Since I learned of its impending release, I have looked forward to seeing Trumbo. The film depicts the story of Dalton Trumbo, a Hollywood screenwriter who was blacklisted in 1947 along with other artists for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee of the U. S. Congress. Trumbo and other artists were accused of injecting Communist propaganda into Hollywood films. He spent eleven months in federal prison in 1950 for contempt.
In the 1976 documentary Hollywood On Trial Trumbo said of the trial:
"As far as I was concerned, it was a completely just verdict. I had contempt for that Congress and have had contempt for several since. And on the basis of guilt or innocence, I could never really complain very much. That this was a crime or misdemeanor was the complaint, my complaint."
The current film begins in 1947 when Dalton Trumbo (played by Bryan Cranston) was a leading screenwriter. Trumbo was a Community sympathizer in the 1940s and became a party member in 1943. He never denied these facts, but in the wake of Soviet aggression after World War Two, Communism was seen as a menace and those who were connected to it in any way as a threat.
The film is particularly interesting in light of our present political climate for it shows how politicians and aspiring politicians can take advantage of public paranoia to advance their careers and agendas. In Trumbo, we see vintage clips of actor Ronald Reagan, president of the Screen Actors Guild, testifying before the committee and “outing” Communist sympathizers. Richard Nixon, congressman from California, is seen in archival footage as well.
Although the film certainly takes liberties, we are given the opportunity to see screen icons like John Wayne (David James Elliott) and Hedda Hooper (Helen Mirren) leading the charge for “truth, justice and the American way” in attacking Trumbo and his associates. Actor Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg) is the conflicted friend who must choose between loyalty and his career. We also find heroes in Frank King (John Goodman), Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman), and Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) who played a role in Trumbo’s redemption and restoration.
Cranston portrays Trumbo as a driven and very human artist who often is too full of himself for his own good. The ensemble of actors who surround him give solid, realistic performances as people caught up in something they do not completely understand. Diane Lane and Elle Fanning as his wife and daughter respectively portray family trying to be supportive even when they do not fully agree with what Trumbo is doing.
Perhaps the role of both friends and family here is to illustrate the value of community in redemption. Some Christians emphasize a personal relationship with Christ while minimizing the importance of being part of the Body of Christ--the church. Redemption is rarely a solo experience but comes as part of a caring, supportive community of faith. Dalton Trumbo may not always acknowledge the importance of families and friends in his journey but they are depicted as a necessary part of that process.
Ultimately, the moral of the story is how easily we can turn on those who have something worthwhile to offer us because they have different politics, religion, or ethnicity. In order to function as a healthy society we need both the traditionalists and the innovators and must avoid demonizing either. Trumbo is a good reminder of that truth.