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Sliding Scale Of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Film
  • Star Wars is heavily on the idealist side of the spectrum: although the galaxy is no place for Wide Eyed Idealists, more cynical characters tend to discover The Power of Love/Friendship, and The Good Guys Always Win ... eventually.
    • However, the Expanded Universe is much more cynical, Force Unleashed and Knights of the Old Republic 2 being the official Dark Fic of the series.
      • The games are downright Lighter and Softer compared to the direction that the books have been taking.
      • In fact, official policy is that in games where the player can choose a Dark or Light Side ending, the Light Side ending is canonical.
    • Despite its overall idealist tone, the film generally considered to be the best in the series is The Empire Strikes Back, possibly the darkest. The same applies to Revenge of the Sith, which was considered to be the best of the prequel trilogy.
  • Rambo (2008) has its foot firmly planted in the cynical side. The pacifistic missionaries attempting to peacefully change civil-war torn Burma are naive and misguided, whilst the gritty, war-hardened mercenaries are the only ones who can defeat the evil forces leading that regime. It's showing its '80s action-movie pedigree. The common theme in most of those films was that diplomacy was useless against America's enemies, and that lawyers and judges existed solely to let drug dealers and sociopathic murderers back on the streets. In both cases, one or two Badasses unconstrained by rules were all you needed to defeat Third World dictators or clear the streets of crime.
  • ET The Extra Terrestrial is probably one of the most idealistic movies ever made, with the idealism made from E.T. and his interactions with Elliot and his siblings. You might think that the scientists are the cynical part, but when E.T. falls ill, which makes Elliot ill too, they turn out to be better people than they seem as they try to relieve them.
  • Short Circuit had this kind of conflict between the idealistic Newton Crosby (PhD, who wanted to capture the wayward Number 5 intact and unharmed to study why it was acting the way it was) and the cynical Captain Skroeder (who had a bit of a technophobic streak and was understandably wanting to take the robot out before it could do any harm with its fully armed and combat-ready laser weapon; Word of God has even admitted that despite being the villain for the movie, he is still doing the right and logical thing by trying to destroy Number 5). Also, the crew purposely used this trope in combination with What Measure Is a Non-Human?, wanting to get away from the "idealistic" approach of having the characters treat their start as always being "alive" and instead explore the question of how people would react to artificial intelligence in real life (their answer being that no one would believe it for a second).
  • Mexican films can be divided in two. Back in The Fifties, during the Golden Age, Mexican movies were the most idealistic films you could ever imagine, with lovable characters who were the absolute incarnation of Christian poverty and all the implied heavenly bliss and richness of spirit, often becoming The Woobie of the rich guys who were the incarnation of the Seven Deadly Sins. On the other hand, pretty much every single Mexican film made in The Nineties and later lies far, far away towards the Cynical side of the scale, with plots often involving massive trainloads of suffering and misery, often portraying Mexico as a grim, gritty place, sometimes (e.g. Amores perros or Perfume de violetas) even more Cynical than Evangelion!
    • This is justified due to censorship, since the Mexican government wanted to give the best image about the country after The Mexican Revolution, but this changed in the 60s with the Luis Buņuel's movie Los Olvidados, who was the Ur Example of the genre.
  • The 2007 Disney film Enchanted falls squarely in the idealistic side of the column, being just a bit Anvilicious in its commentary on the world's need for optimism, especially in matters of romance. Then again, this doesn't necessarily make it bad.
    • Another interpretation is that it's a story about Gizelle, an extreme idealist, and Robert, an extreme cynic, meeting each other and both having their extreme views tempered by exposure to each other, reaching a more moderate compromise in the end.
  • Surprisingly, The Dark Knight, for all its darkness, slides towards the idealistic side of the spectrum at least once. In a key scene, two ferries full of passengers choose near-certain death over murdering each other. Where the remainder of the movie falls is largely a matter of opinion.
    • Thought it can be debated that the trilogy is the poster child for swinging from one side to the other, AKA Earn Your Happy Ending.
      • To elaborate, though Batman's idealism is shown to be heroic (refusing to let Ra's al Ghul destroy the decaying city of Gotham, refusing to kill Joker, etc.), there are some moments in which the effectiveness of the cynical approach are played up ("letting" Ra's die, Batman's killing Two-Face, etc.).
