Anna Chen – 2 October 2023
Don Quixote in the White House: Hollywood deconstructs the narrative
Now that the writers’ strike in the US is over, I can pitch my script for that blockbuster version of Cervantes’ classic crying out to be made: Don Quixote in the White House, updating windmills to stray weather balloons, complete with paranoia and mustache-twirling villains. (Oh. Democrats don’t do facial hair?)
I’ll be putting the donkey into Don Quixote. Maybe work in a nice tune. Hey, Madonna can sing the theme song, give Ted Nugent a break.
We got a red-hot A story – the trials and tribulations of Don Quixote, our hero in his sunset years running the world, getting into scrapes, his mentis not quite as compos as it should be.
He’s an elderly, forgetful, stumbling protagonist, just like the original Don. No, not that one (he’s busy right now – more trial than tribulation), I mean DQ, the lovable old guy from the story.
Character flaws? Plenty. Regrets? He has a few. But then again, too few for the press to mention. A man of mystery, there’s a touch of of something untoward in the background keeping us hooked. Did he? Didn’t he? Loves his family. Is a fool for his reprobate son who, in a hilarious reversal of everything else in his eyes, he sees with a glowy halo and angel wings. Did I mention character flaws?
The B-story is a light romance set in the world’s seat of power. He loves Xi but the sweethearts fall out over a misunderstanding that Xi wants to ditch him and run off with Europe. We open with DQ defending his squeeze: “China is going to eat our lunch? C’mon, man.” Just to show he was lucid once so mebbe, the movie promises, we can get him there again.
What’s at stake? Only the survival of the entire world.
After he falls for this comical misapprehension, the rest of the movie is spent struggling to restore equilibrium against a spiral of decline. The A and B stories intersect and turn each other in a rising crescendo of mistake after mishap after disaster until they come together at the end, the problem resolved in an explosive payoff – Ka-boom!– and we all live happily in the hereafter.
At the start, a choir is telling him, “Now play nice.” OK, they’re minor characters: we kill them off in a car crash in Act One. The other, the devil in his ear, is dragging him to hell in a handcart – we’ll give that one a British accent.
He commits a series of boo-boos so comically absurd, they’ll have the audience in stitches. Literally. Crimea river and pass the cookies.
With all this screaming hysteria going on, this is where the weather balloon comes in. We know it’s innocent. Xi knows it’s innocent. Senior American General Milley knows it’s innocent and says so, loudly and several times. But still DQ shoots it down. “No, don’t, baby, you’ll only look silly,” Xi pleads with him but, Grrr, he sets his Raptors on to it and shoots that bad boy down.
As if that’s not enough, there are two massive snakes he has to fight in an exciting sequence of subterfuge, sabotage and derring-do. Actually, they’re only oil pipelines, not the mythical serpents of his imagination. Being the gentleman that he is, though, he won’t take credit for decapitating them but pushes Sancho Panza up front to take a bow.
Is it a misunderstanding? Senility? An over-eagerness to grab his former love’s attention? Who knows? Soon, every bozo is jumping on the spy-balloon bandwagon, radiating in intensifying circles of comic horror tragedy.
Across the world, every two-bit, dime-a-dozen demagogue, any politician or public figure in need of a reputation cleanser or career booster realizes they can play the China “Get out of jail free” card, ready made for every grade ‘n’ shade of no-goodniks.
In Great Britain, there’s fun-and-frolics in deflecting their flaming nosedive on to China. “Human rights” is the watchword for the biggest Empire ever (except for the US). Reds in the bed, spies in Parliament, no charges in court.
They ban Chinese teachers, replacing them with Taiwanese teachers who don’t have Mandarin as first language, because “spying.” In a call-back to Freedom Fries, they’re only allowed to teach Democracy Mandarin. Ho fun noodles are now no-fun noodles because everything Chinese is a spy. And Britain should know. As the longest-lived, oldest spy network in history, they wrote the book.
Not just Johnny English. All DQ’s little friends get in on the act. Nazis in Parliament? The Russians made us do it. Running away with tech? The Chinese stole our IP. A $33 trillion debt? It’s China that’s collapsing.
So, after promising his lost love, “No, honey, I don’t want to contain you. Let your spirit run wild, fly free,” we realize what he really wants is to put a leash and a muzzle on her and take her for walks.
The DQ gets a catch-phrase: “Not on my watch.” Or “Oh, no, better not let peace break out.” Or how about, “Xi’s a dictator.” Or is that too bitter?
We’ve established him as likable, and earned him sympathy by making him good at his job. OK, he fails at that, but he tries – a goldmine of comic relief. As his inner motivation changes places with his outer skin, transforming him into the villain, we recognize the human dilemma: that we are all a seething mess of contradictions and confusion. Especially him! Big Reveal: he was his own antagonist all along!
So: we need an actor who can capture the full range of his complexity.
I was thinking Chuck.
No, “cold, dead fingers” Chuck. Heston. Ben Hur. Remind me about the doll when we cast the sequel.
Waddya mean Chuck’s dead? He’s playing the president – how will they tell?
If we strapped Chuck as Dead El Cid to the back of a charging steed and slapped it into the battlefront, we can do that with Chuck as DQ. CGI is your friend.
Too far-fetched? Nah! Art imitates Life imitates centuries of Art and eons of BS.
What the audience comes to realize at the end is, this is the movies. It’s all projection.
This script is perfect – who can we get to rewrite it?