The first time I had seen this tense submarine thriller, I thought it was an exciting, well-acted and ideologically challenging piece of filmmaking.
However, when I recently revisited it, I was awestruck. Not because I had missed some technical, aesthetic or story beats from my first run-through, but because it seemed more like a premonition for current events: Trump and Kim Jong-un’s nuclear threat exchange.
Now, what has this potential global disaster – that we see perpetuated on 24-hour news channels, and a certain orange person’s twitter account – have to do with a successfully-made submarine thriller?
It is with the characters, particularly that of Gene Hackman’s Captain Frank Ramsey, that we are concerned with. Now, there are the obvious comparisons to be made: as Crimson Tide has long preceded Trump’s campaign, it is somewhat amusing to find Frank Ramsey, a character built in a parallel vein, sporting a red cap not dissimilar to Trump’s own ‘Make America Great Again’ attire.
However, these visual coincidences are not our primary affair. Instead, it is in Ramsey’s circumstances that we are interested. Because, not unlike Trump, Ramsey is faced with the threat of nuclear warfare from a Communist state: Russia for Ramsey, Korea for Trump. To clarify, Ramsey’s dilemma is that he is sent out on a mission to eradicate the radical Russian nationalists threatening to cause mass destruction, whilst clashing with his first officer Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington) in the process due to their ideological differences: Hunter wants direct confirmation from high command before dispatching the nuclear weapons, whereas Ramsey wants to take matters into his own hands, performing the initial order to launch the nuclear weapons, due to fear of imminent attack.
Ramsey’s demeanour is all too reminiscent of the overtly patriotic yet brash Trump, thus emboldening the comparison of the two. During a speech he delivers to his submarine crew, Ramsey, with his dog in tow, steps up to the podium and elicits the cheers and salutes of his men due to his devoted exclamation of their ship name, a name that ‘represents fine people’: Alabama. Without so much of an inkling of Trump’s future campaign, Tony Scott captures the essence and feeling of a Trump rally. Alabama being a state that so heavily supported Trump’s presidency – he secured over a million votes, and a 62.1% majority – its striking how its relevance to the scene makes one feel as though this were a recording of a Trump speech to his supporters: the men listen intently to what Ramsey has to say, conservative in their values and ready to fight those who would threaten this American way of life. This would seemingly include any radical nationalism, such as Russian for Ramsey and Korean for Trump.
However, as with Ramsey, Trump fails to realise that by inspiring this kind of opposition, he is instigating his own sense of patriotic, nationalist radicalism that equals that of Kim Jong-un’s; rather than negate the other, he has crafted an identical, ideological machine that leaves little in its destructive path. As such, both Trump and Kim Jong-un have flippantly threatened nuclear warfare, both clearly unclear on its overarching concerns. It would seem that Ramsey is faced with a similar naivety: despite his military credibility, his willingness to follow through with the nuclear attack, regardless of the possibility of a cancellation for said attack, indicates that he has a lack of altruistic apprehension for the possible eradication of a huge portion of human life.
Ultimately, it is with Ramsey’s opponent Ron Hunter that we must identify. Casting Washington is again a massive coincidence in the film’s mirroring of current events: the black man, standing up against a captain so recognisably evocative of Trump, a man who only recently refused to condemn far-right radicals chanting racist slurs and slogans. Even in the film itself, Ramsey, discussing a set of Portuguese horses with Hunter, describes them as ‘the most highly trained stallions in the world’, with the added detail ‘they’re all white’. This purposeful offense speaks to Trump’s ideological backing of the far-right, and considering the situation that Ramsey finds himself in, with the possible destruction of far-left radicalism, it is all too hard to find the warnings unsubtle. Rather than await the nationalist attack of the Trumpian right against those who threaten his position, we all need to take the stance reminiscent of Ron Hunter and refuse to take the racial discrimination and patriotic supplementation of aggression that Ramsey so vehemently validates.
Perhaps what is most disheartening about Crimson Tide, in relation to Trump’s current affairs, is that in spite of Hunter ultimately being proven right with the change in command, both him and Ramsey are victimised as having disrupted the system for which they function. They both exist in a broken system: the possibility of nuclear warfare should not be a viable option, and as such, Hunter should be commended for his reluctance to operate such weaponry. Without people like Hunter, the Trumps of the world are empowered to the point of oversight. While the ideological system may punish Hunter and Ramsey alike, it is better to struggle than to simply surrender to the impulsive actions of a radical such as Ramsey.
What may seem to many as nothing more than a well-made action thrill-ride, subsequently takes on a whole new identity when applied to current events. This is what makes cinema so worthwhile, and so significant. Within its trappings as mere entertainment, we find hidden secrets to reflect upon. With Crimson Tide, it is through the ideological interactions of Hunter and Ramsey that we find ourselves subjected to the fatal possibility of nuclear war, particularly one that is as politically driven by acts of radical national aggression on both sides. While all four sides of this conflict – Ramsey, the Russians, Trump, Kim Jong-un – are as equally defenceless in their suspect claims to superiority, it is with Hunter that we are meant to follow, identify with, support and invest in. Rather than claim any sense of supremacy, Hunter works for the betterment of allies and enemies alike, respective of human life, and irrespective of their radical values. While we must deter the violent and radical acts of any political movement, we can simultaneously learn a lesson from Frank Ramsey’s failures and Ron Hunter’s defiance: in each and every moment, we can make a difference, regardless of the dangers to our reputation within society.