Pass the Popcorn: Words and Deeds

January 24, 2018


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Okay, depending on where you live, maybe maybe maybe it’s not too late for you to head out and see Darkest Hour on the big screen. As the surprise standout in Oscar nominations, the movie may find itself on a few extra screens. (Theaters screening Mary and the Witch’s Flower get a dispensation, all others are on notice.)

This is a visually stunning movie and it well deserves a big-screen screening. I especially appreciate the filmmakers’ having lavished so much effort on the cinematography of a movie that isn’t about superheroes or spaceships, and for that matter doesn’t even have that much to work with in terms of war machines.

Yes, part of it is the effort put into the bombing scenes. But it’s also recreating the cramped quarters of the underground bunker, the vast chamber of Parliament, and the dingy makeshift bedroom in which the king made his decision to back the war.

Oh, and whoever it is playing Churchill does a pretty okay job, too.

(I’m proceeding with full spoilers because, duh, history.)


This movie begins as a character study of Churchill. But any character study of Churchill must ask the question: What is it that makes a man refuse to agree to surrender his nation (for that is what “negotiations” with Hitler would have meant) even in the face of certain destruction? And that is not really a question about the man. It is a question about the nation. For, as it is the burden of this movie to show, Churchill could not have stood firm if the nation had not been willing to stand firm.

Yes, part of the story is that Churchill’s leadership brought the nation to choose resistance unto death. But leaders must have something to work with. The nation itself has to have moral resources for making right but hard choices.

This is why I cannot join those who are upset that this movie emphasizes Churchill’s temporary willingness to broach negotiations. It looks to me like the movie did not deviate from the historical record as far as some suggest. Perhaps it would have been better to show a little more of the cunning that lay behind Churchill’s decision to speak to the outer cabinet; Churchill did manufacture their pressure upon him to change course and forbid negotiations. But the point of this movie is that Churchill was almost boxed in. The professional political class did not provide the moral resources needed to sustain a stand against Hitler. Churchill had to go find them elsewhere.

So this movie transitions from a character study of Churchill to a character study of Great Britain. It asks: What are the moral resources of a nation?

The answer is words – but not words.

Words cannot produce the needed force by themselves, because the needed force is moral, and it transcends mere words. That is the abracadabra fallacy. But words rightly used are needed to transform moral truth into moral action.

Persuasion is not an autonomous power. Persuasion exists to connect people to truth.


The first big turning point of the movie is when Churchill lies to the nation about the severity of the situation in France. As he says to his wife, for years he has been the only person with the guts to tell the people the truth. But now he believes he has to lie to them.

This, the movie makes clear, was a wrong move – the abracadabra fallacy.

Halifax, demanding Churchill negotiate, tells him that with the British army facing certain destruction, he has nothing to fight Hitler with but “words, words, words!”

Yet that same Halifax, at the end of the movie, declares that Churchill has won with words. “What just happened?” someone asks Halifax after Churchill wins over Chamberlain’s faction to support the war effort.

“He mobilized the English language and sent it into war,” replies Halifax.

And what is the bridge between words and moral reality? History.


History brings us into contact with two things that give words moral reality: kings and books.

Our nations and their institutions and traditions are a mess. They really are. They’ve done much wrong and are shaped by many irrational forces. And they are not an absolute authority, for there are authorities in whose light they too can be judged (we will come back to that in a moment).

But they embody moral truths, because human beings are moral creatures and we cannot organize our lives in any kind of sustainable way except around moral truth. And so the institution of the monarchy may be irrational, but it exists to embody something. When the monarch chooses to carry out this function rather than neglect it, he has extraordinary power. The same can be said to some extent of all political institutions and traditions (including those in republics).

The makers of this movie thought a lot about how to portray George VI. It is clearly in dialogue with another outstanding movie that reflects on the tensions between aristocracy and democracy in light of World War II, The King’s Speech. For one thing, Darkest Hour really wants to make sure you know that Churchill stupidly opposed Edward’s abdication and George’s ascension, despite what you may have seen in that other movie.

It falls to George, who hates Churchill and has every good reason to do so, to make the decision to back Churchill at the crucial moment. When the short-sighted political class all go one way, the king goes the other – because that is his job.

