Diversity can be found in unity
Unity can be found in diversity.
So say a Rabbi, a Priest, a Pastor, and a Patriarch, advising Eddie Mannix, Capitol Pictures’ honcho and fixer, on whether the script of his new movie, Hail, Caesar, is theologically solid enough to pass American muster.
And so, in this movie containing many movies (featuring Alden Ehrenreich as Hobie Doyle, the Coens’ most adorable doofus yet, Ralph Fiennes channelling every English person ever frustrated by the American representation of English period drama, and Channing Tatum tap dancing) some kind of unity of theme emerges. I might just need to see it three or four more times to even begin to work out all the links.
For me, the think that stuck out most was the Coens continued savviness about politics (see Miller’s Crossing) and economics (see The Hudsucker Proxy), and their fascination with religion (see A Serious Man, most notably). In this, they manage to pair the illusion of the capitalism of the movie business (control -> success -> good life and continued sense of control) with the illusion of marxism (economic and historical analysis -> prediction of the future -> sense of control and the good life), and laugh at the pettiness of both. It’s striking that Baird Whitlock goes through marxism and capitalism in the movie, before ending up quite literally at the foot of the cross explaining the gospel.
It’s Capitol, Kapital – or the Cross.
Which one is really The Future?
Oh. And the dog’s called Engels, which is adorable.
Some of it for me doesn’t – yet – quite connect. I get that Joseph Silverman (Jonah Hill) is literally Joseph (I feel like I’m abusing literally at this point, but let’s blame Joel and Ethan) in the way he gets brought into DeeAnna’s story, but I didn’t really need it. Tilda and Tilda are wonderful, obviously, but mostly a plot device. The strongest female character is Natalie, Eddie’s PA – who, like all the best PAs, holds everything together.
But the movie rests on Mannix, and I hope that Josh Brolin sends the Coens a card every year that says, ‘THANKS FOR MY STARDOM.’ He’s great in this, both a bit of a brute, as befits his job and his era, and also deeply empathetic. He’s never the star – Mannix might bear all the burdens of his stars’ sins, but Hobie is actually the one who brings salvation, as he brings back Baird – but he’s convinced that he’s doing the right thing. He’s chosen to believe in Capitalism as well as Christianity – but he’s Catholic enough to believe that it shouldn’t all be easy. And so he turns down Lockheed with their easy option and possible swift end times for the ongoing struggle of dealing with people and all their foibles, to make life a little bit better for other people.
And I liked it.