How Matt Damon’s ‘Elysium’ Pays Tribute to George W. Bush (Spoilers)

President George W. Bush holds Baron Mosima Loyiso Tantohafter speaking on AIDS relief funding in May 2007. Photo via CNN

Beware, major spoilers ahead. 

I wrote about how the dystopian future in Matt Damon’s Elysium is bleak enough to make one want to become a Republican.

The film pits wealthy but mean people who live in the sky against poor, downtrodden masses on Earth. The skydwellers have magic tanning booth-like beds that will heal any ailment. For free. And they won’t share this magic medicine with the crippled and ailing masses.

Because they’re mean.

But as I watched the ending of the film, I couldn’t help but think of how reality is the opposite story, one of which all Americans should be proud.

When Max (Matt Damon) succeeds, as you knew he would, the magic medical tanning booths of Elysium descend to the surface of the Earth. The crippled, injured, infirm, and elderly hobble joyfully toward them and ecstatically partake in the suddenly ubiquitous healing.

It’s a lovely scene, as those without hope suddenly are given hope. The dying are given life. The crippled are given wholeness. Parents of ill children watch their little ones play and celebrate.

What’s not to love about that?

In real life, of course, medicine costs. It is not magic and free. Doctors must be trained and paid, supplies cost money, and drugs costs a great deal to develop. It is not meanness that keeps the supply limited. It is reality. Rich people like Steve Jobs sometimes die of cancer, despite their resources, because medicine isn’t all powerful.

But there’s no denying that money helps and a large part of the world is desperately poor. The differences between Malibu and Compton shrink when compared to, say, rural Senegal.

Which is why when you give medicine away, it creates that beautiful scene in the movie in real life. I could not help thinking of Dubya when I saw the final scene.

Ten years ago, under the  personal and passionate leadership of  George W. Bush, America decided that we could not keep life-giving AIDS medicine to ourselves when the masses in Africa were dying from the terrible disease. The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS (PEPFAR) has spent millions* of American dollars and provided medication to millions of HIV positive Africans and citizens of other disadvantaged regions.

(Here’s Obama complimenting Bush on the program in Tanzania in July.)

These were drugs that American capitalist countries developed because, frankly, it takes a capitalistic system to invest and develop new medications.

Given away simply because it was the right thing to do.

Because we’re not mean.

John Kerry celebrated the 10th Anniversary of PEPFAR in June and we can honestly say we can anticipate eradicating the disease. This was unthinkable ten years ago. It is nothing short of a miracle and would not have happened if the rich had not freely and bountifully given away our medical help.

Thanks, George W. Bush!

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Matt Damon, who told the Atlantic in 2012 ”I would kiss George W. Bush on the mouth for what he did on PEPFAR.”

This is, of course, just one shining example of the help the West sends to the world.

The movie promotes a false idea of capitalism as evil and universal health care as a solution. But reality is much richer and better.

Correction: The US has spent billions, not millions of dollars on PEPFAR.

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Opinion: Roma Downey and Mark Burnett are Much Too Professional to Intentionally Make Satan mimic Obama

People get a little loopy when religion is involved.

A very silly tempest in a teapot happened Sunday night when folks on Twitter started noticing that the character of Satan in the History Channel’s The Bible bore a striking resemblance to our Commander in Chief. 

Personally, I do think that Satan, played by Mohamen Mehdi Quazanni (see a picture of him without makeup here) looks a lot like Obama. It’s weird because the actor is light skinned and not of African descent, but he does have features resembling Obama’s and with the makeup, the similarity becomes striking.

But that’s where this whole thing should have died. With a shrug and a “isn’t life odd?” chuckle.

There is absolutely no chance that The History Channel and producers Roma Downey or Mark Burnett (read their response to the hubbub here) had any intent of making Satan look like Obama. None.

How do I know?

Well, the couple is too Hollywood to make such an error or statement.

That may sound like an insult, but it’s not.

Roma Downey, of course, was the lead angel in the TV show Touched by an Angel. Burnett is the mastermind behind such TV hits as Survivor, The Apprentice, and Shark Tank. I have spoken with Downey several times (here and here). She is many things: polished, intentional, even a bit slick. But she is a consummate professional and not somebody who would sabotauge her reputation by taking pot shots at the President. I have not interviewed Burnett, but if anything, he’s even more professional. In fact, there is no evidence that either one of them has anything but the highest regard for Obama. Burnett donated money to his election campaign, a common practice in Hollywood.

Furthermore, behind all the packaging and promoting, The Bible was a passion project for both Downey and Burnett. Downey spoke many times about her dream of bringing her faith to her work. She was thrilled to be in a position where she could choose projects that reflected her faith.

“I have reached a point in my career where I don’t have to work,” she told me, “I have a lot of gratitude. I have a choice. I can do projects that are positive and honor God.”