And it is through words, used rightly, that George helps Churchill understand the moral ground he has been lacking. Go to the people, he says, draw from their moral strength and give them “the truth unvarnished.”

Yet this call to go to the people suggests that kings (and by extension political institutions and traditions generally) are not the highest authority.

We find the highest authority in another part of history, in the world of ideas – literature, religion, philosophy – that comes to us from the great minds, through their books.


Yes, the subway scene is odd, and ahistorial, and if the filmmakers had asked me I probably would have told them to find another way to accomplish what they’re doing here. But what they’re doing here is the right thing.

Some have interpreted the scene as an attempt to tear down quasi-aristocratic leaders like Churchill, establishing that they’re not allowed to lead us but we must lead them. That’s not how I read it, and I think Steven Hayward has made that case well, so I don’t have to.

Churchill is going to the nation to find out what they’re made of, how far they’re willing to go. It is right for political leaders to lead with full awareness of how much they can ask of their people.

And what does Churchill find among the people? The words of Macaulay – the same words, if I remember rightly, that he found in his library in an earlier scene:

Then out spake brave Horatius, captain of the gate:

“To every man upon this earth death cometh soon or late.

And how can man die better than facing fearful odds,

For the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his gods?”

And so we are led back to political institutions and traditions (the ashes of his fathers), but now in light of what is higher (the temples of his gods) and also what is lower (Londoners on the tube).

For the words of great books are democratizing; they make the lowest highest. They arm ordinary people – even a black man in 1940 Britain – with the moral strength to stand in judgment of a Chamberlain, a Churchill or a George.

And so, in the end, having drawn strength from the words of his national traditions (by way of the king) and the words of the greatest of the wise (by way of the people), Churchill uses his enormous gift with words to rally the nation, giving form and force to their moral resources and saving the world.

His gifts really were extraordinary, but the point of this movie is that his gift with words was less important than his willingness to deploy them for moral truth.

As Chamberlain said: “He was right about Hitler.”

Pass the Popcorn: We Were Voyagers!

December 1, 2016


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I am a girl who loves my island; I am the girl who loves the sea

It calls me!

I am the daughter of the village chief; we are descended from voyagers who found their way across the world

They call me!

I have delivered us to where we are; I have journeyed farther; I am everything I’ve learned and more

Still it calls me!

This delightful movie speaks, not always clearly but always movingly, to some of the central tensions of advanced modern life. We need both tradition and discovery; we need both inner-looking integrity and outward-looking responsibility. Ultimately, we need God, who alone can transcend and reconcile these contradictory needs, sweeping aside the artifical barriers we create to divide them for our own purposes.

I’m not sure what’s more amazing, that a movie this good has four directors, or that two of them are the directors of The Little Mermaid – the high water mark of the Bad Old Disney – yet the occasional intrusions of Bad Old Disney thinking are actually swept up and incorporated (probably against rather than according to the directors’ purposes) into a whole that is very much of the New Disney, the Disney that cares about the transcendent.

Only very general spoilers follow, nothing highly specific. But if you intend to see the movie, better to set this aside and come back when you’ve seen it.


“When It’s Time to Find Home, We Know the Way”: Tradition and Discovery

Moana is raised in a closed, tradition-bound society but longs to explore and discover, which she can only do by leaving her island behind. We, living in an open, scientific society, long for stable sources of identity, meaning and purpose, which is why we like to watch movies that take place in ancient times and places, when people knew who they were.

If this had been a Bad, Old Disney movie, the lesson would have been that “tradition” is either a bad thing or, at best, something that must bow the knee to the Brave New World and the quest for knowledge and discovery that will inevitably marginalize tradition. (Remember the great modernist quip in Sleeping Beauty: “After all, this is the fourteenth century!”)

Not here. Moana discovers that her traditionalist father has withheld from her the elements of the tradition that favor exploration and discovery – he has suppressed the part of the tradition that is anti-traditionalist. She discovers that her ancestors were voyagers who explored the world and colonized the empty islands as they found them.

“We are explorers reading every sign,” sing her ancestors, but also: “We tell the stories of our elders in a neverending chain!”

“We set a course to find a brand new island everywhere we roam” but “when it’s time to find home, we know the way!”

“We know where we are, we know who we are!”

Traditions embody commitments that are not themselves traditional, or at least not tradition-bound. The village didn’t just sprout up on the island; the villagers came from somewhere.

