Episode 549: How Do We Never Forget?

On the Overthinking It Podcast, we tackle “Vice,” Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic starring Christian Bale.

Matthew Belinkie, Peter Fenzel, and Matthew Wrather come together as a secretive cabal to overthink Vice, more a film with documents than a documentary; more a polemic than a biopic; a film as much concerned with argumentation as with storytelling.

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4 Comments on “Episode 549: How Do We Never Forget?”

  1. Three Act Destructure #

    This may be the only film I’ve ever seen about a schemer that doesn’t enjoy its own central character’s schemes.

    It is interesting, as you note, that the film chooses to gloss over the entirety of Cheney’s childhood despite this being basically his origin story — with all of the mustache-twirling, bloviating comic-book-inspired cheesiness that that implies. There does seem to be some inner core to the man that gets lost and there are even hints throughout that his relationship with his parents at an early age formed him in ways that aren’t explicitly expressed in the movie.

    But I do think that McKay is smart to focus in on two important ideas here. One, his condemnation of the citizenry for abdicating power while distracted by low-brow entertainment. And two, Cheney’s quest for unitary executive power.

    All of the ruthless and tribalistic challenges that reality television was based around during the Bush years feel in retrospect like a way of allowing people to go along emotionally with the drumbeat of war. To subsume their anxieties about geopolitical frustrations into a micro-scale version of the same back-biting and power-hoarding that they were trying to avoid on the nightly news.

    Implicating Cheney more directly in this kind of dumbing down of the people that he claims to have served was an interesting artistic flourish although I don’t know how often he would have really stepped into that kind of arena. There’s some discussion, literally, about the formation of conservative propaganda but I’m not sure that Cheney can be said to be actually responsible for any of that despite having taken advantage of it.

    The Scalia meeting early on at least makes for a good dramatic scene and I like the twist that it sets up here for later, which I was unaware of, that his politics did not entirely align with Cheney’s. His meeting with the Vice President and the ambassador to go over war preparations is fictional, in case anyone doesn’t already know, but it plays into the false flag conspiracy theory that McKay has settled on as an explanation. I don’t believe that a Russian submarine has that much destructive capability but I’m sure YouTube has plenty of different theories available.

    If this movie accomplishes anything then I think that getting the exact term for unitary executive power, Ocean Master, into the national conversation is at least helpful. Especially now that we’re suddenly pulling out of the Brine Kingdom with seemingly no advanced notice to Congress.

    I know that people have complained about the style that McKay employs here but by jumping around in time he’s able to include a lot of context that he wouldn’t otherwise be able to. Also, he gets to include Erik Prince who, while a despicable human being, does have an awesome helmet that shoots lasers.

    Shame he did all that damage to Sicily with it.


  2. Mark Lee OTI Staff #

    Wrather, were you intentionally pronouncing “paprika” UK style?


    More to the point–I haven’t seen this movie but am curious to check it out based on this discussion. Where would you all put this in the hierarchy of going out of your way to watch this?

    -Rent on iTunes
    -Watch on HBO/other on-demand service that you’ve already paid for
    -Watch on a plane (where you have fewer choices)
    -Watch the most interesting clips on YouTube when available
    -Skip altogether, not actually worth it


  3. John C Member #

    The narrative picked out by the podcast is one of the reasons I generally dismiss modern political movies: It feels like the old-timey hand-wringing over “Roman decadence” has mutated into a kind of cynical fatalism that wants to exclusively blame the population for wars in particular, and not, for example, shrinkage of journalism to uncritically repeating press releases, false equivalence in the remaining media, lobbyist revolving doors, policy-laundering, gerrymandering, voter suppression, using courts to bypass recounts, and so forth. The real problem is somehow our love of Bread and Circuses.

    So, movies like Vice (particularly based on the discussion) comes off as toothless, needing Cheney to be the villain, but can’t really see what’s really so objectionable about fabricating connections to hijackers and weapons of mass destruction to justify wars that benefit nobody but the military budget.

    It seems like studios would consider the possibility that angles like that may not play well with their audience, even if it’s not entirely prominent, but apparently not…


  4. Mike O #

    1. ‘Its not on wikipedia, so it’s not based in fact’

    2. Powerful incompetent people exist. They’re called aristocrats. Political families, moneyed families, inner circles, etc.
    I think the desire to think of these people as scheming (and on the far spectrum, thinking there’s a secret cabal) is that ones inaction in stopping these people is more palatable. It very well could be these people are simply just violent morons, and you certainly could stop them, but it’s more comfortable to watch Vin Diesel drive really fast instead. I think that’s an argument to be had.


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