Understanding Trump And US Politics Through The Lens Of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis

April 9, 2023
Understanding Trump And US Politics Through The Lens Of Baz Luhrmann's Elvis

Baz Luhrmann has triumphed again with some fast-paced, layered cinema, delving into the behind-the-scenes story of the Elvis phenomenon and in doing so has created an allegorical tale that sheds light on Trump and US politics.

Elvis, the movie, focusses on the rock legend’s story from the perspective of his manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks).

Parker reflects that the punishing schedules he submitted Elvis (Austin Butler) to, did not kill him, in fact, the Colonel tells us he should only be remembered for “making” Elvis.

And this is where the allegory begins, with Colonel Tom Parker representing Donald Trump, and Elvis representing the talented and gifted nation of the USA.

I should note the movie is not a comprehensive allegory, but rather it aligns along the lines of major themes, namely:

  • The art of the snow job
  • The trust one has when being worked by a con man
  • The lesson about trusting one’s gut to escape

So let’s have a little less conversation and jump into the explanation.

The art of the snow job

Luhrmann elegantly captures the murky background of the Parker character.

In the story, Parker grew up in the circus and carnival world where he prided himself on learning how to trick people out of their money by titillating them with novelties and experiences that left them laughing while also feeling a little like they’d been given a taste of forbidden fruit.

This is the snow job. Set them up to look here, work your trick over there, make them laugh, then disappear with the money.

Most importantly, as we see time and time again in the movie, when Parker is called to account, when he is on the verge of having his lying revealed, he just ups the ante and makes the story bigger or turns on a dime and gives the people what they want to hear.

He really was the devil in disguise.

And that’s where we see the link to Donald Trump.

Trump’s career, particularly his presidency, has been manifest in brazen misdirection and the unstoppable production of distractions.

While he was accusing opponents of being snowflakes, he was pulling off a magnificent snow job.

United States citizens represent Elvis in this allegory. Parker knew how to convince Elvis that he could dream and have that dream come true. Likewise, Trump has developed the art of picking the scabs of insecurity while promising his people that he’ll make America great again.

In both cases, it’s the snowman who takes home the money.

The trust one has when being worked on by a con man

The movie is punctuated by scenes in which Elvis does the Colonel’s bidding; he convinces his parents to sign up to the Colonel, he dumps a girlfriend because he’d been told fans will need to think he was available, and he even chastises his troupe for daring to question the Colonel, despite raising some worthwhile criticisms of gauche commercialism creeping into the “Elvis show”.

When we reflect on the ridiculous low points of the Trump presidency, like poisoning the media with his “fake news” smokescreen, his stupidly-desperate claims about having the election stolen, and his cowardly fuelling of insurrection in the Capitol (while safely bunkered away from the action), we see Colonel Tom Parker all over again.

And just like watching a loved one in the grip of a cult, there’s nothing much you can do to dissuade the victim while they’re under the sway of a conman in full flight.

The lesson about trusting one’s gut to escape

Towards the end of the movie, Elvis starts seeing the light, and decides to break free.

But the Colonel prevails, alternating between anger and charm, until Elvis is back on board.

And before too long, the king of rock n roll is driven into the ground, dead at 42.

At this point in time, the US has freed itself from the greed-fuelled hypocrisy of Trump but will it slip back into his clutches?

This remains to be seen.

Hopefully, US voters will have enough suspicious minds to return Trump to sender, and maybe even expose him to a little jailhouse rock.