In the Bad, Old Disney, tradition was simply a relic to be surpassed by the great voyage of discovery. Here, the voyagers have a tradition – voyaging is the tradition – and it tells them who and where they are.

Her father has suppressed all this because a new danger appeared on the ocean; like all traditionalists, he thinks safety is to be found by retreat into a closed system of tradition. But traditions themselves speak against this; they point outside themselves to the higher things that traditions exist to serve.

Traditionalists always want to burn the boats. But it was our ancestors who made them.


“I Am Moana”: Identity and Purpose

We need tradition because we need identity (“we know who we are”). We need discovery because we need purpose, a calling to which we aspire (“it calls me”). But it’s hard to hold on to both.

Identity requires an inward movement toward integrity, in the literal sense of that term – we need wholeness, a fitting together of all our pieces into a sum greater than the parts.

Purpose requires an outward movement toward responsibility – we need to be called out of ourselves, to serve something higher than ourselves.

Identity without purpose is narcissistic. Purpose without identity destroys our humanity.

The moment of greatest crisis, which I will not reveal, comes when Moana can no longer attach the person she is to the calling for which she has been chosen. The crisis is resolved when an outward calling brings her to an inward realization of their connectedness.

As I’ve said, there’s some intrusion of the Bad, Old Disney in Moana. It comes in the form of “look inside yourself,” “follow your heart,” “be who you are on the inside,” etc.

But here, that language – which remains dangerous – is used in the service of higher things. “Look inside yourself” is playing with fire, but as Moana shows, it is (to borrow a fine phrase from Allan Bloom) fire with which we must play if we are to transcend it.

Family is part of the answer. This is one of those rare (but less rare than they used to be) Disney movies with an intact family at the center. And it is noteworthy that her father, her mother and her grandmother are all necessary to Moana’s story. Without any one of them, the story either wouldn’t happen or wouldn’t happen the way it should.

In the family, both identity and purpose are provided for. Your family loves you and wants you to be a person with wholeness, but also calls you out of yourself to the service of others – at first, the others within your family, but ultimately the community at large.

The unconditional love of the family is essential. One of the lessons of the movie is that efforts to earn love and acceptance are futile; the love and acceptance thus “earned” are not authentic love and acceptance.

However, the family is not enough. A greater love is required.

Moana’s grandmother passes on to her the suppressed part of the tradition, and clarifies for her the calling for which she was chosen, because and only because a higher power to which the grandmother is devoted has provided for her to do so.


“The Ocean Doesn’t Help You”: The Mystery of Divine Calling

Darkness is rising and monsters have appeared because we sought to steal from the gods the power of creation itself.

To redeem the world, the ocean has chosen Moana for a high and dangerous quest. If anyone else attempts to stop her, the ocean intervenes to keep a path to her quest open for her.

Moana herself, however, the one who has been chosen for the calling, can refuse the calling if she chooses.

At first there’s no question what she will choose, because the outward calling that comes to her from the ocean connects so clearly to the inward calling she senses inside herself, that she understands to be the true center of her identity.

But then comes suffering and failure. And the ocean doesn’t help. If the ocean wants these things done, why doesn’t it help?

“The ocean doesn’t help you” says the unwise man, “you help yourself.”

That turns out to be empty. When the unwise man gets wiser, he says of his efforts to help himself: “It was never enough.”

It never is. But the ocean still doesn’t help.

At first, the divine call resolves our tensions – by its transcendent authority it supercedes and breaks down our artificial divisions between tradition and discovery, between identity and purpose. It demands both; because, and only because, it demands both with an authority higher than both, it gets both.

But then the ocean doesn’t help.

At the end of all things, Moana is left floating alone on a raft at night, in the middle of nowhere, unable to find the path to her quest.

She has been chosen for the calling, but she can refuse the calling if she chooses.

She faces the same question she thought she had left behind her: “Moana, do you know who you are?”

The divine call, coming to her from outside, has not resolved that question. She must resolve it inwardly. She must – dare I say it – look inside herself.

Not for narcissistic self-expression but to discover who it is that the ocean is really calling.

And what she discovers leads to a surprising redemption.

Pass the Popcorn: If You Need to Blink

August 25, 2016


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

If you need to blink, do it now. If you miss a single word of the blog post below, our hero will perish.

