Occupy the multiplex: Class warfare in this summer's movies

Doesn’t the movie theater seem a little Marx-ish lately? Tales of class struggle abound this summer. At the current multiplex, you might choose from The Purge (about a future dystopia where class warfare breaks out on the one night of the year when crime goes unpunished), The East (about an agent who infiltrates a group of anti-corporate saboteurs and comes to sympathize with their cause), Now You See Me (a group of magicians who stage Robin Hood-style robberies), The Bling Ring (a true story in which the haves steal from the have-mores), and This Is the End (in which Seth Rogen, James Franco, and other pampered stars—playing more fatuous versions of themselves—discover that wealth and fame offer no protection from the apocalypse and the pits of hell). They’ll be joined in August by Elysium, a futuristic sci-fi tale in which the wealthy elite live in a space station orbiting the Earth while the poor live on the ruined planet below.

Conservative critics will find such fare to be par for the course in liberal Hollywood, but they’re a rarity. It’s certainly not typical to find films that mean to make you think, even for a moment or two, about class issues that our discourse usually avoids, especially during a summer movie season that’s typically about superheroes, aliens, and zombies. Besides, Hollywood movies are typically about consumption, making viewers covet the protagonist’s lifestyle and serving as a de facto commercial for his or her favorite consumer goods. (Man of Steel has more than 100 global retail partners who’ve ponied up $160 million for Superman’s implied endorsement.)