'Hillbilly Elegy' effectively addresses the crisis of modernity
The movie Hillbilly Elegy is an outstanding portrayal of what life is like for many in the white working class.
I was a little apprehensive since I read the book by J.D. Vance and really enjoyed it, but all of the three reviews I read for the movie based on the book were negative.
One thing they tended to say was that the movie is a cartoonish portrayal of what many call "white trash," and the performances of Amy Adams and Glenn Close weren't worthy of the topic.
But after seeing it, I strongly disagree. I would go so far as to say that both deserve Academy Awards for such unbelievably great performances. Although Adams got top billing as J.D. Vance's mother Bev, Glenn Close may have stolen the show with her portrayal of J.D. Vance's grandmother, whom he calls "Mamaw."
J.D. Vance himself appeared on Tucker Carlson's show Monday night, where they briefly discussed the movie and book based on his life toward the end of the interview.
Tucker asked him why the reviews have been so negative. Vance put his finger right on the answer when he said it was, and I'm paraphrasing, the bigotry of the elitist journalist class who don't like and would prefer not to see any movies about the struggles of the white working class in America, especially as it relates to those on the lower end, who are living on the razor's edge of surviving or falling into poverty. The only movies they prefer are those such as The Blind Side and others that tell the "heart-warming" stories of non-white people who are living in poverty but end up succeeding in life out of the charity of white Americans that are sure to make viewers warm and fuzzy all over as they walk out of the theaters. Carlson ended the discussion with a comment about how elitists hope middle- and lower-class whites just die and go away, which is exactly what's been happening due to globalism.
However, on a much deeper level, Hillbilly Elegy is more than a movie about the success story of a boy born to a white lower working-class mother where the odds of "making it" are stacked against him.
It's a perfect parable of the chaos and destruction that have been wrought upon the American family for nearly a hundred years as a result of the modernization of society.
J.D. Vance's life story is a perfect example of what Italian philosopher Augusto Del Noce (1910–1989) described in his The Crisis of Modernity. It all boils down to the secularization of society, where the marginalization of faith and the triumph of hyper-individualism has led to the breakdown of family, faith, and tradition that is at the root of virtually every social problem that exists today. From the back cover of the book:
Del Noce maintained that twentieth-century history must be understood specifically as a philosophical history, because Western culture was profoundly affected by the major philosophies of the previous century such as idealism, Marxism, and positivism. Such philosophies became the secular, neo-gnostic surrogate of Christianity for the European educated classes after the French Revolution, and the next century put them to the practical test, bringing to light their ultimate and necessary consequences. One of the first thinkers to recognize the failure of Marxism, Del Noce posited that this failure set the stage for a new secular, technocratic society that had taken up Marx's historical materialism and atheism while rejecting his revolutionary doctrine. Displaying Del Noce's rare ability to reconstruct intellectual genealogies and to expose the deep metaphysical premises of social and political movements, The Crisis of Modernity presents an original reading of secularization, scientism, the sexual revolution, and the history of modern Western culture.
J.D. Vance's life story is the perfect example of the pathologies of "the crisis of modernity" and of being born to a single mother. It's assumed she wants the best for him and his sister Lindsay, and at her core, Bev is a loving mother, but unfortunately she's fallen prey to all of the temptations of modern America, primarily a lack of discipline when it comes to sleeping around and drug use.
One can definitely be sympathetic to her situation, trying to work as a nurse while trying to raise two children where clearly the difficulties and stresses that come with being in that situation get the better of her and she can't deal with it. But time and time again, she sets herself up for failure and provides an unstable environment in which to raise J.D. and his sister. One has to walk it back and ask why Bev keeps setting herself up for failure.
As modern society has matured, the "sins" of pleasure-seeking such as promiscuousness and drug use became more prevalent and widely accepted, and so did the breakdown of the modern family at the heart of the crisis of modernity Del Noce describes in his book. So the reasons for Bev's failures and the chaos and destruction she brings upon her family is the manifestation of all that went wrong with the emergence of a secular society that has progressively eroded time-honored values to the point of throwing discipline and tradition out the window in the pursuit of escapism of daily life in the form of pleasure-seeking.
The most pivotal scene of the movie comes shortly after J.D. has gone to live with Mamaw because she recognized that living with Bev had gotten to the point where it was too detrimental to his well-being. They are driving home in her car after picking him up at a Radio Shack where he tried to steal an expensive calculator he needed for school. She ended up buying it for him, but on the way home, they get into an argument where she demands that he stops the destructive behavior of hanging out with friends who are a bad influence on him. He throws the calculator out the window in anger, and she stops the car and makes him go get it. She gives him an ultimatum: retrieve the calculator, or you're on your own.
She explains that he needs to think about his future, that she won't be around forever, and that he will have to learn to take care of himself and others.
You can practically see the light go off in his head, and from that point forward, J.D. displays the discipline and fortitude to move forward in life in a constructive way.
Without that moment of clarity with Mamaw, it's fairly likely that Vance would have fallen prey to the same temptations as his mother, leading to a life of non-stop chaos and self-destruction just like hers. Hillbilly Elegy shows exactly how these pernicious and calamitous byproducts of modern society have been the result of the slow-motion destruction of family, faith, and tradition that are required for a constructive and meaningful life. The full title of the book by J.D. Vance says it all: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.
Image credit: PxFuel, public domain.