Stargate Review

Ok. So I just went to see this movie, Stargate. The movie is about how in 1920 the US made an archeological discovery in Egypt which the government confiscated pretty quickly. This in itself is interesting because it was actually Britain who controlled Egypt at the time. Anyways we cut to the present day where one archeologist, Dr. Daniel Jackson (James Spader), is having a terribly difficult time convincing scientists that the pyramids are, in fact, much older than we suppose. He is down to his last pennies when he is picked up by the air force and taken off to a very top secret lab where these “long lost” ruins are kept. So the air force (of all people) have been conducting research on the project for two years. Which means it sat there since 1920. It turns out that the hieroglyphs are a map with coordinates to open another artifact, the stargate. The earth men send a robot probe through and, after it transmits back that the other planet is habitable, it promptly runs out of juice. So the military decides to send a group of men through on a reconnoscence mission and this is where the interesting subtexts begin to show. The group is led by Colonel Jonathan “Jack” O’Neil (Kurt Russell) who has been depressed ever since his son shot himself. Once they get to the planet they appear in a replica of the Giza pyramid complex and find other humans who spend pretty much all their time mining special crystals. Unfortunately, Dr. Jackson can’t find the coordinates back. It’s just a matter of looking around, he feels. The people have been forbidden from writing or reading and when he tries to show them the symbols they need to return, the people take him away to be washed. After that they bring a beatiful young girl into his room. He doesn’t want to have sex but he does want to show her the symbols. At first she resists but then she draws the symbol he wants to see. Which looks like this:


It turns out that she is no novice to the world of writing and she takes him to the underground tunnels where there are lots of symbols written on the walls. It is here that he learns to speak their language (based, basically, on hyroglyphics). He reads that an alien was about to die but tried to cheat death. He visited another world in his ship and one little boy was adventurous and came close and the got inside his body and possessed it, like a parasite. By transferring from body to body he could perpetually cheat death. He had first visited earth but then the earthlings eventually kicked him out and he skedadled off to some other planet (presumably this one). He had also learned from his mistake and not allowed these new slaves to read or write. Anyways, as Dr. Jackson is reading all of this, the alien comes back, takes control of the pyramid (and the stargate) and begins capturing all the military folks (there are 8 or so on the mission).

The military people would have been doomed but they have instilled the spirit of revolution in the slaves. They rise up and, after some touch and go fighting where tens of people die, the slaves use the American technology to beat Ra’s henchmen. Ra tries to escape but his ship is blown up by a bomb that he intended to send to destroy earth.

The most striking theme in the movie is the way it sees American interventionism. Here a bunch of unprepared marines show up in a world they know nothing at all about. They don’t know its name and couldn’t even find it on a map. This turns out not to be a problem, despite the fact that no one can speak the Stargate World’s language very well. Doctor Jackson only figures it out in the last third of the movie. Even then it’s mostly an expedient to make the movie more enjoyable for the viewers as we now get subtitles instead just gibberish. In the movie everything is simple. Nothing is complicated. We see nothing of their real culture and problems, only glimpses of our common humanity. Having a common spoken language is nothing compared to the shared experience of fighting oppression. Released in 1994, the USA was still flush from the first Gulf War, our victory over Iraq, and our freeing of Kuwait. No surprise that there’s a desert theme. This is truly how we Americans saw ourselves and our foreign policy. As my brother Felix would say, “we were drinking our own Kool-aid.”

The second interesting thing was the reaffirmation of traditional family values and heterosexuality in the movie. For one thing the movie has virtually no women. There are some civilian women working on the project back on earth, most especially the daughter of the original archeologist who discovered the stargate. She serves as a kind of mother figure for Dr. Jackson. Then there’s Jackson’s beatiful girl who is offered to him by the leader of Stargate World. There are some old women who playfully wash (fluff?) Jackson before he meets his girl but that’s mostly just to establish that both Earth and the Stargate World are procreative. Jackson and O’Neil are heterosexual men, to be sure, and actually this needs establishing because they stand in stark contrast to the alien and his entourage. Despite the way he presents himself in the King Tut mask (complete with phallic beard) he looks mostly like a girl.

In fact, Ra doesn’t seem to be able to reproduce like us humans and as a result has to resort to keeping a harem of submissive boys around him as well as strong male guards in kinky outfits:

To contrast Ra’s court, there is the reaffirmation of traditional American values. There is a fairly overt scene where a Kurt Russell and a long haired boy in a halter top (showing his midriff) first shows him how to light his lighter and then the boy reaches for cigarettes he later reaches for Russell’s gun and Russell becomes angry and says it’s dangerous. The boy parallells the boy who is first intruiged and then entered by the alien. Russell, who is not gay, warns the boy off from his own sexuality. The movie is rife with sexual symbolism from the one pyramid penetrating another to the seventh symbol itself.


The most intense reaffirmation of traditional values is when Jackson refuses to touch the woman throughout the movie. Finally he hears someone say that he has already married her. Only after having heard that he did, in fact, marry her. He allows himself to sleep with her.

Overall, the movie was so thin that it was hard not to be distracted by the symbolism. I thought the movie was ok. But most interesting if anyone wants to know why the US got itself into the mess it’s in now.

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