A 2006 film with dark political satire by Robert Howard, starring Donald Sutherland and Ralph Fiennes. It explores themes of revolution, terrorism, freedom and memory, playing on many real historical examples.
Warning: spoilers ahead.
Opening in a land aptly named Everycountry ruled by Maximilian II ("Baby Max") (Tom Hollander), son of a Mussolini-like dictator, it revolves around Joe, a prison guard (Ralph Fiennes) and imprisoned dissident writer Thorne (Donald Sutherland). Thorne speaks with Joe, impressing him by his idealistic convictions, protesting his treatment by refusing to wear a prison uniform and using his own feces to write on the walls. Maximilian II, or Junior, is shown to be dangerously unstable, running the country's film industry and churning out cheap action movies. This may be a reference to Kim Jong-Il, son of the late North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung who had done the same.
Publicity of Thorne's protest raises opposition, and Baby Max orders him tortured into a false confession on live TV. It backfires when Thorne blinks Morse code to say it's been forced. In the end, he is released and made a member of Parliament, on the lines of Nelson Mandela.
Thorne bears a certain resemblance to Karl Marx in his appearance, with disturbing indications of his authoritarian bent that are proven sadly correct. Joe, being made a palace guard, sees Junior's depravity up close and personal, causing him to join Thorne for real. The rebels break in to kill him and the First Lady after a Kangaroo Court show trial of maybe ten minutes. Joe becomes the hero of the revolution, and Thorne is now leader.
The rot sets in quickly, however. Women are made to wear Muslim-style coverings, vegetarianism becomes mandatory, intellectuals or educated people are sent to reeducation camps, and the references pile up quickly to Iran, Cambodia, Russia, China, etc. Joe realizes the new regime is equally bad or worse than before, refusing to swear loyalty to it. He is placed in a reeducation camp, where inmates are indoctrinated to be happy with the bare minimum and love the leader. Thorne visits it and doesn't recognize him.
At last Joe appears to submit, but outside people are revolting anew. Thorne is killed by his wife in the bath, a la Marat, and the boy nephew of Junior is put in power. Joe, however, being part of the revolution, is not released when the nephew of Baby Max is made the new leader. It becomes unclear what is real or not as he writes of his experiences, apparently hallucinating visits by his family. A reference by Thorne earlier to Rudolf Hess being left alone in jail, with it torn down after he died because the memory of him had been too much, gets born out with Joe. He knows too much and will not side with any oppressor.
This film contains examples of:
- 2 + Torture = 5: The new regime apparently mandates vegetarianism, and forces dissidents in the re-education camps to recite: "A dry crust of bread is better than nothing, but nothing is better than a big juicy steak. Therefore, a dry crust of bread is better than a big juicy steak." Plus of course "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down."
- Call-Back: "Nothing is better than a big juicy steak."
- Full-Circle Revolution: People become disgusted with the new regime, overthrowing it also.
- Kangaroo Court: When the rebels storm the palace, Thorne gives the dictator "Baby Max" and his wife a show trial of perhaps ten minutes. He's the judge, while one of the others is the prosecutor. Naturally, he gives them both the death sentence and carries it out himself.
- La Résistance: Citizens for Justice and Democracy, an opposition movement that become terrorists due to government repression. When they take over, it doesn't go well.
- Meet the New Boss: "Under the old regime man exploited man, but since the revolution it's the other way around."
- Mind Screw: Either Joe imagined most of the movie before he got put into the reeducation camp and then prison, or the regimes are very good at covering their tracks. Also, the reeducation itself.
- Persecuted Intellectuals: One of the signs the new regime is as bad as the old one is that they round up intellectuals and send them to re-education camps.
- Rebel Leader: Thorne, who began as a dissident playwright, headed the opposition, and was imprisoned for sedition. Inside he becomes steadily more extreme. After he wins, his regime becomes even worse, reminiscent of Mao, Khomeini & co.
- Rebellious Rebel: Joe becomes one of these when he realizes that their Rebel Leader is more than just a Well-Intentioned Extremist but Knight Templar bordering on Magnificent Bastard.
- Regime Change: The dictator is killed and his regime overthrown, but the revolution turns out just as bad or worse. Later it happens again, with the dictator's nephew installed.
- Russian Reversal: Joe acidly remarks to Thorne: "Under the old regime, man exploited man, but since the revolution it's the other way around."
- Shout-Out: Tons of them. Maximilian I resembles Mussolini, Thorne resembles Karl Marx, his writing on the prison walls with feces resembles the IRA "dirty protest", "Baby Max" is a probable reference to Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, son/successor of Haitian dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, his obsession with movies (and use of national resources to make really bad ones) appears to reference Kim Jong Il's history, and his overy long and ridiculous array of titles directly reference those of Idi Amin. The reeducation camps are much like those various communist regimes used, the reference to separating children from their parents and imprisoning intellectuals may refer to the practices of the Khmer Rouge and the clothing women are made to wear is very similar to that of Islamist Iran. Thorne's death scene is a visual reference to "The Death of Marat", and Joe's situation at the end explicitly echoes that of Rudolf Hess.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: "I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of such a unit, sir." (That is, Battalion Six, an elite anti-terrorist army unit.)
- Tall Poppy Syndrome: Referenced in the reeducation camp slogan of "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down" and explicit with the revolution's (claimed) egalitarian goals (though as with most such regimes they end up very unequal).
- The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Like many Real Life examples, they are no heroes themselves upon taking power. Even before taking power it is specifically mentioned that they bomb soft targets and impose "order" by force in lawless areas, collecting "taxes" by kneecapping people who refuse it, possibly referencing tactics of the IRA in Northern Ireland. After they're in power, of course, things go even more wrong.
- Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The Citizens for Justice and Democracy fought a mad dictator, but used terrorist tactics themselves and turned out even worse in power.