Griffith’s “Intolerance”

I’ve just finished watching D. W. Griffith’s movie, Intolerance. It took some effort; it’s over three hours long and quite rambling, with four alternating storylines. It addresses themes which modern libertarians can appreciate, such as prohibitionism, religious suppression, and unfair criminal justice. It has scenes with spectacular sets and huge numbers of extras, especially in the Babylonian storyline. Anyone with a serious interest in pro-liberty themes in movies should consider it.

We can’t call it a “libertarian film,” though. Griffith also made Birth of a Nation, which is as far from libertarian as you can get. It’s a puzzle how the same person could have made both movies, though the fact that his father was a Confederate officer gives one clue. (It’s true that Intolerance doesn’t address racial hostility and that every actor looks like a light-skinned European type, but that wasn’t unusual for 1916 movies.) As for the idea of “libertarian films,” few movies are made primarily to promote a political view, and they generally aren’t very good. Let’s just say that Intolerance presents values which are consistent with libertarian ideals. How we judge Griffith is a separate matter.

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