Last week I invited the community (and myself) to a new movie starring Channing Tatum titled Dog, which—in my naivete—I hastily interpreted as a goofy comedy at best (think 21 Jump Street) and a family-friendly tearjerker such as Lassie, at worst. I mean, how bad it can be, right? I thought I was prepared for everything when I hit Cinema 13 in Monterey last weekend with a friend and a bag full of snacks just to discover that I had been manipulated.
Here’s the plot again: An Army Ranger has some unspecified problems at work and needs to be on his best behavior in order to go for another Army Rangers’ mission. To fix his life, he decides to give his dead friend a last favor and take his old, crazy dog to the guy’s funeral. The dog has been an Army Ranger, too, and after a series of missions in the Middle East, she suffers from severe PTSD. Channing Tatum's character delivers the dog and ultimately keeps her, saving her from death. All that sounds like a great story, especially that the experience helps Tatum’s character to grow enough to confront his estranged 2-year-old daughter and her mother, it seems.
But that’s not the point, and that’s not what unsettled me when I was watching the movie.
What did was the subtle message of this production that kept popping up here and there. The message is: “Give war a chance.”
That is the title of the book Tatum is reading on his self-discovery road trip when he drives with the dog from Portland, Oregon to Arizona (here’s another disappointment—yes, Highway 1 and Monterey County's Pacific coast are featured just briefly.)
Speaking of Portland, on his way to Arizona, Tatum decides it has been ages since got laid so he leaves the dog in the car and goes out to conquer the night. He discovers that things have changed in terms of men-women relations. The problem is: There is no one normal to sleep with anymore because all women are crazy socialists, who ask him when he figured out that the war in Iraq was really about Big Oil and are outraged by his story. At the end of the night, he comes to a sad but true conclusion that he prefers hanging out with his dog to those women. Finally, he gets lucky and agrees to a threesome with two hippies who are into tantric sex. They are clearly crazy, Tatum is winking here to the audience, but at least they are not anti-military.
The final scene in the movie is a classic military funeral—uniforms, white gloves, flags, shots in the air, blue sky and the crying mother who is being thanked for her sacrifice. Tatum salutes (he is so cute!) in the sun; he will be back with Army Rangers soon. The soundtrack suggests such a level of holiness, as if we would be witnessing The Gettysburg Address.
Of course, I cried. I’m a sucker for the aesthetics of patriotism and I understand its power all too well. That is why I’m genuinely surprised to see a movie (supposedly a comedy) that is pretty much an ad for the U.S. military, with the same message the U.S. audience has been receiving for decades: It’s great to be a soldier. Give war a chance.
After returning home, I did some research. Give War A Chance is a book by conservative satirist and writer P.J. O’Rourke. (O'Rourke died on Feb. 15 of this year, from lung cancer at the age of 74.) The full title of this 30-year-old book is: Give War A Chance: Eyewitness Accounts of Mankind's Struggle Against Tyranny, Injustice, and Alcohol-Free Beer. Between the covers one can find such morsels as: “The Third World attitude toward the United States is also easy to understand if you think of it in terms of adolescence. The citizens of the Third World are in a teenage muddle about us—full of envy, imitation, anger and blind puppy love.”
The book was published in 1992, 10 years before 9/11, courtesy of “blind puppy love” of adoring adolescence so appreciative of American policy in the Middle East. If this movie was made in 1992, I would swallow its imperialism easily, but I’m afraid that in 2022, I’m all the way with the Portland chicks. Check, please.