Essay 23: Movies as a Kind of University

A meta-intelligent attention to movies (as well as songs) can serve as a university or university supplement.  Let’s think of three early eighties movies together, as a cluster:

  1. Romancing the Stone (Michael Douglas)
  2. Salvador (James Woods, Oliver Stone movie)
  3. Under Fire (Nicaragua setting)

These movies taken together reveal changing relationship between the West and the developing world. (so-called less developed countries or Third World).


There’s a scene in Romancing the Stone where Danny DeVito’s character finds himself in Colombia and exclaims at one point, “Who will save me from this Third World toilet?” (i.e., Donald Trump’s view at present).

In Salvador, there’s a scene where James Woods’ character is told by a local woman, commenting on the turmoil of the moment (such as Archbishop Óscar Romero’s assassination): “This reminds me of the “Matanza” (“massacre”).

The 1932 Salvadoran peasant massacre (Matanza) occurred on January 22 of that year, in the western departments of El Salvador when a brief peasant-led rebellion was suppressed by the government, then led by Maximiliano Hernández Martínez. The Salvadoran army, being vastly superior in terms of weapons and soldiers, executed those who stood against it. The rebellion was a mixture of protest and insurrection which ended in ethnocide, claiming the lives of an estimated 10,000 and 40,000 peasants and other civilians, many of them indigenous people.

All of this Central American turmoil has deep roots in (Spanish) colonial land distribution as well as post-colonial “state-formation” after the Spanish empire was gone, where the political elite families took over the land with millions of landless and subsistence-farmers excluded from any prospect of betterment. (The Guatemalan massacres of indigenous Indians under Ríos Montt follow the same pattern with its deep roots in “state malformation.” Costa Rica was somewhat spared this turmoil via 1948 progressive revolution under Figueres).

Under Fire shows the Nicaragua revolutionary situation in 1979. The “periodistas” (journalists) represented by Gene Hackman and his friends are told by a revolutionary soldier woman, “The world is now about North-South, not East-West.”

“North-South” means West/Third World and their changing relationship as opposed to Washington-Moscow rivalries.

The current migration crisis on the U.S. border in 2020 has everything to do with this background history of “state malformation” in Central America and its collision with nativist/populist virulence in Trump’s America. (i.e., Trump/Miller/Bannon). These problems can only be addressed by “developmentalist” policies and understandings and not by “know-nothingism.”

Thus, these three movies, taken as an “accidental cluster” give us an unintended insight into the moving “tectonic plates” that give us current history.

Movies should be seen in this “meta-intelligent way” (i.e., informative in an overview sense).