Thoughts On: Sullivan's Travels - Piercing The Shell Of Pretentious Collectivism


Sullivan's Travels - Piercing The Shell Of Pretentious Collectivism

Quick Thoughts: Sullivan's Travels (1941)

A pretentious director wanders out into the world to discover what poverty and suffering are.

Though this highly romantic and, in many respects, just Hollywood patting itself on the back, Sullivan's Travels is a near-perfect movie and a personal favourite. Just as much a character study as this is a film about cinema and comedy, Sullivan's Travels follows a pretentious director who rejects his position in life and wants to make movies for masses and on subjects he does not show any true comprehension of. As we would then expect, this incites an adventure of sorts which sees Sullivan confront his ignorance and pretension and realise how to embrace himself.

Unlike The Band Wagon, Sullivan's Travels isn't just about Hollywood shunning ideas of cinema as important art that carries messages and subtext. Instead, Sullivan's Travels embodies the Hollywood romance and comedy whilst providing a subtle, yet profound, commentary on the way in which people coordinate themselves in the world. In such, this follows the kind of man who we all can identify in the present day as in the past: he who is overwhelmingly concerned with politics, society, big systems and questions of life, but is nonetheless pretentious. Pretension exudes from characters such as Sullivan because they do not project any sense of true and real character: they are not genuine. So, though Sullivan talks and acts on things he thinks are important, he embodies a persona that is abstract of himself and consumed in an empty ideology obsessed with a collective that is more nuanced and complex than it can conceive of. However, in confronting himself, Sullivan reveals his true self and thus attracts love and companionship. This demonstrates that true change and effect comes from genuity, not the teenager who has ideas of how to change the world. Nonetheless, Sullivan remains obsessed with impacting the world--and such naivety is actually his highest virtue. But, it takes Sullivan's 'death' for him to be re-born with a new understanding of himself; he realises that he can impact the world positively by embracing who he is: the director of 'dumb' comedies.

This beautifully constructed narrative perfectly comments on the destruction of a false persona so that a true individual can rise and induce an effect on the world that, whilst it is not utopian and of the highest ideals, comes from a place of individuality that resonates with the collective masses as an encapsulation of the highest form of truth that people can access: that of genuity, humbleness and honesty. As a result, Sullivan's Travels is not about the rich, bourgeois not being able to talk about the world, but finding your own voice and interacting with the world as an individual, not the collage of labels that an ideology would like to make you out to be.

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