Aug 8th 2016

Five films that Donald Trump should watch

by Andrew Dix

Lecturer in American Studies, Loughborough University

Strange to say, but Donald Trump might have been a filmmaker rather than real estate magnate. As he informs us in The Art of the Deal, his book of autobiographical recollection and business advice, he “flirted briefly with the idea of attending film school at the University of Southern California”.

Hotels, apartment blocks and casinos, rather than movie lots, ultimately became the favoured spaces for demonstration of Trumpian creativity. But he has remained a keen fan of cinema, and in 2012 identified his five favourite films for Movieline: Citizen Kane (1941), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Gone with the Wind (1939), GoodFellas (1990) and The Godfather (1972).

What do these films tell us about the Trump worldview? Each offers a spectacle of male potency, often in peril but persisting in the face of opposition, whether this is exerted by women or by forces of law and order. These movies can be understood as offering Trump support, in celluloid form, for a philosophy Oliver Jones calls social Darwinist: “He views the world as an irrational jungle where the most successful people are tough, masculine and neurotic.”

But what would a canon of anti-Trump cinema look like? Where might we find films that challenge his expressed values or the policies espoused during his current presidential bid? Here, countering his Movieline choices, are five movies that Trump might learn something from.

There Will Be Blood (2007)

While Trump’s campaign pitch presents the businessman in America as heroic visionary, Paul Thomas Anderson’s film unveils him instead as a sociopath. The pursuit of oil in California by Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) crushes bodies and destroys family bonds; at the end, guilty of murder, he hunches alone and defeated in his version of Trump Tower.

The film offers subversive insights, also, into how an entrepreneur fashions a winning persona: the ruthless Plainview addresses those whose land he would possess in folksy and god-fearing rhetoric, practising public relations techniques that will be perfected in our advanced media age. Were Trump to appreciate satire (not his favourite genre, one suspects), he might learn something here.

4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (2007)

In this harrowing Romanian film directed by Cristian Mungiu, a student, assisted by a female friend, desperately seeks an illegal abortion. Trump’s thinking on abortion has proved adjustable for different constituencies, shifting latterly from pro-choice to pro-life. But Mungiu graphically shows the effects of curtailing women’s rights in the exploited bodies and damaged psychologies of his two protagonists.

Here too, in the film’s emphasis on social constraints, is an antidote to Trumpian optimism. The power of positive thinking, imbibed by Trump as a young New Yorker from clergyman and self-help author Norman Vincent Peale, can achieve nothing in the world of this film.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)

In his 2015 book Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again, Trump reiterates his sense of the nation as citadel: “Nobody can build a wall like me. I will build a great wall on our southern border.” Tommy Lee Jones’s blackly comic neo-Western finds holes and crossings in the US/Mexico frontier, rather than sealing off each nation from the other. Illegal migration here is also southward rather than exclusively northbound, as an American border guard who begins in a state of Trumpian paranoia heads into Mexico looking for redemption.

The Age of Stupid (2009)

Included in this film’s montage of ecological casualties are the casinos of Las Vegas, now buried in sand. Not Trump’s own Vegas skyscraper, admittedly, but still worryingly close to home. (Or perhaps, to Trump, not so worryingly, given this political campaigner’s scepticism towards climate change – the short chapter on the subject in Crippled America is subtitled “A Lot of Hot Air”.) Mixing apocalyptic sci-fi imagery with testimonies by globally dispersed witnesses, Franny Armstrong’s film aims instead to produce environmentally activist viewers.

Bob Roberts (1992)

Bob Roberts is running here not for president, but for a senator’s seat in Pennsylvania. The similarities with Trump are nevertheless uncanny: each has been educated in military academy and business school, each is a highly successful entrepreneur, and each galvanises audiences by summoning up visions of US decline. While more scatter-gun than focused in its political satire, the film’s account of Roberts’s unlikely success displays a sense of panic familiar to American progressives in our present moment. Tellingly, its last word, after the credits, is “VOTE”.

There is, however, no guarantee that a Trumpian reading even of these five films would be progressive. Trump revealed a capacity for inventive movie interpretation – deflecting rather than absorbing challenges to his worldview – in remarks he made about Citizen Kane for the US film director Errol Morris in 2002. He chooses not to see the film as a disturbing portrait of the authoritarian personality or of the businessman as dangerous populist (the favoured view of critics). Instead, asked by Morris what advice he would give Charles Foster Kane, Trump dwells only on Kane’s two troubled marriages and replies: “Get yourself a different woman.”