Do yourself the biggest favor you’ve done yourself in a long time and go see Kubo and the Two Strings while it’s still in theaters. This masterpiece demands to be seen on the big screen, so you can appreciate not only its oustanding story but its gorgeous visuals.

If you know Coraline, you know what greatness the offbeat animation studio LAIKA is capable of. LAIKA’s last few offerings haven’t been as well recieved, but let me assure you Kubo not only matches but actually surpasses the storytelling and artistic accomplishments of Coraline.


It would be criminal to reveal the plot of Kubo. Indeed, one of the many ways in which this movie shines is the perfect craftsmanship of its progressive plot revelations. These people know how to tell a truly epic story.

I will say this much, though, to motivate you to see it. Kubo is the son of a great samurai warrior who fought a duel with the moon. The plot is driven by this question:

Is it better to be a man, to live a life marred by suffering and then die, leaving behind deeds well done and the memories held by those who loved you?

Or is it better to be the moon, floating high above the world and immune to death and suffering, and have no story?

Don’t miss this gem. I’ll be going back as soon as I can to see it again.

Update: Saw it again, loved it more the second time. “It amazes me that creatures down here will fight so hard, just to die another day.” “Down here there are days worth fighting for.” Don’t miss your chance to see it on the big screen!

Star Wars the Next Generation

December 18, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I saw it last night. No spoilers. Very solid imo.

Pass the Popcorn: Kung Fury

November 1, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Where have you been all our lives Kung Fury? I mean I thought Iron Sky might hold the title for awesome/absurd low budget sci-fi romps with Nazi bad guys for a good long while. That is, until you judo-chopped every other movie ever into low-earth orbit with your totally 1985 video game awesomeness!

This Swedish kickstarter project is live streaming on Netflix. Go watch it. Like RIGHT NOW!!!!

Pass the Popcorn: The Best of Enemies

September 28, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

This weekend I had the opportunity to see the documentary The Best of Enemies about William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal. The documentary focuses on the decision of ABC News to hire the two rival public intellectuals to cover the 1968 Republican and Democratic Party Conventions.

I am going to fully confess my bias from the outset. In a disclosure that should shock no one, I went into (and left) the documentary as a fan of William F. Buckley Jr. I watched Firing Line growing up and enjoyed Buckley’s wit and flair. Perhaps a decade ago I read a collection of responses to reader inquiries in National Review and found it absolutely hilarious. Two of my favorite anecdotes- a reader complained that Buckley slouches in his chair on Firing Line, fails to comb his hair properly and could make a much better impression if he would take more pride in his appearance. WFB’s response fell something along the lines of:

If I was also attractive it just wouldn’t be fair.

Another reader wrote to renew his subscription to National Review despite a terminal prognosis, relating that he was not sure he would last to read all the issues. Buckley responded:

Not to worry-where you are going the pages of National Review are exfoliated from the wings of Angels!

Buckley always struck me as a happy warrior and an elegant and delightfully mischievous champion of his point of view. Going into the film I had very little awareness of Gore Vidal-I had seen him appear as a left of center pundit once or twice and knew he was an author of historical fiction that I had never read. I learned from the film that Vidal held a much more prominent status in the late 1960s.

ABC News decided to try to improve upon their third banana status as a news organization by inviting Buckley and Vidal to comment on the conventions. The Republicans held the first convention in Miami and from the start Vidal revealed his true purpose. He had no intention of bothering with the conventions, but rather focused his efforts on attacking Buckley. Vidal had spent months doing the equivalent of opposition research on Buckley, and came right out of the gate by accusing Buckley of wanting to drop atomic bombs on North Vietnam.

Vidal apparently viewed Buckley and his ideas as “dangerous” and a deep and personal antipathy developed. Although Vidal and Buckley shared a great deal in terms of background, education and debating style, they absolutely despised each other on ideological grounds. If Vidal however had an animating ideology that went beyond hatred for the Vietnam War and what now comes across as a rather boring promotion of alternative sexuality as a form of self-promotion, the film fails to make the case. Cross Madonna with the Boz, boost his IQ and send him to boarding school = Vidal as far as I can tell. In fairness to Vidal, he has had a lot of help over the last 50 years in making what may have seemed daring in 1968 seem like next year’s juvenile prank at the MTV Music Awards now. Nevertheless…yawn.