  • Even more surprisingly Batman also fits on the idealistic side, although not quite to the point of The Dark Knight, but for Batman's actions, he becomes publicly loved and gets the girl, and The Joker is dead. Although he had to take the cynical route of killing people to get there. It is mostly cynical, but it too is a case of Earn Your Happy Ending
    • Batman Returns on the other hand is even more cynical to the point of nihilism despite not being as dark as the original with more jokes and campy idiots instead of corruption. However Batman losses the girl, ends up being forced to do even more killing, the one person he loves ends up being morally ambiguous, and everyone hates him again thanks to The Penguin via the murder of The Ice Princess.
    • In contrast Batman Forever and Batman & Robin are heavily on the idealistic side
  • 28 Days Later represents this scale through hardened survivor Selena, whose experiences have made her bitter and cynical and convinced that the only way to survive is to kill before you get killed and abandon anyone who might hold you back, and Frank, the optimistic cab-driver who is convinced that an outpost of survivors exists to the North who will protect and defend them, roping the others into helping him find them. Jim, the main character, is somewhere in the middle. Selena survives the movie, whilst Frank is eventually infected and killed by the very soldiers he came to find (who turn out to have been luring people there so that they could rape the women anyway). However, things are not quite as cynical and bleak as this makes out; Selena's cynicism is worn down by the fact that she is falling in love with Jim, who ultimately convinces her that there is hope after all and that abandoning others is not the way to go, and the final scenes reveal that she is working harder than any of them to contact the survivors they have come to believe are outside of Britain.
    • Actually, the original ending involved Jim dying. The only reason cynicism didn't prevail is because test audiences found it too depressing.
    • Then came the sequel, in which there is utterly no hope.
  • The major reason why La vita č bella was so critically acclaimed was thanks to its ability to keep a fluffy idealist tone in the middle of a freaking concentration camp. It also sparked controversy for having a sympathetic protagonist trying to distract from the horrors of the Holocaust with slapstick.
  • Dead Poets Society liked to play with this trope. A LOT. It tends to be more on the idealistic side on the whole, but the entire subplot about the conflict between Neil and his father is definitely one of the most cynical moments in Peter Weir films, like...ever.
  • The Hunt is critical of human behaviour and prejudice, particularly when it comes to assumptions and gossip. A little girl named Klara rapidly develops an unhealthy obsession with her kindergarten teacher, Lucas. After she kisses him on the lips during school playtime, he is quick to rebuff her infatuation. In a childish rage, she unwittingly implies to the head teacher that he has sexually abused her. This lie begins to mutate and grow, and Lucas is hunted down by his community. Even though it's proven he's not a pedophile, and Klara openly admits to making it up, he is still voraciously hated by his peers.

  • Lord of War was on the deep end of the cynical side. It features an arms dealer selling guns to African warlords and avoiding the law as he works himself to the heart of the gunrunning trade. The only idealistic characters are the Interpol Agent Valentine and Yuri's brother Vitaly. In the end of the movie Vitaly is killed and the massacre he was trying to prevent is carried out anyway. Valentine manages to arrest Yuri but becomes disillusioned after Yuri uses his government contacts to get himself free and keep doing his work. Yuri himself talks about how grey morality is his favorite brand of morality and delivers this beautifully heartbreaking line towards the end: They say evil prevails when good men fail to act. What they ought to say is: Evil prevails.
  • All of Stephen Chow's films are heavily on the idealistic side (Shaolin Soccer). Even the ones that appear grittier and more cynical are idealistic in disguise, as all of the protagonists pass through a redemption before beating the Big Bad (God Of Cooking, Kung Fu Hustle.)
  • The Colombian film La Virgen de los Sicarios (Our Lady of the Assassins) shows Medellín as a crime-ridden, violent city of drug pushers and hopeless addicts where Anyone Can Die. This is probably Truth in Television, as it deals with the very violent period of control by the Escobar drug cartel.
  • Juno has taken a lot of flak for just how far to the idealism end of the scale it goes re: its treatment of teen pregnancy and its consequences.
  • August Rush is idealistic in the extreme, to the point of being implausible - a 12-year-old learns to compose full symphonies and play multiple instruments without any musical training, AND he gets admitted to the Julliard School (not their preparatory program, like other pre-college musicians would, but the college itself), and his cutesy piece manages to impress a 21st-century composition faculty so much that they get him a reading with the New York Philharmonic? And it happens to be the same concert his mom is playing, and which his dad attends? No wonder so many critics panned it.
