Political Film Society - The Majestic


PFS Film Review
The Majestic

 

The MajesticFar from Washington, Hollywood is an easy target for those in Congress to find scapegoats. After World War II, the pattern of emergence of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, involving the media in part, frightened some Americans into believing that a similar fate was in store for the United States, so proactive measures against leftists in Hollywood were taken by some members of Congress, in the process destroying careers and frightening the film industry into capitulating by setting up a blacklist. In The Majestic, Peter Appelton (played by Jim Carrey) is a naïve screenwriter fingered by his former girlfriend circa 1953 for once attending a meeting of a suspect organization, Bread Instead of Bullets Club, so he is blacklisted just as his career seemed to be taking off. After the word gets out, he is fired from his job, his current girlfriend deserts him, he gets drunk, he then drives up the California coast, his car crashes on a bridge, and he awakens from a concussion on the beach of a small town named Lawson with amnesia. A double of Luke Trimble, a highly decorated soldier who was missing in action during World War II, the town soon believes that he is indeed the son of Harry Trimble (played by Martin Landau), who provides shelter for him in the apartment above his run-down cinema, The Majestic. Lawson holds a welcome-home party for Luke, who is still unsure of his identity, and a former girlfriend Adele Stanton (played by Laurie Holden) takes him to various sentimental spots to jog his memory, whereupon they carry on an old-fashioned romance. Since he has no alternative, he decides to play the role of Luke, and he encourages Harry to refurbish The Majestic. With the aid of townspeople, the moviehouse reopens. In due course, Appleton’s first film is exhibited, and his familiarity with the spoken lines causes him to realize that he is indeed Peter Appleton. Meanwhile, the FBI has been on a manhunt for Appleton, who presumably slipped out of Hollywood to avoid appearing as a witness before a Congressional committee. When his car washes up on a beach near Lawson, investigators locate Appleton, serve him a Congressional subpoena, the townspeople shun him, and he gets a train ticket for the hearing in Los Angeles. Before going, presumably to cooperate with the committee by naming names, Adele tells him that Luke would not have caved into such an undemocratic travesty; before he boards the train, she sends him a copy of the Constitution containing Luke’s last letter to her. When he appears before the committee, he decides not to read a text prepared by industry lawyers. In a Mr.-Smith-Goes-to-Washington speech, he first admits that he attended the organization’s meeting because he was in love with and horny for a girl, and he then lambastes the committee for violating the very principles of democracy that Luke Trimble died defending. He next reads the text of the First Amendment, which some of those on the blacklist invoked as grounds for refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee, and he is applauded by the press as he stomps out of the hearing despite gaveling by the committee chair (played by Hal Holbrook) that he was not excused from testifying. During his testimony, Lawson views the proceeding on television and is deeply moved when their town hero is held up as an example of patriotism for the country, so when Appleton returns to ask an important question of Adele, he receives a hero’s welcome at the train station. The Political Film Society has nominated The Majestic, directed by Frank Darabont (whose The Green Mile won an award from the Society in 1999), as best film raising consciousness of the need for greater democracy. The most eloquent passages in the movie are the comment by a film industry lawyer that every so often the Constitution is renegotiated by members of Congress to suit the needs of the time and Appleton’s riposte before the committee that the Constitution is not up for renegotiation. At a time when the effort to combat against international terrorism has provoked a sweeping repeal of many long-cherished civil liberties, the message in The Majestic could not be more timely. MH

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