I do not shill for movies. As readers of WARN know, I tend to write longer critical essays than straight reviews and endorsements of a movie or TV show. I will have to break with that habit here. Several days ago I was very lucky to see the movie Out of the Furnace. It is one of the best, of the many movies, I have seen this year.
My movie tastes may deviate from general public as well as that of many reviewers. My love of the movie Cloud Atlas is an example. My likely unpopular view that 12 Years a Slave is an expert exercise in film-making, but not necessarily a great biopic, is a second outlier opinion.
Out of the Furnace is a brilliant and essential film with stellar performances by marquee actors such as Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Forest Whitaker, Sam Shephard, William Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, and Woody Harrelson that explores how globalization, deindustrialization, militarism, and class inequality have impacted Rustbelt America and its denizens.
Out of the Furnace is set in and around Braddock, Pennsylvania during Obama's 2008 presidential run and uses that moment as background and atmosphere which forces an uncomfortable question: what will the country's first black President (not) mean for improving the life chances of a multiracial working class who are dependent upon the United States' near dead and dying industrial manufacturing base?
A great film leaves an emotional and intellectual impression on viewers after they leave the theater. More than "what is this movie trying to tell me and us?", a great film drives the engaged viewer to want to learn more about the characters, their struggles, and the larger issues of public concern we as a society are struggling with.
Given my interests in American racial politics, I was moved to reflect on the racial diversity of the communities shown in Out of the Furnace. Race was present and real--as it should be in a movie that purports to any type of "social realism". But, race was not foregrounded in the film. Race is how class is lived in America. Yet, how is that rubric modified when a whole community, across the colorline, is dependent on a dying industry?
And how are the troubles and challenges in multiracial Braddock (and rural Appalachia) damning proof of Charles Murray's thesis in "Coming Apart" about the decline of "good culture" among White America?
Given my family's background, and subsequent travels as a child and teen, I am very familiar with the dead and dying multiracial Rustbelt communities on the East Coast. They are very racially segregated. But, these same communities are also very integrated in their shared working class ethos, culture, values, and sense of pride.
America has been inaccurately described as a "melting pot". Borrowing from Eduardo Bonilla Silva, the history of American society is more akin to that of a cauldron hanging over a fire in to which different European ethnic groups were thrown into the stew pot, while black and brown people were the kindling for the fire which cooked the meal of "Americanness". Globalization, Austerity, income inequality, changing racial demographics, and resurgent white supremacy in the Age of Obama have created the "furnace" for which the title of this movie, intentionally or not by its writers, is a beautiful metaphor.
What other movies would you add if we were making a list of films (within the last 50 years) that intelligently explore the dynamics of race, class, and gender in Rustbelt deindustrialized America?
In addition to Out of the Furnace, I would start with The Fighter, Winter's Bone, and An Officer and a Gentleman. What would you suggest?