Monday, February 23, 2009

The Mythic Dimension of "Frost/Nixon"

The film "Frost/Nixon" is an interesting film to examine from the mythic dimension.

But first, myth is an incredibly charged word because it is used in so many different ways. The one thing I have learned in 5 months of Mythological Studies in grad school is there is very little consensus on what myth actually is. Suffice it to say, the common usage of "Myth is a lie or untruth", has so little validity in the reality of how myth is used that it is basically a nonsensical statement. That being said though, it is a common view held by a large amount of people. Let the mythic education begin.

For my purposes, myth is: thought that produces a narrative that includes opposites, paradoxically combining those opposites to produce a new understanding of how the two actually work together, and possibly create something completely new. This is a working definition that I am constantly re-thinking, but the dialectic that is created by myth is a very useful tool to analyze any narrative.

So - "Frost/Nixon". The mythic dimension became readily apparent in this film with the realization of the opposition of the two sides involved. The self-important, political heavyweight Richard Nixon, being interviewed by the gregarious, entertainment lightweight, David Frost. Physical and cultural opposites, their outlooks are from two different worlds. Nixon apparently only agreed to the interviews because Frost was seen as a pushover. The fallen president thought he had the platform on which to change his image enough to allow his re-entry into the political world. The powerhouse of Nixon's forceful personality is brilliantly portrayed by Frank Langella in an extraordinary performance in the film.

Michael Sheen as David Frost complements the Nixon force, however, by being just as forceful, just as determined, in a wonderfully understated role. The key in the film becomes a phone call that Nixon makes to Frost, in which the ex-president makes the challenge of the interview into a personal challenge. He claims, rightly for many reasons, that Frost is just like him. He also claims that Frost has no chance of besting him. Frost rises to the occasion because as determined as they both are, he knows there is a difference.

The mythic dimension, then, is in the meeting of the two worlds - the entertainment and the political, actors of two different stages, coming together at an incredibly important historical moment. The trust of America's people in its leaders was in meltdown. The political news was unable to even procure an interview with Nixon. If they were, it seems that Nixon would have been unable to admit he was wrong to such a force. His adamant personality suggests he would have held fast.

But when faced with his opposite, the change took place. His spirit was affected. With a newsman, the story, ultimately about admitting injustice and the emotions of a beaten down egotistical politician, could never have developed. Nixon's guard was down, he felt superior to his opposite, but the opposite is not superior or inferior - it is equal in opposing force. The conflicting emotions arose from having no choice but to coalesce in the middle of calm and fury. Truth, which is after all what confession is, arises when the paradoxical opposites are combined.

The guess is that Nixon's personal catharsis was good for him, mentally at least. But what did it do for America? Though the confession of wrong doing was needed by our country's people, it was a turning point of trust. By hearing the admission, there was no going back to trust. Politicians have always been corrupt, but the enormity of the President being involved scarred our ability to trust forever. It is a good thing to be wary, but also very tiring. The steady erosion of confidence that was publicly marked by Nixon's resignation has gone downhill since. Have we reached the turning point yet, in which we regain faith in what we suppose we have always stood for?

1 comment:

Gentian said...

Nice analysis. I want to see that movie now!