*Mirror, Mirror* (paging Leo Strauss)

by on April 2, 2012 at 6:20 pm in Film, History | Permalink

Not often does Hollywood put out movies romanticizing tyrannicide and the assassination of foreign leaders of friendly countries, in this case India.  Julia Roberts is the wicked Queen, witch, and false pretender, but actually the stand-in for Indira Gandhi, with an uncanny resemblance of look and dress in the final scene (I wonder if anyone told her?).  This movie presents a romanticized and idealized version of how her assassination should have proceeded and should have been processed, namely in a triumphal manner with no reprisals but rather celebration and joyous union and love.  As the plot proceeds, you will find all sorts of markers of Sikh theology, including numerous references to daggers, hair, mirrors, water, immersions, submersions, bodily penetrations, transformations, the temple at Amritsar, dwarves who enlarge themselves, and the notion of woman as princess, among many others; director Tarsem Singh knows this material better than I do (read up on Sikh theology before you go, if you haven’t already).  The silly critics complained that the plot didn’t make sense, but from the half dozen or so reviews I read they didn’t even begin to understand the movie.

Without wishing to take sides on either the politics or the religion, I found this a daring and remarkable film.  The sad thing is that no one is paying attention.

The movie’s trailer is here.

1 K April 2, 2012 at 6:43 pm

The style of music and dance from the 0:12 in the trailer is obviously Indian.

2 TrollsWillTroll April 2, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Tyler gets bullied.

Tyler appeases bully.

Tyler sets precedent.

3 Pallavi Thankur April 2, 2012 at 10:09 pm

I agree. I feel sorry for TC. Hopefully that sort of thread never happens again. MR is one of the few blogs where I like reading the comments. That one was a ship wreck.

4 Bob Dobalina April 3, 2012 at 7:32 am

I sure do wish I knew what the two of you were talking about.

5 TrollsWillTroll April 3, 2012 at 1:47 pm

I sure do wish I knew what the two of you were talking about.

Sometimes ignorance is bliss, and perhaps I should just let this die, but I will give you the link instead:


6 Bob Dobalina April 3, 2012 at 4:23 pm

I’m pleased to have been brought into the know. Thank you Mr(s). TrollsWIllTroll and have a nice holiday weekend.

7 Jacob April 3, 2012 at 5:01 pm

I thought it was a reasonably civil flame war, as these things go. I even learned a thing or two about India’s history that I hadn’t heard before.

8 Paul Johnson April 2, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Was this supposed to be posted yesterday?

9 Neil April 2, 2012 at 8:06 pm

I am similarly baffled.

10 Stefan April 2, 2012 at 7:05 pm

I freaking love Tyler’s movie reviews. Haven’t seen this and don’t plan to, but this is the only review I’ve read that makes me come even close to wanting to. (More remarkably, it’s the only review that makes me feel like my lack of interest is actually a personal failing…)

11 Steve Sailer April 2, 2012 at 11:07 pm

Unlike Tyler, most film critics don’t know much about anything other than movies (and maybe literature).

12 Andrew' April 2, 2012 at 7:16 pm

Janet Reno might like it.

13 J Laurence April 2, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Interesting review. The reviews I saw before this talked about the comedic timing being off and that’s about it. I’m glad I’ll have something more to look for if I ever find myself watching it.

14 MT April 2, 2012 at 9:14 pm

“The Fall” was pretty remarkable as well, and got even less attention.

15 Urstoff April 2, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Kenneth Branagh’s Thor already did the Indira Gandhi allegory. Can’t Hollywood come up with anything original?

16 Steve Sailer April 2, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Okay, I guess I will have to see it now.

I found one other commentator on all of the Internet who made the same argument:


17 Jesse April 2, 2012 at 10:30 pm

Tyler “Armond White” Cowen strikes again!

18 Steve Sailer April 2, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Okay, judging from two minute trailer, the castle in the movie looks vaguely like the Golden Temple in Amritsar (especially, the tower and the bridge out to the temple). And Julia Roberts hair is done up somewhat in Indira Gandhi’s style, but doesn’t have the asymmetrical gray spot over the right temple that Gandhi had in 1971. Julia appears to be oddly tanned for a movie set in winter in Europe, with about the right skin tone for a fair-skinned Kashmiri.

