Nothing is what it seems—ever. People have repeated clichés like this so often that we dismiss the wisdom they contain. We forget what truth they actually represent because we have sullied them with our repetition and unquestioning minds to the point that they are unrecognizable.
Weaving an underlying spirit of reflective genius into homage, as well as a critique of the post Golden Age of Hollywood, “Hail Caesar!” leaves the audience with more questions than answers—a trait that marks timeless films. Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix, a fixer for Capitol Pictures who does a lot of fixing. Throughout the film, Mannix fixes the problems that his leading stars—Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), and DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson)—get into. The film is a presentation of a day in the life of a production head who is tasked with keeping the shiny stars of Hollywood twinkling on the silver screen, and not on the Earth where they are all simply human beings.
Eddie Mannix is an idealist, holding himself and his stars to a high public standard, whether that standard is an actor or actress performing in the way the studio wants, or if the standard comes in the form of his own ethical beliefs. When his stars fall and his morality breaks, he fixes the situation through fictitious stories, fabricated truth, and forceful intimidation. Afterward he goes to confession to be absolved of his sins. Oddly enough, Mannix is a deeply religious man, with overwhelming guilt, making a motion picture about Jesus Christ, the savior who is central to the very religion of which he is a part. He is so concerned with the outward appearance of himself, his actors and actresses, and his beloved studio that he doesn’t realize the brokenness of everyone and everything around him. Yes, he fixes it with fiction, but he is a blind man painting a broken fence. He never truly sees the brokenness or asks why he has to fix everything.
In one of the more humorous scenes, Mannix gathers together four religious leaders––a Catholic priest, a Protestant pastor, an Orthodox priest, and a Jewish rabbi––to consult on whether or not the public will take offense to the depiction of Jesus in the movie his studio is making. The ensuing dialogue is sharp and bitingly comical in its authenticity, but goes to prove that Mannix is all about the surface. As long as everything looks perfect on the outside, the inside can be polluted with all the brokenness it took to make that image.
The film ultimately questions the stories humans tell. It questions the lies in everyday life, the embellishments with which we decorate ourselves, and the fabrications we smear other people with. It leaves nothing sacred, even in its light-hearted romp. It tears at the fabric of the silver screen of Hollywood, the dogmas of religions, and the theories of political systems. It references everything from misinformation in journalistic reporting to the scandalous Hollywood Blacklisting of the 1940s and 50s. Nothing is safe; nothing is what it seems.
Perhaps the real wisdom of “Hail, Caesar!” is not on the surface—where all the spectacle in filmmaking is—but is in the film’s ability to foster a questioning attitude in the viewer.
If one thinks for a moment that the Coen brothers’ latest film is ordinary, uninspired, or forgettable, perhaps he misunderstands the wisdom that lies beneath the surface of the screen. Regardless of differing opinions about the film itself, due in part to a lack of knowledge of movie history, and the brothers’ mesh of filmmaking and philosophy from Joel and Ethan Coen respectively, this film is an irreplaceable gem in the Coen brothers’ combined cinematic crown.