In case any of us have missed the memo, nobody gets kudos or enhanced reputation in Hollywood by being religious or doing religious projects, especially old-fashioned Christian projects. In fact, it almost always costs something.

Downey and Burnett have paid their dues in Hollywood, and then some. They have worked hard and built reputations and relationships. They’ve done the hard work of being successful in a town where success can be hard to come by. And they turned around and poured that capital they had built into a Bible project.

Kudos to them. We should all be so lucky. We should all be able to say we’d built something that mattered as they have.

So, no, no one involved in that miniseries intended for the Devil to look like Obama. They worked too hard and cared too much to throw away their reputation and the project’s reputation on a cheap potshot.

It’s a coincidence.

Everybody stand down.

And, whatever you think of The Bible, give Roma Downey and Mark Burnett a pat on the back for at least being in a position to bring such a work to the small screen. It’s much more than the rest of us can say.

For more on The Bible:

Peter Chattaway reviews the first episode of The Bible.

Peter Chattaway reviews the second episode of The Bible.

 Craig Detweiler on how Hollywood underestimates religious audiences

Producers Defend “The Bible” Miniseries in the face of Obama-Devil Controversy: Utter Nonsense! Obama is a “Fellow Christian”

The Internet is in an uproar over the resemblance of the Devil in the History Channel’s Bible miniseries to Barak Obama. 

The producers of the miniseries, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey have issued the following statement:

“This is utter nonsense. The actor who played Satan, Mehdi Ouzaani, is a highly acclaimed Moroccan actor.  He has previously played parts in several Biblical epics– including Satanic characters long before Barack Obama was elected as our President.”

Executive Producer, Roma Downey added, ”Both Mark and I have nothing but respect and love our President, who is a fellow Christian.  False statements such as these are just designed as a foolish distraction to try and discredit the beauty of the story of The Bible.”

The History Channel also made this statement: “HISTORY channel has the highest respect for President Obama. The series was produced with an international and diverse cast of respected actors. It’s unfortunate that anyone made this false connection. HISTORY’s ‘The Bible’ is meant to enlighten people on its rich stories and deep history.”

The Bible has been a passion project for the TV supercouple. Mark Burnett has produced spectacularly successful reality shows like Survivor, Shark Tank, and The Apprentice. Roma Downey is best known as the lead angel on the TV show Touched By an Angel, which aired from 1994 to 2003. They married in 2007.

Back in November, Downey told me this project was “the best work my husband and I have ever done.

Update: Why I think the resemblance must be an odd coincidence. 

For more on The Bible:

Peter Chattaway reviews the first episode of The Bible.

Peter Chattaway reviews the second episode of The Bible.

 Craig Detweiler on how Hollywood underestimates religious audiences

Coincidence? ‘The Bible’s’ Devil Looks Remarkably like President Obama

Media pundits are stunned at the “surprise hit” of the History Channel’s adaptation of the world’s most popular book.

The Bible, a ten part miniseries on The History Channel, drew in 27 million viewers its first night, a respectable number for broadcast shows and astounding for a cable show.

But now there’s something new for the media reporters to chatter about: The Devil in last night’s episode. Here is a picture of the POTUS (left) and The Devil, played by Mohamen Mehdi Quazanni (right).

Even odder, Quazanni is not African American or African. How did he come to resemble Obama so closely? Here is a picture of him without makeup:

What do you think? Does The Devil look like President Obama? And do you think it looks intentional or just a strange coincidence?

Update: Producers Mark Burnett, Roma Downey and the History Channel respond, calling the controversy “utter nonsense.” Click here for full statement. 

For more on The Bible:

Peter Chattaway reviews the first episode of The Bible.

Peter Chattaway reviews the second episode of The Bible.

 Craig Detweiler on how Hollywood underestimates religious audiences

The Economics of ‘The Dark Knight Rises:’ Are Rush Limbaugh and Obama Right about Bane?

Is the Dark Knight Rises striking a blow for the Obama reelection effort?

The Obama campaign reportedly is interested in connecting Romney’s past at a firm called Bain Capital with the villain in The Dark Knight Rises named Bane.

Paul Bedard writes at the Washington Examiner:

“Bane” is the terrorist in the new movie who drives the caped crusader out of semi-retirement in the final Batman movie. Democrats, who believe they have Romney on the ropes over the president’s assault on his leadership at Bain Capital, said the comparisons are too rich to ignore.

“It has been observed that movies can reflect the national mood,” said Democratic advisor and former Clinton aide Christopher Lehane. “Whether it is spelled Bain and being put out by the Obama campaign or Bane and being out by Hollywood, the narratives are similar: a highly intelligent villain with offshore interests and a past both are seeking to cover up who had a powerful father and is set on pillaging society,” he added.