  • Critics accused Valentine's Day of being a bit too much on the cynical side for a romantic-comedy (one reviewer compared it to "expecting milk chocolate but getting baking (bitter) chocolate instead"; another compared it to "getting bad Valentine candy from a pretty/handsome person" in reference to the brilliant but wasted All-Star Cast), especially compared to its spiritual predecessor Love Actually.
  • When you make a non-parodic deconstruction of a genre that is already quite on the cynical end of the scale, do not expect the result to have much idealism left.
  • The Thin Red Line: the film is a rumination on the nature of war and its tie to nature. At first it seems to suggest a cynical worldview (as the opening Internal Monologue asks: "What's this war in the heart of nature? Why does nature vie with itself? The land contend with the sea? ls there an avenging power in nature? Not one power, but two?"), but the final scenes suggest that the universe is based on harmony and spirituality rather than conflict.
    • In the arguments they have, Witt and Welsh represent idealism and cynicism respectively.
    Welsh: In this world, a man himself is nothing. And there ain't no world but this one.
    Witt: You're wrong there, Top. I seen another world.
  • The 1976 film Network. Talk about your cynical films! But the craziest thing of all about that film is that the film was actually considered a Slice of Life docudrama by TV news people, which makes sense considering Paddy Chayefsky (who wrote the film's screenplay) consulted with actual reporters and behind-the-scenes TV news people while writing his script.
  • Any Mafia stories - not just films, but also video games - that you can bring up always falls into the cynical end of the sliding scale. The protagonists are often put in a desperate situation and a gritty urban setting, forced into the life of villainy, and almost all of them meet a tragic end.
  • Moulin Rouge! flits from side to side during its running-time, but the ending jumps into the space between the two extremes. Nearly all of the main characters lose absolutely everything (and the Duke relatively gets away with it), but they keep their ideals intact and win the moral argument.
  • What Dreams May Come, a romantic drama film detailing a pair of lovers' journey in the afterworld, sets its soul on the idealistic end of the scale. It shows that against all odds, true love will always last, as a sincere lover is willing to sacrifice his or her everything to drag their loved ones out of even the darkest misery - and they get their deserved reward at the end.
  • Meet the Robinsons was not a bad movie, but it was almost ridiculously idealistic.
  • For a Black Comedy, Horrible Bosses is ultimately surprisingly idealistic. Only one character is capable of murder.
  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe, as a whole, tends strongly to the idealistic side, which provides an interesting contrast to Mark Millar's very cynical Ultimates comic book run, which a lot of the movie continuity takes elements from. However, there are still some bittersweet moments, if the endings for both Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger are any proof.
    • A major part of the conflict in The Avengers stems from Steve Rogers' "outdated and irrelevant" idealism clashing head on with Tony Stark's hedonistic and materialistic cynicism. Ironically, Steve and Howard (Tony's father) were friends and allies during World War II.
  • The Alien series ultimately lands on the far end of the cynical side. Aside from Ripley and a few other heroic characters, the universe of the movies is very much a Crapsack World where uncaring governments and profit-driven MegaCorps place little value on human lives as long as they can experiment on them with alien SuperSoldiers.
  • Apocalypse Now is about as cynical as it gets. War Is Hell and Humans Are Bastards are the defining tropes of the film.
  • Blade Runner is fairly cynical, with a heavily dystopian interpretation of the future and Grey and Black Morality at best. The ending is slightly more positive, though, because the film is ultimately about an Anti-Hero realizing the error of his ways.
  • Terminator is ultimately a very idealistic film series, despite its bleak vision of the future. Many characters make Heroic Sacrifices and discover The Power of Love.
  • Most comedies nowadays usually go into the cynical side, as most of the humor is either offensive, gross or satirical.
  • Soviet movies about WWII are usually extremely idealistic - despite the Downer Ending they often have. The idealism isreinforced by the fact that though people suffered hardships and many died, they ultimately contributed to winning the war and saved their country and other people while becoming heroes forever.
  • The 2010 movie The Expendables is a classic example of reinforced violent masculinity at the cynical end of the scale, showing that the only solution to every problem, including one's girlfriend getting beaten and the drug dealers in Vilena, is beat them into submission with no mercy; the mercenaries who work for the CIA also do this primarily for money instead of for greater good.
    • But yet, it is still more idealist than any First Person Shooter out there since if it was done in the vein of Modern Warfare, none of the mercenaries would have lived in the end.
