Considering the lead time it takes to make a movie, it’s bound to happen: Films arrive at a time when their central concern — or something of concern to the characters — no longer seems to speak to the current moment.
But does that mean they’re really outside the cultural zeitgeist?
Take “Revolutionary Road,” for example. At a time when people are desperate to keep their homes and jobs, here is a story about a 1955 suburban couple feeling trapped by their house and even more so when the husband gets a promotion.
But while scripter Justin Haythe admits that “Revolutionary Road” is very much about its time period (the 1950s), he adds, “I’ve never come across a story that comes to one of the essential truths of being alive, which is how do you deal with growing up and not necessarily having the kind of life you planned for yourself? It’s the reason why some people find the book so troubling, because it feels like a mirror to a lot of the self-delusions we use to justify our disappointments or justify why we’re not where we’d hoped we would be. And I think those things haven’t aged at all.”
“Gran Torino,” for its part, is a throwback in some ways. It has the gritty feel of a 1970s movie and is about a racist in the Archie Bunker mold, but comes out after America has elected a biracial president and the kind of overt racism depicted in the film has been marginalized.
Scribe Nick Schenk says “Gran Torino” is timely precisely because of this historical moment. “I mean with Obama getting in,” he says, “which is just this beautiful, beautiful thing — I mean the race thing — to me this movie is putting a lot of that stuff to rest.”
Then there is “Doubt,” which arrives four years after the stage version and almost a decade after the pedophile-priest scandals broke open. By now, the extent of the abuse in the church is so thoroughly established that it’s easy for the audience to get on the side of Sister Aloysius, the nun played by Meryl Streep, instead of feeling torn between her and Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Father Flynn.
But for writer-director John Patrick Shanley, that doesn’t really matter, since condemning pedophile priests is such a no-brainer.
“I wasn’t really interested in the scandals in the church,” he says. “My preoccupation is that you can never know, and you have to learn to live with a certain degree, perhaps a very high degree, of uncertainty in order to function as a living, reactive presence in society.”