Director: Jacob Tierney
When I started this site, I never thought I’d be writing about a teen comedy in the project to document, analyze, and display films with strong Leftist themes. But after seeing the film The Trotsky, that had to change. A teen comedy filled with references to the Spanish Civil War, a Ken Loach retrospective. Its director described it as “Reds in high school that makes you laugh” (YouTube video)
The film has a very bizarre premise: the main character Leon believes that he is the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky. And to top that off with being a teen film, it was certain to make for a strange film (which isn’t to say a bad film). The main conflict (or contradictions) in the film revolves around the main character trying to live out his life the way that Trotsky did. Through this process he finds him self on more than one occasion trying to unionize (first his father’s workplace, then his high school).
The structure of the film is similar to many teen comedy films, and at first I felt that the premise was just a “wacky plot device” instead of an actual attempt to discuss the nature of class struggle. But as the film developed, the message of social justice and organizing resistance became the driving force and motivation for the characters. After a while into the film, the illusions of being the reincarnation of Trotsky took a backseat to the main characters drive to organize his fellow students.
One of the major themes in the film is about the struggle between “apathy and boredom” of the youth of Canada (which can certainly be applied to the United States as well). The principal of the school (an authoritarian or repressive figure for the film) is sure that the students are apathetic to the plight of Leon, and after the first attempt to organize a walk-out of class: the principal seems to be right, as most of the students do not take it seriously even though they walked out.
As Leon wrestles with this throughout the film, he plots on how to best mobilize his high school against their conditions to give them a voice. This is what the unique aspect of the film should be seen as and is what made me consider the progressive themes in it to not just be a plot device, but instead are the goal of the film.
This progressive message, guided by achieving socialism for the main character, is an interesting thing to appear in a film like this, and while it certainly won’t achieve a “wide release” that many Hollywood teen comedy films do, it’s an excellent contribution to the genre that for reasons that ought to be obvious aren’t of interest to the Left. But the way in which the contemporary youth, and the perceived apathy, are dealt with in the film is an interesting take that offers a bit of optimism for a generation who is often labeled one that just “doesn’t care.”