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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts

Cinema in Focus

Cinema in Focus: ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’

By Hal Conklin and Denny Wayman | @CinemaInFocus |

3 Stars — Thought-provoking

Continuing the successful Marvel comic book series of heroes out to save the world, Captain America: The Winter Soldier takes us on a fascinating journey that explores what we might experience if "free will" was removed from our lives.

The world of comic book saviors has run the gamut from brooding characters such as Batman to playful eccentrics like Ironman, or collectively to the Avengers, which compiles Marvel's wonder-people into an army of competing but loveable good guys.

Chris Evans reprises the role of the handsome World War II hero Steve Evans, whose alter ego is known as Captain America. Still young and ageless in appearance, he is actually in his 90s having survived the great war of 70 years ago as an experimental human weapon capable of the fighting strength of a superman and the moral courage of an ideal American.

The cast has a bevy of heavyweights, including Robert Redford playing the government mastermind Alexander Pierce, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury the leader of the unit that directs Captain America's team, and Scarlett Johansson as the mysterious and beautiful Natasha Romanoff known as the "Black Widow."

The story portrays the United States as having evolved its post-9/11 security infrastructure to a remarkably intrusive state where the government knows — or can know — just about everything you do in your life. The temptation to cross the line between personal freedom and government control is great, and the moral distinction built into the U.S. Constitution seems at best to be an antiqued historical footnote. The government keeps looking for more and more opportunities to evolve its security apparatus to efficiently control the ever-increasing domination of technology by men with evil or criminal intent. Only Captain America seems to have a moral compass, and the weakness of this tale is that there are few other voices in America who seem to have a shred of ethical or moral character or leadership.

A series of evil betrayals at the highest level of government dominate the story, and the ultimate plot emerges to save the world by destroying anyone and everyone that either has, or might have, a thought contrary to their view of protecting America. They see the safety of America requiring a removal of the fundamental concept of checks and balances and anyone who questions their authority.

Without giving away the story, an evil mastermind (also preserved from World War II) has created an algorithm that will predict who might possibly be a current or future threat to the government, and a plan is devised to eliminate all of them at one time so that all of the human beings who are left will not be prone to challenge authority. In a world of 7 billion people, killing off 20 million possible challengers is a small price to pay for world peace — even if that includes religious and civic leaders, including the president of the United States.

It is a fascinating question to ask: "Would we be better off without the ability to exercise free will?" What kind of life would exist if we didn't possess the ability to question the motives and character of one another or those who govern us? This was the fundamental determining question that led people to first come to the new world and form a more perfect union based on the untested principles of democracy.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier takes on the question of whether we need to kill democracy in order to save it, or whether we need to eliminate the human and spiritual attributes of love, compassion and justice in order to have peace in our lives?

Discussion

» The loss of freedom most often comes out of fear and in a slow process. The well-known quote of Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf explains the process he used to take over Germany: "The best way to take control over a people and control them utterly is to take a little of their freedom at a time, to erode rights by a thousand tiny and almost imperceptible reductions. In this way, the people will not see those rights and freedoms being removed until past the point at which these changes cannot be reversed." How do we protect ourselves from such a plan by governmental leaders?

» The idea that our future government will know everything about us as it gains access to our computer use is now being experienced in its infancy in the real world. How do you think we can protect ourselves from this intrusion into our private lives?

» The underlying message of love and friendship taking precedence over safety is exemplified by this film by the actions of Captain America. Do you agree or disagree with this? In Maslow's hierarchy of needs, he puts safety as the foundation of an actualized life while other need hierarchies have placed relationships. Do you think this is a cultural expression?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.




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