The Cowardice of Tim Robbins

| June 28, 2005 | Reply

God save us from actors with a political agenda.

The Washington Post this morning has a profile of Tim Robbins, who appears in the soon-to-be-released “War of the Worlds”. Get your blood sugar monitoring machines, folks, we’re in for a saccharine-sweet ride through puffpieceland.

But “War of the Worlds” isn’t your usual blockbuster sci-fi, action-hero kind of movie. Based on the 1898 H.G. Wells novel, it’s about the end of the world, sure, but it’s also a profound exploration of the human fear and terror that come from confronting the unfathomable and what that does to body and mind. The new movie version — as reconfigured by director Steven Spielberg for the 21st century — is heavily influenced by how Americans perceive fear and terror in post-9/11 America.

“It’s certainly about Americans fleeing for their lives, being attacked for no reason, having no idea why they are being attacked and who is attacking them,” Spielberg says during the New York stop of the press tour.

Here you thought ths movie was about aliens who, for reasons no one can define, land on Earth and start teaing up the joint. Well, silly you, huh? It’s about terrorism and 9/11 because we were attacked then for no reason at all by an unknown group of people.

Except that we knew exactly who attacked us on 9/11 and we know the reasons. That Spielberg and Robbins persist in their ignorance and have decided to ignore all of that just means that they’re firmly part of the so-called “reality-based” community who would rather live in a world built on their delusions rather than confront the world and do something about it.

But the article is about that sweet, loveable, all-knowing Robbins. You know, that icon of tolerance.

Robbins saw the completed film only recently — “I think [Spielberg] was working on it right up until last week,” he says — and the scene he finds most terrifying is revealing. He is not in it. Neither are the aliens. It’s not a moment of massive destruction or massive death. It is, instead, a scene in which Cruise and his children find themselves the target of an out-of-control mob.

“It’s terrifying, because it’s exactly what happens,” he says. “You lose your sense of compassion and reason, and you just try to survive. And you think about war zones, and you think about how that must happen. The inhumanity that occurs within a war zone.”

Something tells me that Robbins have never been in a war zone before – probably that he’s never even read a book written by someone who’s been in a war zone. This, though, is a perfect encapsulation of how the liberal mind thinks about a war zone: that everyone in it loses all sense of compassion and reason. There’s no room for the thought that so many people who have been there have given us: that you don’t lose those things at all. A war zone is a place of unimagined cruelty, to be sure, but it is also a place of supreme compassion and ultimate humanity. It’s a place where soldiers – US soldiers at the very least – stay their hand from mowing down injured enemies because they know better than that. It’s a place where civilians give succor and aid to wounded soldiers and to each other, even at the risk of their own lives. Robbins clearly does not like war (in fact, I don’t know anyone who does like war) but that doesn’t give him permission to lie about it.

Unlike fellow antiwar activist Sean Penn (who was his co-star in the 2003 film “Mystic River,” for which they both won Oscars), Robbins has not felt compelled to hop a plane to the Middle East. It has to do with the fear thing. His own, that is. He has a recurring nightmare — “it has to do with violence, and it has to do with being the wrong person, the unintended person.”

In other words, he’s not brave enough to put his money where his mouth is. Say what you will about Sean Penn, ubt at least he puts himself into places where he could be in danger, though the danger is much less when you go to where the bad guys live and are on their side.

He had one of those real-life moments two years ago, when he was on the subway with his son, Jack Henry, then 14. Out of nowhere, he sensed, intensely, that something was about to happen. Something unreasonable. Then, he said, eight or nine teenage boys went on a “wilding” — attacking the conductor and injuring an 11-year-old boy.

“I remember turning to my son,” Robbins says, “and saying, ‘Did you feel that? Before that happened, did you feel that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I did.’ And I said, ‘Remember that. That’s the survival instinct taking over. If you can feel the energy before it happens, you can avoid it.’

How courageous, to turn the savage beating of two people into a “teaching moment” for your son. I wonder if Robbins had the faintest urge to help the conductor or the boy. I wonder if, before he lectured his son about fear, he felt the slightest call to defend those people in any way from that horrible mob of nine teenagers. Surely he would have made some difference – he is, after all, not a small man and I can expect that the teenagers would have been surprised had he jumped in to help. I wonder if he even thought to whip out his cell phone and call the police. This article doesn’t say – it only says that his super Spidey Sense kicked in and then the savage attack. I wonder what his son will remember more: his father’s lecture after the fact, or that his father huddled there beside him while two people were beaten. Which one will have more impact on him later?

You know, it’s possible that Robbins would have been hurt going to their defense. It’s possible that the gang might have turned on him. But, you know, that’s the risk that courage demands – you throw yourself in harm’s way to do some good, een if it means that you might be hurt yourself.

But Robbins doesn’t know any of that. He knows the way of the sermon, the lecture after the fact, the criticism from behind a wall of safety built for him by people who do know the meaning of courage but who Robbins denigrates as losing their compassion and humanity. He knows the way of the pampered and unappreciatvie American who can’t even summon the courage to give a good word to people who are dying so that he can eat his egg sandwich and grow sanguine that he’s goig ot have to do another interview about a movie that paid him quite handsomely, demanded little in return, and gave him yet another opportunity to lecture us all about fear.

Well, at least fear is something he knows well. It’s something he’s managed to turn into a virtue. Courage, on the other hand, seems to be a stranger to him.

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