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Headline Rewind: Royal Baby and The Last Emperor

On weekends when the Walker Cinema is empty, Headline Rewind points out other worthwhile films that respond to headlines from the week that was. News Event: Royal Baby Arrives Media and social media have been enjoying something of a frenzy over the birth on Monday of the son of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Bets were placed […]

On weekends when the Walker Cinema is empty, Headline Rewind points out other worthwhile films that respond to headlines from the week that was.

News Event: Royal Baby Arrives

Media and social media have been enjoying something of a frenzy over the birth on Monday of the son of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Bets were placed around the world as to what the new Prince’s chosen name would be, and he is now the first person to have their own Wikipedia page prior to being named.

So, in case you haven’t read the headlines in pretty much any major publication this week: spoiler alert! And the chosen name? George Alexander Louis, or Prince George of Cambridge. Since it’s announcement, the new appellation has already been heavily analyzed.

The newest member of the Windsor clan will be third in line for the throne, and along with excitement about the birth itself and the release of the Royal Baby Name, much of the media coverage has gone into covering itself—in The New Yorker, John Cassidy asks “Why Does America Give a Hoot?”, and The Guardian provided a comprehensive report on how different countries on “how the rest of the world covered the story.”

Already the subject of pre-natal scrutiny, the Prince now faces the distinct probability of a lifetime of public attention and high expectations, hardly a new story in the history of young children destined to become monarchs. And why is this spectacle such a spectacle? One of Cassidy’s interviewees pinpointed the exoticism of royalty in the modern day, an anachronism that draws our attention and makes for a good story.

Film Recommendation: Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor

One such story of a child destined for monarchy is made both deeply personal and sweepingly epic in Bertolucci’s 1987 masterpiece The Last Emperor. The film, beautifully shot by Vittorio Storaro, chronicles the life of Emperor Pu Yi, took the throne of China at age three, in 1908, structured as a counterpoint between the starkness of the present day—Pu Yi’s  internment and interrogation for alleged war crimes after the fall of Manchukuo—and the extravagance and tragedy of Pu Yi’s personal trajectory.

While Bertolucci received permission from the Chinese government to shoot the film on location in The Forbidden Palace, it fully avoids the danger of feeling like propaganda. Alternately glorifying and critiquing its subjects, it makes visible one version of what the new Prince George of Cambridge may have in store, in its nuanced exploration of how investing children, and human beings, as symbolic vessels of arbitrary power makes its effects on them as private individuals.

Featuring a score by Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Byrne, and performances by Peter O’Toole, Joan Chen, and John Lone as the Emperor Pu Yi, The Last Emperor won a well-deserved nine Academy Awards, and is arguably one of Bertolucci’s greatest contributions to cinema.

The Last Emperor is available on DVD/Blu-Ray and streaming on Netflix, and on instant viewing on Amazon and YouTube.