Monday, November 30, 2009

The Movie "2012" - Who Lost Tibet?

The world as we know it pretty much comes to an end by the end of Roland Emmerich's new globe-busting block-buster 2012.  My apologies if this comes as a spoiler, but, honestly, revealing that an Emmerich film finds a way to decimate the population of the planet - flora and fauna - is like revealing that a romantic comedy winds up with its initially mismatched, bickering couple entwined in each others arms as the closing credits roll.  Not exactly a surprise.

Apparently. such is the power of cataclysmic crustal displacement that no tectonic plate will be left unturned, as an infelicitous planetary alignment and a stampede of mutant solar neutrinos conspire to wipe every nation, save one, from the face of the earth.  One nation is spared this particular fate, but not because it miraculously survives the natural disasters that Emmerich serves up, but because it has met an untimely editorial demise long before 2012 went into production.  That nation is the nation of Tibet.

To watch this film is to be taken by an odd sense of geographical "dislocation", in a very literal sense of that word.

Scenes of Tibet and its people appear early on.  Indeed, images of Tibet, including one of an iconic maroon-and-yellow-robed Tibetan Buddhist monk gazing meditatively as a tsunami sweeps across the mountains of the Tibetan Plateau and a Tibetan monastery is engulfed by waves in the distance, have been used to promote the movie.  It is a Tibetan family whose acts of compassion and heroism deliver the American Curtis family, the featured characters, to a safe haven in the final act of the film, which unfolds on the crucial high ground surrounding Mount Everest, which itself lies near the border of present-day Tibet and within the land claimed by the ancestral Tibetan kingdom.

But the word "Tibet" is never uttered in the film.  It is even absent from the map that is used by the Curtis family to direct their flight across a crumbling continent and a tsunami-riddled ocean to safety.  Their destination is China, only China, a vast, monolithic China.  It is as though, for purposes of 2012, Tibet has become "the province that dare not speak its name".

Now, what may appear, superficially, to be an act of omission is anything but.  The elimination of references to Tibet in the film is the result of a high-level financial calculation, and it is also an illustration of what happens when the standing of a culture perched on the roof of the world runs afoul of the bottom-line of one of the most expensive movies ever made.

The fact of the matter is that the cost for making and marketing 2012 is estimated to exceed a quarter of a billion dollars.  There is no way on God's green earth - or on Roland Emmerich's lava-riven one - for the people and corporations who invested in that film to turn a profit without massive international ticket sales.  Critical participants in that prospective box-office are tens of millions of Chinese movie-goers.  And there is also no way, given the current political climate, that the People's Republic would tolerate the distribution of a mass-market film that placed Tibet or Tibetans anywhere near front and center.

Be that as it may, I must admit to being taken aback that Emmerich's kowtowing in response to either actual or to anticipated editorial demands by the Chinese authorities would result in the removal of every mention of Tibet from the 2012 screenplay.  Sadly, given the money at stake, some amount of obsequiousness on the part of the director could have been expected, but what Emmerich has done here by tossing Tibet under the bus - or the ark, as the case may be - approaches the Orwellian.

The phrase "memory hole" was devised by George Orwell in Nineteen Eight-four, his classic dystopian novel set in a near-future totalitarian state, as a nickname for the chutes into which potentially damaging or embarrassing political documents - even scraps of paper - were tossed to be incinerated and thus expunged from the historical record.

From all appearances, every allusion to Tibet was excised from the production documents of 2012 by is creators, and the resulting scraps of paper were collected and tossed down a Tibetan memory hole, one made to order for the film.

Admittedly, artists make compromises to realize their most cherished visions.  But what artistic vision was realized by Roland Emmerich in making of 2012 that was so worthy that it demanded that he purge the words "Tibet"  and "Tibetans" from his movie, inconvenient bits of truth, jettisoned in the pursuit of globe-busting box-office receipts?  Unfortunately, the answer is, "none at all."

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2012 - Who Lost Tibet? by Marc Merlin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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