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Weak signals of the evolution of mentalities and power relations can be found in many fields, and in particular in a field where they are rarely found: the cinema.
In fact, since its inception, the seventh art has said a great deal about the profound trends in our societies, and in particular about the relative power of nations.
Although it was born in France, the cinema took off largely in the United States, at the time when it became the world’s leading power. And it is still in this country that it is developing today, constantly reinventing all the myths and all the stories imagined or lived for thousands of years. Other countries have played, and still play, a great role, reflecting their relative power and their concerns.
And today, what does it tell us about the state of the world? Can we read in it the major ideological and geopolitical movements?
Without going so far as to analyse the works that will last the longest in the memory of mankind (and which are not always great successes on their release), the box-office data always say a lot about what our world is like. So in mid-October 2021 :
In the US, the top three films at the box office are Venom 2, Dune and Dying Can Wait. The first is based on a comic book character from the 1980s Marvel universe, in the Spiderman saga, in which a kind of virus can only survive by invading a human’s body and turning it into a force of evil; it chooses the body of a journalist, which, among other things, it makes spread many false news, before turning it into a dreadful monster, almost impossible to control. The second, Dune, is based on the book of the same name, the best-selling science fiction novel in history, which has already been the subject of several attempts at film adaptation, and which tells, among other thousand adventures, of the search, a few thousand years from now, on the planet Dune, for rare resources vital to humanity. The third of these films, Dying Can Wait, is the umpteenth adventure of the famous British secret agent James Bond.
These three films refer, in one way or another, to a nostalgia for the superpower of the Anglo-Saxon world, in a deliberately playful universe, close to video games.
All three films were also immediately, on virtually the same day, top of the box office in Britain, France, Germany and countless other countries, and even, more surprisingly, in Russia. This says a lot about the global standardisation of entertainment.
One exception is China, where another film this week crushed all others, “The Battle of Changjin Lake“, which made 11 million (I mean eleven million!) admissions in the country on the day of its release (more than the other three in the rest of the world!). It deals with a true historical episode: the appalling battle that took place in November 1950, in which the 120,000 men of the Chinese 9th army under General Song Shi Lun attacked by surprise the 30,000 men of the American 10th corps under General Almond, causing tens of thousands of deaths, followed by the rout and evacuation of the United Nations forces from North Korean territory. An ultra-realistic and patriotic film.
If we want to take these differences in box-office success seriously, we can read them as a reflection of a growing opposition between a Western civilisation that has become nostalgic for its past power, resigning itself to pure distraction, and a Chinese civilisation, which was evolving in the same way as the Anglo-Saxon one (the previous Chinese box-office record was a film of this kind, Avengers), but which may recently be moving, perhaps in a more sustainable way, towards militarism, austerity and the war economy. This can be explained by the great difficulty for the Chinese government to maintain, in the years to come, both the control of the country by a single party and a strong growth in the purchasing power of a population addicted to consumption.
There were many other signs of all this. The cinema confirms them. We’ll have to see if the next few weeks, months and years confirm this trend (with very serious consequences) or if, like any show, it’s just a fleeting moment in the illusion of the world’s spectacle.