Matters came to a head at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. You may recall that Lyndon Johnson’s Vice President was heading for the nomination (although not the Presidency) and a huge anti-war protest attempted to storm the convention hall. Old-school Democratic Mayor Daley’s police commenced to beat back the protestors with clubs on live television. The protestors chanted “The whole world is watching!” but as divided as the country appeared at the time one wonders just how much of the world actually disapproved. The documentary air-brushes the “storm the convention” story element out of the narrative, and I wasn’t there so I won’t pretend to know what happened. Perhaps the Chicago Police gathered their forces and attacked the protestors to practice their softball swings, but I rather doubt it. The documentary also makes some effort to portray the “law and order” platform of the Nixon campaign as thinly veiled racism, but those hippies getting beat up by the police looked pretty pasty to the casual viewer.

Buckley and Vidal essentially provided color commentary to the melee. Vidal accused Buckley of being responsible and referred to him as a crypto-Nazi. Buckley lost his cool, informed Vidal that he had fought in World War II, used a derogatory term to describe Vidal referencing his sexual orientation and threatened to physically attack him if he described him as a Nazi again.

Time for a commercial!

Vidal got what he wanted and had consistently sought across both conventions- to get under Buckley’s skin and cause him to lose his cool. Buckley apparently regretted the incident until the day he died. Appropriately so.

Living well is the best revenge, and here Buckley clearly came out on top. The modern conservative movement that Buckley had founded reached an apex of influence under Reagan. Various “dangerous” Buckley ideas resulted not in the sky falling, but rather in a Soviet collapse. The sting of the defeat in the Vietnam skirmish ought to have diminished in winning the Cold War considerably.

Vidal outlived Buckley, with someone in the film speculating that hateful spite of Buckley may have prolonged his miserable existence. My lack of familiarity with Vidal was not terribly unusual for someone my age. Vidal’s later years became an oblivion of indifference as people stopped reading his books. After Buckley’s death, he wrote “Rest in Hell!” Vidal however had already entered the ninth circle for a narcissist- public apathy.

Despite the fact that almost 50 years have passed since 1968 the tumult captured in the film seems very current. The past is never dead, it is not even past.

Pass the Popcorn: The Wind Rises

August 4, 2015


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I hadn’t intended to time a review of Hayao Miyazaki’s final film, The Wind Rises, for the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb. But it turns out to be perfect timing.

Every scene of this movie is visually gorgeous, sometimes in a reserved way but often strikingly so. It is a fitting consummation of Miyazaki’s mastery of his medium. But it seems at first a radical break in content. It is the only Miyazaki movie that takes place in the real world – well, more or less the real world. He introduces a few fantastical elements, but they are limited to dreams and visions, and of course the somewhat fantastic aeronautical physics for which Miyazaki is so famous. When the characters are awake, they are living in the real world. The closest Miyazaki has ever come to the real world before was in his first film, Lupin III, and that hardly counts, both because its genre conventions take us well beyond the boundaries of the “real” world and because Miyazaki was forced to work within another author’s established universe. As soon as Miyazaki gained the freedom to make his own movies he leapt into the world of magical fantasy and never looked back – until now.

Update: Just watched Nausicaa with my daughter (her first time) and it made me realize in the paragraph above I forgot about Nausicaa, which is fantastical sci-fi and thus not “realistic,” but contains no magical realism as such. Even the aeronautical physics are not all that far off from reality! Fascinating to reflect upon Miyazaki’s career arc!

This is also his only movie that is concerned with real historical events. It is a heavily fictionalized account of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, who invented the Zero fighter plane and helped transform Japan from a comparatively primitive backwater into a global technology power. After the final scene fades, a title card appears informing us that the movie is a “tribute” to Jiro and to Tatsuo Hori, who wrote a short story from which this movie gets its title and from which it borrows core elements of its love story.


On a deeper level, it is almost his only movie where the real drama is in the writ-small world of one person. There are no epic quests here, no dispossessed princesses with magic amulets or gods warring to destroy humanity. Kiki’s Delivery Service comes close to this, but even Kiki discovers the meaning of her gift when she finds that she can use it to intervene in a major event. To find a movie as personal as this one in Miyazaki’s corpus, one in which no great fate rests in the balance of our hero’s actions, we must go all the way back to Totoro. But the Wind Rises goes even further than Totoro; here, our inability to change the really great historical events is actually central to the movie’s message.