Julia’s accent snobbish English accent in the movie doesn’t sound Indian, it sounds more like a wealthy black English girl’s accent, like in Whit Stillman’s upcoming “Damsels in Distress.”

So, I’d say, Tyler’s theory that the Sikh director was inspired by his people’s great enemy Indira Gandhi is unproven but not implausible.

19 Rahul April 3, 2012 at 12:00 am

It might be allegorical, but that doesn’t make it good.

IMDB gives it a 5.7 rating. IMDB does have its blind spots but still.

20 Steve Sailer April 2, 2012 at 11:28 pm

It would be fun to make up a list of movies where practically every critic was oblivious to what the the director was up to.

“District 9” is a classic example, where the Boer refugee writer-director did dozens of interviews patiently explaining that the movie is an allegory for Zimbabwean illegal immigration into post-apartheid South Africa, and almost every critic still declared it an allegory about apartheid. After all, who has ever heard of anything happening in South Africa after Nelson Mandela?

21 Ricardo April 2, 2012 at 11:36 pm

“After all, who has ever heard of anything happening in South Africa after Nelson Mandela?”

“Coastal elites” who follow the BBC?

22 Patrick April 3, 2012 at 4:50 am

District 9 works well as a high satire of UN operations, with all the hope/self-deception gyrations, the flower at the end is a kicker.

Anyone else think Hostel’s themes of fear and justice were likewise neglected?

23 Rahul April 3, 2012 at 12:08 am

Why don’t more filmmakers try a direct historical film than allegories? Is because it is hard to get the period details right? One can’t make “mistakes” in allegories, I guess. I’d love to watch a good biographical film on Indira Gandhi.

Hell, even Mahatma Gandhi had to wait almost thirty years after he died for Attenborough to make the first good Gandhi biopic. Maybe the only good one so far.

24 Cliff April 3, 2012 at 12:55 am

I hope I don’t have to wait that long after I die.

25 feathers April 3, 2012 at 3:18 am

You get a bigger audience with a fairy tale than with a biopic. With an allegory you can satisfy your artistic urge while also making lots of money.

26 Andrew1 April 3, 2012 at 2:50 am

Tyler reads too much into movies. File this one next to his Inglourious Basterds review.

27 Steve Sailer April 3, 2012 at 3:05 am

“The silly critics complained that the plot didn’t make sense, but from the half dozen or so reviews I read they didn’t even begin to understand the movie.”

In the modern world, it’s safer for your career not to understand things. Nobody is going to call a movie reviewer a racist for not noticing a mediocre movie’s anti-Indira, Sikh subtext.

So, it’s a lot easier just to be ignorant. There’s a whole set of facts that you would need to keep in mind to notice the pattern: e.g., the director’s name is Singh, which is frequently a Sikh name; Sikhism is a warrior cult; Sikhs were recruited for the Indian Army by the British Raj because they were seen as a “warrior race,” unlike, say, the Bengalis; in the 1980s, Sikh separatists holed up in the Golden Temple in Amritsar were put down violently by Indira Gandhi; but, Sikhs made up many of the best officers in Gandhi’s Indian Army, so she was in turn murdered by two of her Sikh bodyguards. This was followed by retributive massacres of Sikh civilians and Sikh terrorists blowing up an India Air flight from Canada to India. I may have some of that wrong because I’m just remembering off the top of my head, but it’s not that hard for me to remember because it’s a long chain of cause and effect like a giant historical chain reaction car crash. But then I’m a bad person. This whole sad tale doesn’t reflect well on various non-white groups, so it’s probably racist to even know these hate-facts.

If you’ve been reading the newspapers over the last couple of weeks, you’ll know that noticing patterns (e.g., the high crime rate among young black males) is just about the most evil thing anybody can do. Bayesianism, according to most right thinking people these days, is more or less equal to child murder.

Political correctness makes people obtuse.

28 Rahul April 3, 2012 at 6:31 am

I don’t get the racism part. No matter whom you consider “bad”, both sides were non-white. You really think this might tempt people to believe political assassinations are a brown phenomenon?

29 zbicyclist April 3, 2012 at 10:42 am

I don’t get the racism part, either. But since we’re going down that rabbit hole, aren’t Indians white? I will accept “your question is completely nonsensical” as a reasonable answer.

