Daniel W. Drezner

Foreign Policy Film Festival, Part II

As a film buff, I was keen to see Steve Walt’s top ten list of “movies that tells us something about international relations more broadly.” Someone once said that the only proper way to critique a film is by making another film. Following that logic, I think the only way to critique Steve’s list is ...

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As a film buff, I was keen to see Steve Walt’s top ten list of “movies that tells us something about international relations more broadly.”

Someone once said that the only proper way to critique a film is by making another film. Following that logic, I think the only way to critique Steve’s list is to make my own.

Using Steve’s criteria, the overlap between our top ten list is pretty small: Dr. Strangelove and Casablanca. It’s not that I hate the other films — I just think there are better, more entertaining movies out there that highlight some interesting aspects of world politics. Here are eight other films I think are essential watching for international relations junkies: 

8. Burnt By the Sun (1994)

The tension in Nikita Mikhailkov’s film comes from the juxtaposition of the terror that comes from living in a totalitarian society and the beauty on screen that comes from a family vacation in the Russian countryside.   

7. Seven Days in May (1964)

This Rod Serling-scripted, John Frankenheimer-directed movie is the film to watch when musing about civil-military relations, particularly in the United States. 

6. Y Tu Mamá También (2001)

Buried within this romp about two Mexican teenagers going on a road trip with a very attractive woman is a lot of subtext about the ways in which globalization has affected Mexico.  I’m not sure I agree with all of it, but director Alfonso Cuarón is quite deft in making his points without banging you on the head repeatedly to do it.

5. Conspiracy (2001) 

Hannah Arendt wrote about the “banality of evil.” This movie — a real-time recreation of the 1942 Wansee Conference — is the best evocation of Arendt’s theme. Plus, any movie where Colin Firth plays a Nazi is guaranteed to shock. 

4. The Americanization of Emily (1964)

An absurdist tale about bureaucratic politics and public relations during wartime. James Garner was the perfect actor to play the protagonist.  Possibly the only movie ever made to extol cowardice as a virtue.  

3. The Day After (1983)

An ABC television movie that sparked a great deal of controversy when it aired during one of the peaks of Cold War tensions. It’s far from a perfect film — I mean, c’mon, Steve Guttenberg is in it — but I actually prefer it to Dr. Strangelove on one important dimension. It does a much better job than Kubrick’s film at evoking the latent dread that people felt during the Cold War about the possibility of global thermonuclear war. I’m glad this dread has largely disappeared from global consciousness, but there’s a part of me that wants younger generations to see this movie periodically just to remember what it feels like. 

2. Children of Men (2007)

No top ten list about IR films is complete without a good dystopia flick. The premise (global infertility) is a bit of a stretch, but if you accept that, the rest of the movie seems like an effortless, logical extension of how civilization would respond to such a pandemic. Also directed by Alfonso Cuarón, incidentally. The action sequences are jaw-dropping.   

1. The Lion in Winter (1967)

How do you make a movie about the strengths and limits of rational choice in international politics? It helps if you have Peter O’Toole, Katherine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, and Timothy Dalton, and biting dialogue.

OK, readers, which flicks did I miss? 

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Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. He blogged regularly for Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2014. Twitter: @dandrezner

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