From vampire comedies to historical biographies, does the extreme variety of 2023 films and TV shows reflect the deeper feelings from the year? 

With another year in the books, many are reflecting on the transformative and iconic movies and TV shows 2023 had to offer. From historical dramas surrounding the “father” of the atomic bomb to a humorous mockumentary following a group of vampires living in Staten Island, 2023 was a diverse and unusual year of film and TV success. This seemingly drastically contrasting lineup of TV shows and movies raises the question of whether these films and shows reflect the tumultuous and intense feelings of 2023. 

Following the recent decisions US President Joe Biden made supporting and funding Israel’s attacks on Palestinians, many previously democratic voters are questioning whether they are willing to vote for him again in the upcoming election. With the “unusually high level of dissatisfaction with the major party candidates”, a sense of insecurity and nationwide disdain for the political decisions of American leaders has led to an influx of younger generations taking politics and social justice into their own hands; they are finding their voices and pushing for self-expression and reconstruction of national and global powers. Through boycotts, protests, and social media, young Americans are taking the country by storm, and this is reflected in a handful of movies and shows in 2023. 

Protesters attend a rally in solidarity with the Palestinian people outside the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 04 November 2023. EFE/EPA/WILL OLIVER

One of the most anticipated movies of 2023, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, focuses heavily on the ideas of self-determination and reforming a corrupt system. Barbie’s battle with defeating the patriarchy established in Barbie Land and her struggles with where she belongs in society call attention to the imperfections of the real world that require systemic change and unity of the people. Similar to the themes of Barbie, the film Poor Things, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, follows Bella Baxter’s sci-fi-esque journey of self-discovery and stepping out of the confines of patriarchy and society. The growing feelings of resentment towards political powers in America are similar and apparent in the paths taken with these movies. Feeling trapped and angered by an overpowering body and taking the personal steps to fight for what is right.

This sense of self-expression and going against an oppressive system is also a prevalent theme among the popular queer TV shows, What We Do in the Shadows (season 5) and Our Flag Means Death (season 2), where, despite its comical and satirical take on vampirism and piracy, it furthers the feelings of adapting and overcoming. Pirate culture follows the notion of defying oppressive authority and taking matters into your own hands, which is utilized in Our Flag Means Death, where both Stede Bonnet and Edward Teach attempt to escape the oppressiveness they feel in their lives in order to be together. Regarding the idea of vampires in What We Do in the Shadows, which oftentimes also represents a defiance of authority and a wave of new, progressive ideology, these vampires try to navigate the modern times and adapt to their environment in order to better themselves and their situation.  

Image credit: Apple

Going hand in hand with the concepts of breaking free from old views and finding your voice that were threaded throughout multiple pieces of 2023 media, historical biographies that call attention to the faults of American history. Martin Scorcese’s new film, Killers of the Flower Moon, follows the real story of the 1920s FBI investigation after the massacre of the Osage Nation found oil in Oklahoma. While the representation of the Osage Nation is debatable, the film does make full attempts to bring light to a forgotten part of history where American greed led to the murder and oppression of indigenous nations. 

The film, Oppenheimer, shares the history of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man behind the atomic bomb. Christopher Nolan zooms in on the life of Oppenheimer, leading up to his creation of the bomb and its devastating usage in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While this movie appears more biographical, its thorough telling of Oppenheimer’s notorious creation and America’s brutal utilization further perpetuates criticisms and questions of morality towards the American government and its history. 

Despite the drastically different sides of the film and TV spectrum in 2023, ranging from an upbeat movie about a beloved childhood doll to a dense film showing the hard truth of the treatment of indigenous people in America, social commentary and criticisms of America remained a recurring and impactful theme. Given the substantial changes in opinions and views people feel in America towards their political figures and policies, the media produced in 2023 is highly reflective of these feelings. Darker comedy also remained a fairly relevant and recurring feature of the films and shows from the year, which further hones in on the feelings of uncertainty and anger towards the state of the country in 2023, but also the persistence and resilience of the people to keep pushing forward and make light of the situation for betterment and reform. 

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