30 msgkings April 3, 2012 at 11:55 am

“aren’t Indians white?”: I don’t think they fit what is normally meant by ‘white’, no.

31 Anthony April 3, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Indians are, in general, genetically closer to Europeans and Middle-Easterners (Arabs, Iranians, etc) than they are to sub-Saharan Africans or to East Asians, though in some parts of India there are significant admixtures of southeast Asians and/or other groups which aren’t European(ish). (See Razib’s postings at Gene Expression, for more about this.) So they’re generally “caucasian” in the 19th-century sense.

However, very few Indians have a skin tone light enough to appear “white” to the average American or Brit.

I’m not sure Steve is right on this one – a reviewer *outside India* who caught on that this was about Indira Gandhi would not necessarily be called racist, unless the “good guys” and the “bad guys” were of visibly distinct skin color, or different types of “exotic” dress.

32 Larry, San Francisco April 3, 2012 at 7:01 pm

I think the Indira Gandhi and Sikhs story is even more twisted. As I recall it, she and her unscrupulous son Sanjay (not the one who became prime minister) were worried that the Ahkilit Dal (spelling?) which was a moderate Sikh party that ruled the Punjab was anti-congress. This caused Sanjay to secretly start funding the extreme Sikh party in order to undercut the Ahkilit Dal. Ultimately this did not work out too well for the Gandhi, although I think Sanjay had died in airplane crash at the time.
I always thought Indira Gandhi’s life would make a great opera (maybe if John Adams was looking for a topic).
I know many Sikhs. Many of their parents were persecuted by the Muslims during the 1948 war. One Sikh friend of mine was angry that because he wore a turban people thought he was a Muslim

33 Alemayehu April 3, 2012 at 6:06 am

Why is the name of Leo Strauss mentioned here? What’ the relevance?

34 Alex1 April 3, 2012 at 6:13 am

Persecution and the art of writing, methinks

35 tomcollins April 3, 2012 at 9:51 am

Leo Strauss made the argument that philosophers (Plato, as well as others)hid their actual opinions in their writings.
there’s an obvious reading for the hoi polloi , and a real meaning that is available ,upon close reading, to an elite. So the director creates a fairy tale that seem to come straight out Grimm, those more aware catch the political commentary.

36 Sebastian April 4, 2012 at 1:03 am

that’s a very clear and pithy summary. props!

37 Torquil Macneil April 3, 2012 at 6:28 am

Ha! I was getting all excited and then I watched the linked trailer. Now one of my legs feels a tiny bit longer and the other one is jingling.

38 Owen April 3, 2012 at 6:47 am

Thought Tyler’s comment was a late April Fool, but saw the trailer and decided to go. Great film: witty, fun, even without the deeper meanings (or you can take them as a bonus).

39 Michael Heller April 3, 2012 at 9:36 am

Talking of assassination films, there is of course Jim Jarmusch’s *Limits of Control*. Now there’s a movie with subtext. The most recent “philosophical” review is here:


40 SouthCarolinian April 3, 2012 at 2:58 pm

The Brits were not particularly fond of Sikhs qua warriors until the Sikhs helped them put down the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857. . . . then, the Brits got really into using Sikhs as fighters thereafter.

41 john boyd April 3, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Yeah this is actually a very interesting aspect of their history. The Sikhs had conquered most of current pakistan and had a modernized army so they were a threat to the british. When Ranjit Singh, arguably their greatest leader, died the british and the dogras (a family of his advisors who had their power base among hindus in Kashmir) colluded to ignite a conflict, and the dogras purposefully pulled out in critical battles like Chillianwala which the Sikh side should have one. Well that was seen as a conspiracy theory for a while but it turns out they found diaries of british officers where they discussed.
Anyway most sikhs were pretty resentful of the sepoys because they felt they had been cheated out of their victory so the sepoy rebellion was an opportunity for revenge. That whole era is so interesting because of all the competing alliances that were formed and broken over the years, it’s a great story.

42 Anthony April 3, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Of course not – it was only 8 years earlier that the Brits were having a little trouble with the Sikhs.

43 sam April 4, 2012 at 5:39 am

Only an economist would go that fucking deep into a movie review to make it sound as complicated as possible so mere mortals wouldn’t understand what they hell they were talking about.

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