    • Have you seen the movie? A major point of the movie is how Sly's character realizes his lack of humanity when he questions why Sandra would stay behind and try to help her Crapsack World of a country, despite there being absolutely no chance of success (in his eyes, at least), which eventually leads him to try and take down the tyrannical government and the corrupt CIA Agents backing it despite it likely being a complete suicide mission. His buddies also tag along not because of the reward (that motivation died after they refused the mission the first time), but because they are his friends, and, as Lee's character said, "friends stick together". At the end, he gives the reward to Sandra in order for her to rebuild her country. Plus, Everyone Lives. Of course, it's not idealistic to the point of Thou Shalt Not Kill (it is a throwback to the 80's Action Movies, after all), but it's definitely not a ridiculously cynical movie.
  • Narc is a very cynical movie, which focuses on rough, poverty-striken area's and police corruption.
  • The Breakfast Club is extremely cynical in its view of high school life and humanity in general. Parents and authority figures are portrayed as apathetic at best or scumbags at worst, and its hard to say by the end which of the characters has the least controversial amount of metaphorical blood on their hands.
  • Compare Beauty and the Beast with King Kong.
  • Nil By Mouth is heavily on the cynical side, but might waver a bit depending on you're interpretation of the ending.
  • A League of Their Own, a Penny Marshall's film Based on a True Story of women's baseball while the male players were out fighting in World War II, is a cynical take on the gender role in the American society and as a result several absurd requirements for female players to place beauty over ability in the ballpark.
  • Blue Valentine traverses this spectrum, both at large and within its section:
    • The "present" scenes - where Dean and Cindy argue and leads to a separation/potential divorce - is on the cynical side. Yet it has a few moments here and there where it would seem "love could conquer all."
    • The "past" scenes - where Dean and Cindy meet and leads to their marriage after she's pregnant - is on the idealistic side. Yet it also has a few moments here and there where it anticipates the future problems.
  • Welcome To The Dollhouse and other films by Todd Solondz reside in a black hole of cynicism from which no light can escape.
  • "Serenity" and really, the series, are about an idealist (Malcolm Reynolds) struggling with the balance between the two. For all his words about how he'll take any job, he seems most motivated by the ones that don't pay much in the material sense.
  • Compare Back to the Future with The Butterfly Effect. The former is an idealistic take on how one makes the future, and the latter a cynical speculation to the statement in question. Their soundtracks also help telling their audience the moods they are portraying.
  • So far as the story goes, The Hunger Games is on the cynical side of the scale, showing the ugly nature of most of the Tributes and the people of the Capital, revealed in and out of the killing game program in question, as well as relatively nicer ones being wiped out ruthlessly. Although it does contain some idealistic redemption, it barely brings the plot to a bittersweet conclusion at best, which in turn implies an even darker terror awaiting in its upcoming sequel, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
    • After two years of losing a lot of people close to her, after inspiring a nation to rise from oppression, after seeing an innocent 12 year old girl die in her arms, Katniss and Haymitch have no problems at all sending twenty three innocent children to their deaths, just for revenge.
  • For a horror film, The Thing (1982) Has a fairly idealistic nature, when Fuchs takes himself out rather than being assimilated, and the last four survivors decide to sacrifice themselves to save the rest of the planet. .
  • Chinatown is cynical with a capital "C". There is no happy ending to be found here.
    • Then again, it is film Noir, it's sequel Two Jakes is just as cynical.
  • Fight Club is almost relentless in its cynicism. The whole world is a cold and uncaring place with no real purpose, just a monotonous existence. Based on the movie's interpretation of society, you'd think we're just animals in business suits.
  • Idealism runs at the core of Pacific Rim, showing that humanity, facing the extraordinary threat that pushes them at the brink of extermination, are able to put away their differences and unite as one, and through unity fight back together to live another day.
  • Before Sunrise, in spite of being an unabashed celebration of the joys of young love, is actually more cynical than the typical Hollywood romance because it doesn't end on an unambiguous Happily Ever After for its couple. Its sequel Before Sunset moves a couple more notches to the cynical side with its characters having grown up and married/dated other people, but there's still enough idealism to edge out the cynicism. The second sequel Before Midnight is easily the most cynical entry of the trilogy with its unflinchingly honest and unvarnished depiction of a long-term relationship, but retains a kernel of idealism that prevents a Downer Ending. So in summary, the Before trilogy is definitely more cynical than the typical film romance, even in its clearly idealistic first installment, but is careful to keep enough idealism in even its most cynical installment to remain a love story at its core.

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