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American Pastoral is a dramatic 2016 film starring and directed by Ewan McGregor. It is based on the book with the same title written by Philip Roth in 1997, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize and which made it to TIME’s list of the100 best novels.
Despite the success and influence of the novel, the film has been very poorly rated on specialized websites, both by critics and by the public. A “super reviewer” at Rotten Tomatoes said of the film that it is “Cheesy, contrived, and heavy-handed” and that “it is made even worse by how it shows leftist revolutionaries as insane psychos/imbeciles”.
Not surprisingly, self-proclaimed intellectuals, usually on the left, consider a film bad when it doesn’t stick to the progressive narrative. Especially when the film is based on a book by an author they consider “one of their own”.
What is surprising is that American Pastoral does not fall into typical progressive clichés, and having an openly anti-left message, portraying its followers as rebellious spoiled children with behavior bordering on the sickly.
The film tells the story of Seymour “The Swede” Levov (Ewan McGregor), a young Jewish heir to a women’s glove factory who marries a young Catholic woman, Dawn Dwyer (Jennifer Connelly), who was a Miss America contender representing New Jersey in 1947. Together they have a daughter, Meredith (Dakota Fanning), whom they raise on a farm 30 miles from the factory.
They have an idyllic family life in the country, with the only setback being that their daughter has a stuttering problem. The beautiful mother, daughter of a plumber and granddaughter of a farmer, takes care of the farm. “The Swede” is a successful businessman, much loved in the village and adored by his workers, most of them black. Here we find the first leftist mantra that the film does not incur, since it is rare that businessmen are not represented as “evil exploiters”.
With a stutter that grows worse, the introverted Meredith arrives in high school. Her psychoanalyst, with the excuse that she must socialize -and behind her parents’ back- introduces her to a group of young leftists who are protesting the Vietnam War. It is with these new friends that Meredith begins to radicalize, attending demonstrations in New York.
Her parents are concerned about their teenage daughter’s travels and rebellion. She is disobedient, belligerent, has her room full of Communist posters and pamphlets, and does nothing but criticize her father for being a businessman, and her mother for being a beauty queen. But they don’t give it a thought, and even her father encourages her to channel all that energy and anger to she protests closer to home.
A few days later, a bomb explodes in the town’s post office, killing the owner. In the face of her parents’ disbelief and despair, her daughter is the main suspect and has disappeared without a trace.
The happy life of “The Swede” has been blown up. He knows nothing about his daughter, who is now an escaped murderer, and his wife has suffered several nervous breakdowns that have made her lose her mind. He also learns that she is being unfaithful to him with her neighbor. To make matters worse, the city is in the throes of a race riot. His factory is attacked by agitators, even though 80 percent of his staff are black people who are very happy in their jobs.
A few weeks later, Seymour receives a visit from a young lady, an activist who claims to be a friend of Meredith’s and asks him for $10,000 in cash in exchange for information on his daughter’s whereabouts. This girl accuses the “Swede” of all kinds of lies and foolishness typical of a leftist discourse: that he exploits his workers who go blind sewing gloves for high society ladies, that he sleeps with his employees, that his wife is a landowner ashamed of her class origins, that he cares more about the dead man at the post office than the thousands of Vietnamese killed in the war, etc.
In spite of all this string of slanders, the worried father agrees to hand over the money, but the young woman escapes without telling him anything about his daughter, not without first having tried to seduce him in a creepy way to try to confirm -unsuccessfully- her prejudices about businessmen.
Three endless years later, our protagonist meets this girl by chance on the streets and gets her to confess where his daughter is, leading him to the slums where Meredith lives in hiding.
Meredith is extremely malnourished living in an abandoned house in very poor conditions and surrounded by dirt. She confesses to her father that she participated in a total of 3 bombings, killing 4 people, and that she was repeatedly raped by members of the radical leftist group to which her psychologist had sent her and who were supposed to hide her and protect her from the police.
As penance for her crimes, the traumatized Meredith had become a Jain ascetic, living as a hermit and imposing absurd punishments on herself such as not speaking so as not to harm the microorganisms around her, not having material possessions, and barely eating, following an extreme vegetarian diet, which had led her to lose her teeth and to lose weight dramatically. But at least she had stopped stuttering.
Despite her father’s desperate pleas, Meredith tells him she has no intention of returning home and disappears. For years “the Swede” continues to visit the house daily, even though it is empty, waiting for his daughter to reappear. And so on until the day he dies, never able to see his daughter again. American Pastoral ends with the funeral of “The Swede,” in which his daughter appears apparently recovered and healthy.
American Pastoral, an x-ray of extreme-left youth
No wonder the leftist media have furiously criticized Ewan McGregor for this his first -and so far only- film as a director. American Pastoral shows how the left, through colleges and universities, preys on insecure, discontented, and impressionable young people, whom it indoctrinates with its violent rhetoric, in the face of the powerlessness of parents who have seen their authority undermined.
A recent study by the German newspaper Bild concludes that 92% of extreme-left young activists in Germany live with their parents, which makes American Pastoral an almost perfect x-ray of today’s youth.
Ignacio Manuel García Medina, Business Management teacher. Artist and lecturer specialized in Popular Culture for various platforms. Presenter of the program "Pop Libertario" for the Juan de Mariana Institute. Lives in the Canary Islands, Spain // Ignacio M. García Medina es profesor de Gestión de Empresas. Es miembro del Instituto Juan de Mariana y conferenciante especializado en Cultura Popular e ideas de la Libertad.
Social Networks: @ignaciomgm