by Michael Joshua Rowin
A year after a contentious and bitter presidential election—symbolized in the release of the decade’s two most controversial films, The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11—2005 began four more years of an embattled neoconservative political program guiding American domestic and foreign policy. Fittingly, the country’s best-known and loved, but also increasingly challenging, director, served up two films as commentary on Bush-era trauma and violence: Steven Spielberg’s anti-feel good summer movie The War of the Worlds, in which a horrific alien attack evoked both the shock of September 11 and the hidden deadly cost of “shock and awe,” and Munich, a brooding, introspective study of the psychic toll of an endless cycle of revenge as represented by the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The best of the foreign film community—Michael Haneke, Jia Zhang-ke, Claire Denis—created some of the decade’s most unnerving and beautiful films in 2005 by experiment with alinear storytelling, self-reflexive employment of media, and the elephant in the room of contemporary cinema, digital video. Not coincidentally, these experiments also engaged directly with major issues such as the denial of Western responsibility for Middle Eastern disenfranchisement, the economic collateral damage (and subsequent fantasy images) wrought by globalization, and the search for new myths and cinematic forms in a rapidly changing world.
In a similar vein, the year’s watershed cultural event, Brokeback Mountain, launched a million think pieces on the mainstreaming of homosexuality even as Ang Lee’s epic resorted to classicism for the purposes of generic subversion; meanwhile, Terrence Malick’s The New World offered for many a one-film cinematic revolution of imagery and history, though its mainstream recognition was exceedingly modest.