than just about anything dreamed up in today's run-of-the-mill leftie documentary. Better a messenger she than Michael Moore.

Wisely taking their cue from the makers of An Inconvenient Truth, here co-directors Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg -- who were behind last year's superb The Devil Came on Horseback -- do away with most of the standard accoutrements of the issue documentary and simply stick Wolf on a stage. It's as though she's lecturing a thoughtful crowd of college students and a few concerned middle-age types, which is appropriate, as that's likely what most of the film audience will be. They put Wolf up there to wave her slim book of the same name and lead people through what she says is the 10-point plan followed by just about every dictatorship of the modern era; a plan that seems to be in its early stages in America.

Wolf's argument is nowhere close to airtight, and a number of her points are so general as to be potentially applied to any nation (No. 1: "Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy"). That being said, the parallels she draws will, by the film's end, have converted at least a few sensible audience members to her way of thinking. One can certainly quibble with a number of her points, like the third, "Develop a thug caste." While there are numerous arguments to be made against the U.S. government's increasing reliance on "contractors" (mercenaries) like Blackwater for security work, it remains quite a jump from that to Hitler's Brown Shirts.

More often than not, though, Wolf makes her points simply and believably. Stern and Sundberg leave the camera on Wolf and let her talk, interjecting only to show archival footage of the past and present events she discusses, or to cut away to the occasional talking head. (Directorially, the film's only slip-up comes at the end, which turns into an obnoxious soft-focus montage that's little less than a paid advertisement for Wolf and her book.)

To her credit, Wolf doesn't oversell by point by arguing that fascism has already arrived in America full-force -- like some whacked-out conspiracy theorist frantically Googling about the "real story" behind 9/11. Instead, Wolf shows how the early stages of fascist takeover have been put into place, piece by piece. If an American president were to decide to exert total control over the populace, he or she would already have the framework to do so. What with the casual abandonment of habeus corpus, the establishment of a vast internal surveillance network, and the conflation in the public mind of political dissent with treason, a president with such a desire wouldn't have much work to do.

There are those who would argue that it's ludicrous to even use the word "fascist" in the same sentence with America, and already critics of Wolf's argument have simply jumped to the conclusion that she is calling George W. Bush a Nazi (she's not). They would say that it's only the perpetually paranoid who would be concerned about such matters. But when reasonable people can look at the actions of the American government and see more than a few links with those of the regimes of Mussolini, Stalin, and Hitler, it does seem time to worry.



The End of America

Facts and Figures

In Theaters: Wednesday 3rd December 2008

Distributed by: Indipix

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Fresh: 9 Rotten: 2

IMDB: 7.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Ricki Stern, Anne Sundberg

Producer: Laura Dawn, Avran Ludwig, John Buffalo Mailer, , Michelle Ngo

Also starring:

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