Now I’m going to say something that may seem to contradict what I’ve just said. This is, at long last, Miyazaki’s political movie. Many of his works have had political themes; Miyazaki is well known as an environmentalist, a pacifist, and a former Marxist. But none of his previous movies was really a movie about those things. Only the shallow environmentalists think Princess Mononoke or Ponyo is really about environmentalism. Only the shallow pacifists think Howl’s Moving Castle is really about pacifism. Meanwhile, this movie – this highly personal movie that is all about one man, a man who knew he couldn’t stop war and therefore didn’t try – is the really pacifist movie.

And yet – contradiction looping back on contradiction – this pacifist movie actually argues that we can’t avoid politics, can’t avoid being part of our nations and the calling to make them great.

Okay, I’ve made this movie sound like a tangled mess. It isn’t. It’s quiet and still. The point only becomes confused when you attempt to express it in words rather than simply showing it in a story.

The whole point of the movie is to ask the great political question – what role does politics play in the meaning of human life? –  and give an answer that we Americans have always rejected with repugnance but which the whole rest of the world has always taken quite seriously, even when it disagrees with it. It is simply this: that it is a deadly mistake to look to our nations for justice, for they never deliver; but it is possible to look to our nations for identity and for opportunities to serve the world around us.


It would be flippant to say that the real message of this movie is “the men who built the horrible Japanese war machine were people too!” But that does come close to expressing it.

Our dreams are cursed. If we build our dreams, the things we build will be used for evil and destruction. Should we therefore not build? Give up dreaming? As one character puts it, “would you rather live in a world without pyramids?”

Jiro wants to build airplanes. He dreams of marvelous airplanes, far greater than any that have ever been built before. And the only way to build those dreams is to build warplanes for the military.

But here’s the catch. Jiro doesn’t only want to build better planes because they’re worth building in themselves. He also wants to serve his country – not the war machine, which is unambiguously horrible, but his people. They live in poverty and want. Hungry children are all around him. Japan is so backward that they use oxen to drag the prototype planes from the hangar to the test field.

Jiro knows that he and his team of builders can help catapult Japan out of the economic ghetto. They can feed the hungry children of Japan by building planes – planes that will be used to bomb the children of China.

The idea that Jiro could go build beautiful planes for some other country is not even considered. First, because all countries are viewed as monstrous. How much better would it be to make planes for China, or any other nation? If they’re not the aggressor now, they will be someday. But there is also a sense of duty to one’s own country. Jiro feels responsible to the people of Japan. We cannot escape who we are and where we come from.


The pacifist nationalism of The Wind Rises ultimately fails to persuade; at least, it didn’t persuade this American. Like most Americans, I think the nation must be made to deliver justice. You can’t remove justice from the political sphere; to put it another way, no matter how beautiful your planes are, it matters whom you make them for. Despite this film’s best efforts – and they are impressive – one cannot escape, or at least I cannot escape, the feeling that Jiro is fleeing from responsibility. Refusing to make planes for a war machine is one of the ways we serve our country.

The attempted tragedy of this movie – we must build our dreams even though they’re used for evil – fails because it is trying to escape from an even deeper tragedy: That the demands of justice are uncompromising and inescapable, that we do not have the option of building planes and then sighing with regret that they’re used for a war of aggression.

We cannot have our cake and eat it, too; we cannot hate or regret injustice and at the same time hate or regret politics.


The attempt to do so leads in the darkest directions. Thomas Mann’s 1924 novel Magic Mountain is invoked explicitly in this movie. Hans Castorp himself briefly appears and laments the evils that are arising in the world, wistfully declaring that we can sometimes find a “magic mountain” in our lives where we can forget those evils and find healing – but the evils will always remain. Like that book, The Wind Rises confronts the big questions of the 20th century and is ambiguous about the answers.

But we cannot pretend we’re still in 1924. In The Wind Rises, Castorp doesn’t leave the “magic mountain” to march off into the trenches of WWI; he flees town one step ahead of the secret police. Mann could get away with ambiguous mysticism in 1924, but we who know what came next must not leave things where he left them.