Reviewing Oliver Stone’s film Salvador for The New Yorker in 1986, Pauline Kael detected a ‘right-wing macho fantasy joined to a left-wing polemic’. That same compound, a politically unstable one, bubbles under the surface of Stone’s autobiography, Chasing the Light. Generally speaking, it is hard to separate judgement about an autobiography from that about its subject, since reading an autobiography is like a long stay at someone’s home, listening to them detail their life story around the dinner table, night after night. The problem is twofold when its author is so politically conflicted. As distinct from a film review, to review Oliver Stone’s autobiography is undeniably to review ‘Oliver Stone’.
It is ten years since the invasion of Iraq by the United States and the few countries willing to join it. Happening to be in Washington in February, and recalling worldwide protests in 2003, I was struck by what seems to be American amnesia about the war and its consequences. At least in Australia groups are exploring ways to prevent such catastrophic expeditions in the future. Even as Afghanistan follows Iraq towards a similar conclusion, the US government’s war mentality is kept alive by contestation with China, eyeballing of North Korea, countdown over Iran, nervousness about Syria, demands for more military spending, and war hunger in sections of the media. Americans’ nerves are further strained by domestic threats like cyber-infiltration, extreme weather, and mass killings, against which conventional defences seem powerless. Past wars don’t end all wars.
Mickey and Mallory love to kill. Murder comes naturally to them – it’s all part of a successful day’s work. Bullets fly, bodies drop, and the couple move on as if enjoying a prolonged shopping spree in which the objects consumed just happen to be human lives. Their actions blend in perfectly with a culture that emphasises mass production, mass consumption, repetition, seriality. After all we live in an era that has not only produced a new breed of serial killers but also raises them to the status of folk heroes – icons to be consumed, in turn, by the media, fans, filmmakers, writers, profiteers. Mickey and Mallory are also deeply in love; a starry-eyed Romeo and Juliet whose passion, in the post-consumer society, feeds on a continual diet of violence, cruelty, death. (It is perhaps telling that in many contemporary films, violence and murder serve to unite the couple rather than drive them apart.) This circuit of consumption, repetition and seriality is self-regulating, continuous, carnivorous.