 Even Rush Limbaugh sees a conspiracy in the well-timed homophones. He said the following yesterday on his show:

The villain in The Dark Knight Rises is named Bane, B-a-n-e. What is the name of the venture capital firm that Romney ran and around which there’s now this make-believe controversy? Bain. The movie has been in the works for a long time. The release date’s been known, summer 2012 for a long time. Do you think that it is accidental that the name of the really vicious fire breathing four eyed whatever it is villain in this movie is named Bane?

So what about it? Is Batman striking a blow against capitalism and against Romney?

Quite the contrary.

(Beware, spoilers follow of this excellent movie that I highly recommend.)

Although the film decidedly supports justice, rule of law, and free enterprise.

The film opens in a Gotham that  has been rendered peaceful and prosperous by the defeat of the Joker (the late, lamented Heath Ledger) in the previous The Dark Knight. But there are cracks in the prosperity. Crime is very low, but jobs are hard to find. Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) invades the homes of the very wealthy, stealing from, as she puts it, people who can afford to be stolen from.

Bruce Wayne, aka Batman (Christian Bale), heads up a mega-corporation named Wayne Enterprises. After the events of the last film, he has gone into seclusion and his inattention to his company has caused his fortunes to shrink. He sunk all his R&D money into a project to provide clean energy for the world, the subject of the last film, which he found too dangerous and tabled. Now, because he wasn’t using R&D to come up with marketable products, the company is beset with hard times.

This shows a basic understanding of economics. Building wealth takes work and planning, even on the mega-corporation level. A company without products does not continue to make money.

In other words, the wealthy work for what they get.

In fact, the businessman Romney is more similar to the hero Bruce Wayne/Batman than to Bane.

Into this situation steps Bane (Tom Hardy), the ultimate expression of the Occupy Wall Street mentality. He rallies the shoe shiners, the concrete truck drivers, and the janitors to fight their bosses.

Referring to himself as a “necessary evil,” he offers the downtrodden a chance to “claim what is rightfully yours” and to strike back against “the corrupt, the rich, the generations that have kept you down with the myth of opportunity.”

With his class warfare mantra, Bane sounds more like Occupy Wall Street and the Democrat Party than like Romney.

There is a bit of pleasant wish fulfillment when Bane and his mob invade the Gotham Stock Exchange, shooting up the trading floor. The audience isn’t sure whether to root for them or not in this post-Enron, post-Madoff world.

However, Bane quickly reveals that he’s no one’s salvation. His Gotham is not one in which anyone can peaceably live, rich or poor. Taking a page out of the French Revolution, he storms the prison, setting felons free. The mob runs the wealthy and middle class out of their homes, turning them into the street. The mob sets up kangaroo courts with a metaphorical guillotine in which the verdict is a foregone conclusion and the outcome based on the luxury of your lifestyle.

As so often is the case with Communist revolutions, his community of equals rapidly becomes tyranny. Those with guns are “more equal” than those without.

Even Catwoman, whose limited means has served as her excuse for her thievery, sees his new order as a bad thing. In an abandoned house, she is struck and saddened by a family photo in a broken frame. “This was someone’s house,” she sighs.

Echoes of the bloody French Revolution are not accidental. The movie ends with a tribute to Charles Dickens’ great work about conflict, A Tale of Two Cities, and a resolution that has once again leaves Gotham “peaceful, useful, prosperous, and happy.”

The message to those who wish to smash the system is clear: Be careful, be very careful, what you wish for.

The message to the Obama campaign and Rush Limbaugh is equally clear: Best to actually see a movie before using it to score political points.

For all our coverage of The Dark Knight Rises, check out our Batman Page.

Will Smith’s son asked Obama toughest question of all – Aliens

In backwaters of the Interwebs, you can learn all about the government cover up of evidence of extraterrestrial life.

Leave it to an intrepid youngster to play journalist and ask President Obama for the real truth.

Politico has the report from actor Will Smith. Smith, whose alien flick Men in Black 3 comes out May 25, was touring the White House, son Jayden in tow.

Men in Black” star explained, “The night before, Jaden had said to me, ‘Dad, I gotta ask the president about the aliens,’ and I was like, ‘Dude, no, no, it’s not cool. No, it’s not cool, it’s embarrassing. … Do not ask the president!’”

“So we get into the Situation Room and Jaden gets the look in his eyes and he leans over and he says, ‘Dad, what’s my punishment?’” Smith said. “… And Barack is starting to talk about this Situation Room and Jaden says, ‘Excuse me, Mr. President?’”

To Smith’s surprise, Obama anticipated the question.

“Barack said, ‘Don’t tell me,’” he recalled. “And in perfect form — like this is why he is the president — he stopped and looked at Jaden and said, ‘The aliens, right? … OK, I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of extraterrestrials but I can tell you if there had been a top secret meeting and if there would have had to have been a discussion about it, it would have taken place in this room.’”

Watch the video on BBC (Which won’t let us embed!)

The truth is out there.