Once again, then, the subject of Trump’s ideal cinema is revealed as the aspirational American male, ever mindful of threats to his potency.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Browse articles by author

More Movie Reviews

Oct 4th 2023
EXTRATS: "Sir Michael Gambon, who died on September 28 at the age of 82, was a hugely versatile actor who enjoyed numerous and varied roles in film and television throughout the course of his long career." .... "Though he retired from the theatre in 2015, Gambon continued to act in film and TV until just before his 80th birthday. It was that mesmerising combination of rage and vulnerability that always made him a compelling screen actor to watch, making audiences always care about the characters he inhabited."
Oct 4th 2023
EXTRACT: " my mind, in order to elevate acting to that kind of level, there has to be a deep undercurrent of human empathy. Of course, I never met Michael Gambon, but I imagine those who knew him and worked with him would confirm that."
Aug 5th 2023
EXTRACT: "This propulsive show understands the total unwavering commitment that kitchen brigades feel. Our research, informed by interviews with 62 elite chefs, indicates that chefs work in the region of 12 to 20 hours per day. Such perceived commitment to their work translates to ideas of a strong and resilient professional that has to choose between having a family and doing a job they are really good at. So is it really as stressful for these chefs as The Bear depicts? Yes chef, it really is."
Oct 13th 2021
EXTRACT: "Having watched both the original and Hagai Levi’s remake, I am struck by the intensity of both and, in contrast to many reviewers of the new HBO mini-series, many who disparage it, I assert that Levi has, in fact done a sterling job of both recreating and, indeed, increasing the intensity of the original. The performances by Chastain and Isaacs are marvelous, moving, and in each episode, both hold the viewer with their immersions in the roles."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "I have questioned before whether certain works explicitly thematising traumatic events amount to a meaningful response. They could be criticised for rendering the trauma aesthetic. This has the potential, as cultural theorist Theodor Adorno warned in response to art after the Holocaust, of enabling people to derive pleasure from it, and that can be heinous. I would not wish to argue that composers, or other artists, should refrain from engaging with such events, nor that there have not been immensely successful works of this type."
Feb 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "As the skeleton of the ship emerges from the sand, it is a metaphor for the transience of human life, particularly poignant with war looming. Edith says to Brown, “We die and decay and don’t live on.” He counters, “From the first human hand-print on a cave wall, we’re part of something continuous, so we don’t really die.” The idea that all human lives are connected through the thread of the past is at the heart of burial archaeology, which is not about treasure but unearthing relationships between the living and their memories of the dead."
Nov 17th 2020
EXTRACT: "Peter Morgan’s fourth season of The Crown faces perhaps its greatest challenge so far. The 1980s was one of the most documented, catalogued, debated and scrutinised decades of the House of Windsor. Morgan will, no doubt be keenly aware of viewers using telephoto lenses to, once again, see if the program-makers “get it right”....... They do.
Feb 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Camera moves were choreographed to allow two scenes that were filmed in the same location at different times to be taken into the computer and “stitched” together as if they were one complete shot. Doing this over and over enabled the illusion of one continuous sequence. Like many films though, 1917 used a host of other visual effects techniques that were unseen. This is often regarded as the pinnacle of success in visual effects – an effect that can’t be seen versus one that is smacking you in the face with a large, wet fish."
Jan 18th 2020
EXTRACT: "Greta Gerwig’s Little Women (2019) has received Oscar nominations in several of the same categories as her solo directorial debut, Lady Bird (2017). Most notably, another writing nomination for Gerwig, this time in the adapted screenplay category. However, Little Women, unlike Lady Bird, did not earn her a nomination for best director. The shortlist for that category is, for the 87th time in 92 ceremonies, all male, and some might say, all rather macho to boot."
Nov 27th 2019


Whistle-blower: Keira Knightley as Katharine Gun.
Nov 5th 2019
Extract: "From October 16-27, over four hundred films were screened from 68 countries. I saw thirteen of these. The most inspiring was Varda by Agnés—and I’ll close this essay with her: Find her films, see them, cherish them. The list that follows runs from two—I can’t help but say this—clunkers to all the rest that are well-worth seeing—if you can find them."
Oct 16th 2018 hopes, Asia will become a bigger part of Hollywood culture, with more films featuring Asian locales and actors. Produced for just $30 million (compared to over $300 million for Disney’s “Avengers: Infinity War”), “Crazy Rich Asians” has already grossed over $200 million worldwide.
Sep 18th 2018
Yes, life is unreliable. Yes, life sometimes is unbelievable. Yes, life will bring us to our knees. And, yes, this much-criticized film will get you in the heart, but not through the manipulation it is being criticized for, but through its narrative insight that shows us how, despite all that brings us down, a story can get us to see that we must get up off our knees.
Jan 23rd 2018

The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government

Nov 27th 2017
Casablanca, which brought together the combined star-power of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, remains one of the best-loved movies ever produced in Hollywood. But the film, which hit the silver screen on November 26 1942, is more than just a love story set in Morocco.
Oct 30th 2017

The 53rd Chicago International Film festival ran 150 films from October 12-27, 2017. Directors, screenplay writers and actors attended many of the films from fifty countries.

Oct 30th 2017
The cinematic experience continues to be dominated by digitally led projects and audiences who increasingly expect more and more technical innovation. So it is refreshing when a mainstream cinema release consciously chooses to place traditional, artist-led techniques at its very heart.
Jun 8th 2017

Sofia Coppola’s triumphant win at Cannes as best director for The Beguiled is the latest in a series of notable successes for a director quietly but forcefully blazing her own tr

Feb 24th 2017

Having won five BAFTAs, including coveted awards for Best Film, Best Director (Damien Chazelle) and Best Actress (Emma Stone), La La Land is likely to

Jan 7th 2017

The blogosphere has been awash this month with reviews of Martin Scorsese’s latest movie, Silence.