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Chicago: The decadence of elitist cinema

By Gennady Stolyarov II
web posted February 24, 2003

Seldom a film comes about that not merely exposits but also patronizes the sensation-grabbing, flesh-lusting, nihilistic paradigm behind the Oscar nominations, but this time Hollywood has surpassed the veneer of "artistry" to uncover the brazen essence of its propagations. Early last week I had given myself an investigative assignment: to see one of the films in competition for the Academy Awards (which I, being fairly insulated from the cultural mainstream, seldom do) and to review it independently, not reading past evaluations, not filtering the works of others to form my perception from theirs. My analysis of the film, in its plot, its imagery, and, especially, the metaphysical portrayal of the world that it presents, would suggest that "Chicago" is not worth the seven dollars I had paid to see it, not even to mention the showering of Oscars it, given knowledge of the dispositions of selection committees past, is likely to receive.

The plot of the film is so primitive that I likely would have been able to write a similar scenario at the age of five. Roxie Hart (Rene Zellweger), a would-be cabaret singer, murders a furniture salesman posturing as a promotional advertiser, is imprisoned, and becomes a media celebrity due to the devious manipulations of public perception performed by Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), your typical "crooked lawyer" who believes sentimental appeal to be a sounder strategy than solid empirical, logical argumentation of one's case. She is acquitted and is released to star in a duo with another murderess/cabaret signer with whom she had feuded in prison. There are also several segments of film displaying Roxie's contemptuous relationship toward her "average" but honorable husband and the futile efforts of a more rational prosecutor than Flynn, but altogether the film contains some fifteen minutes of plot. And fifteen minutes of plot is all that can possibly be wrung from a story that in its content can be termed anorexic and still given excessive credit.

Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago
Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago

What, one will ask, are the remaining two hours of the film occupied by? Lewd and sensuous, skin-baring dancing absolutely unrelated to the subject matter of the film as well as its parent musical. The plot is that of a murder/trial story which has no inextricable links to cabaret dancing per se. Roxie could have been an aspiring scientist, businesswoman, architect—some nobler and more productive profession—and the essence of her conflict and her dilemma would have remained unchanged. But why did the producers of the film not consider that possibility? Because they sought to counterbalance their vapid, uncreative, and starved plot with some moist, mushy, repulsive and gratuitous exposition. Why did Roxie's cell mates, when explaining in song their motives for the murder of their respective husbands/boyfriends, posture in blatantly suggestive ways? Why were they dressed in flimsy garments more fit for a hippie nudist colony than a prison? No reason, of course. There was no logic behind the visual elements of the film, period. There was but the populist impulse to attract the same people who would observe wanton sexual allusions in the so-called "arts" not for the sake of a deeper revelation of character traits or ideological dispositions, but for the sake of the obscenities themselves!

However, what is most troubling is the moral message this film communicates to its observers. Poetic justice is absent as if there never were poetic justice. The wicked are not punished, the charlatans not exposed, the power-lusters and attention grabbers not rebuked. Billy Flynn, who had "never lost a case", adds Roxie's defense to his winning streak. Roxie, despite the fact that she managed to dishonestly exonerate herself from being convicted for a murder she did commit through "sweet girl" posturing, rises to the peaks of show business popularity. Martin Harrison (Colm Feore), the district prosecutor devoted to truth and the law over public perception (which is implicit, although never overtly stated about his personality. There would have been a worthy character for the film to dwell on, but he is afforded no more than two to three minutes of attention) is framed by Flynn, who fabricates Roxie's diary and places it into the hands of Harrison's witness to subsequently be exposed for its evident artificiality.

Amos (John C. Reilly), the husband of Roxie, a man of titanic devotion to his wife, who lies in order to protect her honor during the police investigation and who enters debts of several thousand dollars to pay her lawyer's fees despite knowledge of her adulterous relationship, who is elated when he hears (fabricated) news of Roxie's pregnancy and dreams of building a sound family with her once the trial is concluded, is treated with half-condescension, half outright contempt by Flynn and is absolutely shunned by Roxie until her trial date, when they she embraces him for show value but treats him with aloof disregard once they meet face to face in the courtroom, post-trial. For all of his principled fortitudes, Amos is the cleanest and most appealing character in the film, but he is portrayed as an unattractive, comical buffoon and is never given the opportunity to redeem his societally smeared image. No mention is made of whether or not he had reconciled with Roxie, and an impression is left of him not as a loyal, moral man but as a scum of what, in the perception of the Hollywood elites, would be the "lower classes."

Flynn is portrayed with a magician's elegance and charm, Roxie with a showgirl's glamour. Yet the producers of this film neglect in entirety that the emotionalist irrationalities pervading the dispositions of both of those characters can never, by the very logical and absolute nature of the laws of the universe and by the objective nature of the needs of man, succeed in the real world. The film advises its observers to bow to false idols, populism and sensuality, while neglecting one's surest guides in life, Reason and Morality, or their aggregate, Rational Egoism. Harrison is a rational egoist in the sense that he advocates objective law, a necessity for a tranquil society for every man, but in the film he is defeated. Amos is a rational egoist in the sense that he believes romantic love to be attainable and seeks to achieve concrete gains from his relationship with Roxie, a family, an established household, as well as the emotional and intellectual endowments of his wife. Yet in the film he obtains none of his aspired for goals, even though men who but subconsciously strive for such basic aims as home and family usually obtain them in reality.

In all, this film is an absolute inversion of commonsense absolutist metaphysics, but it is an insight into the metaphysical value-judgments of its producers and the horde of critics showering it with acclaim. Philosopher Ayn Rand had revealed evil to be impotent and miserable, not on coequal terms with good, but rather a swarm of pests harassing the Atlases of this world. Yet this film portrays evil as omnipotent and ever triumphant over the waning seedlings of good still embedded in society. Of course, that is a theme revealed only "on the sidelines", not in the masterful sense (although still deserving criticism) of talented writers like Leo Tolstoy, William Golding, or Daniel Quinn. Most of the film expresses nothing of contemplative value whatsoever, just haphazardly orchestrated orgies of flesh piled atop each other. I suppose that is an insight into another metaphysical value-judgment of the producers, the presumption that the universe is an indeterminate flux of random moments and unsubstantiated gestures, the raw Deweyite empiricist mindset that presents a string of images or words, such as "pop, six, uh-uh, Cicero, Lipschitz", with zero meaning and zero insight (they happen to be the refrain to a song by the jail inmates, referring to particular concretes related to their given crimes, even though these concretes had no connection to the conflict per se).

Numerous great films had emerged onto the screen in 2002, including the adventurous and intellectually stimulating "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets", the deeply symbolic "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers", and the philosophical exploration that is "Solaris". But the quantity of their nominations is scant in comparison to those bestowed by the elites of Hollywood upon the worthless tripe that is "Chicago", even though any one of those three films has earned a substantially higher amount of viewers than this one. This merely further illustrates the isolation of the cloistered elites of Hollywood from the world of reality, where the grass roots of common sense can still make sound judgments in regard to movie selections, sometimes, at least, when they do not enter marionette mode and get their strings pulled by legions of leftist critics and celebrities keeping them mesmerized with meaningless lightning-speed hodge-podge. 

I will not be surprised if this film sweeps the Academy Awards. I hope, however, that it does not sweep all remaining clarity of vision from those elements of our society still guided by reason and individual sovereignty.

G. Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, writer for Objective Medicine, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator at http://www.geocities.com/rationalargumentator/index.html. He can be contacted at gennadystolyarovii@yahoo.com.

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