Vice: Exposing the Enigma of Dick Cheney

10 November, 2020
If you don't want to think, you'd better not see Vice. Adam McKay's latest film is loaded with sarcasm and invites the viewer to reflect on the course of their most recent history. Through the figure of Dick Cheney, he presents us with the most dehumanized side of power.

Among the nominees for best film at the 91st Academy Awards was Vice, directed and written by Adam McKay and starring an unrecognizable Christian Bale as Dick Cheney.

It was known that it was never going to win the award for Best Picture. We also knew that the Academy was never going to give it too many of the other awards. Even so, it’s still a film worth seeing, and one of the best among the nominees.

If you’ve seen The Big Short (McKay, 2015), you’ll know what you’re going to find: a film that oscillates between documentary and fiction and that’s loaded with acid criticism.

If you haven’t seen it, then make sure you do. You won’t be wasting your time. McKay made his intentions clear with that 2015 movie, a film in which he also trusted Bale in the main part, and in which he burst the real estate bubble.

Manipulation, intrigue, and lies

McKay seems to be determined to tell stories of manipulation, intrigue, and lies. Movies that originate from the very top of the pyramid of power and remain hidden from the sight of most people.

On this occasion, what we have is a biopic, but not a biopic tribute; in fact, it’s a sarcastic movie all round. The humorous, carefree, and wild tone enlivens its dramatic plot. Dick Cheney was nothing more than a shy bureaucrat who went completely unnoticed but he became vice president during George W. Bush’s mandate.

Vice attempts to explore this character and shows us how, from behind the scenes, he managed to pull all the strings of some of the most important events of our most recent history.

Politics doesn’t exist, it’s just a theater, and we’re all being totally fooled. That’s the feeling of despair that Vice leaves us with.

WARNING: Although we won’t reveal the whole plot, this article may contain spoilers.

Dick Cheney in the movie Vice.

Discovering Dick Cheney

In the credits, the movie presents itself as a true story or at least one that’s quite close to reality. The director informs us that it wasn’t easy to get into Cheney’s life (“We worked our butts off“, he said casually). He’s a closed book and an enigma to most people.

Vice, as its very name indicates, confirms our suspicions: power corrupts and is tremendously addictive.

Dick Cheney was a nobody… a young man who didn’t really stand out in anything. He wasn’t good at sports, he was expelled from university, and he spent his nights getting drunk and violent.

After watching the movie, the truth is that we almost preferred the “drunk Cheney” to the politician. At least, when he was an alcoholic, his actions didn’t have repercussions on a global scale.

A real monster

McKay doesn’t mince his words, he takes a stand and is determined to show us a real monster and other unscrupulous characters. Cheney’s wife, Lynne, for example, was in charge of initiating Cheney into politics.

She, as a woman, had it pretty hard, despite her excellent qualifications and her undoubted charisma. In order to quench her thirst for power, she convinced her husband to enter politics, and, almost without thinking, Cheney started to approach the engines of power.

Behind every great man there’s a great woman” goes the saying. The origin of this phrase is actually quite different, and it has been misunderstood. However, as far as this movie is concerned, it’s a perfect fit.

He begins as a mere civil servant, an invisible man in the midst of men of power. However, he’s cunning, silent, and very observant, and, little by little, he starts to occupy positions of greater and greater importance. In the United States, the figure of the vice president isn’t really a relevant one. It’s normally a symbolic position, but Cheney was the exception.

Cheney and his associates began their ascent into power with the help of the media and some of the country’s wealthiest families. Suddenly, the renewable energies and social policies that had been developed gave way to the paradise of the rich, of the great companies, and, in short, to power.

In one scene, at the cry of “God Bless America”, infinite solar panels are blown to smithereens. Yes, we’re talking here about a completely wild and shameless satire.

His best opportunity

Cheney, the man whose target had always been Iraq, saw his best opportunity after the 9/11 attacks. A named target with an identifiable position on the map. That’s what society needed, and Cheney didn’t hesitate to point it out. A liquid gold mine that the United States didn’t want to miss out on.

Without much charisma, but with unquestionable cunning and coldness, Cheney struck a blow that changed the course of our current history. “The people have spoken“, we’re told. Public opinion has been swayed and the people now supported the war. Objective achieved.

A scene from the movie Vice.

Vice, a humorous satire

Vice uses comedy throughout the movie but hides a very unpleasant truth. It’ll make you laugh, but you’ll also want to pull your hair out.

In the movie, there’s a narrator who astounds us with his comments, insights, and images. This narrator, whose identity isn’t revealed until the end, shows himself to be a working-class man. We see him at home with his family, at work, and even at war. Humility versus power… This satire makes even more sense with the words of the narrator.

Individual executive power and the law of impartiality are terms that are repeated over and over again throughout the film. Cheney was clear about what he needed: absolute control and to have the law on his side.

On-screen, a powerful slogan manifests itself at the top of the U.S. Supreme Court: “Equal Justice Under the Law“. However, at the same time, Cheney and his cronies are changing laws to get their way.

How did he get to where he did?

How did that young, inexperienced Cheney get to where he did? The viewer will be amazed as they try to get to grips with how this man turned into a totally dehumanized strategist who seemed to be almost omnipresent. Just like in a game of Monopoly, Dick took over more and more offices and area, while Bush was nothing more than the face that hid everything that was going on in the shadows.

In fact, the figure of George W. Bush is ridiculed quite strongly in the movie. There’s a scene, one of the best in the film in my opinion, that captures, through one simple gesture, the horror on both sides of the world. The horror of the men of power in all their “glory” in front of the cameras, and the horror of those invisible people whose families are being bombarded by those in power.

The satire is greatly reinforced in one of the film’s most epic moments its false ending. The first half of the film introduced us to Cheney and his rise to power. He’s shown as a family man, concerned about those closest to him, and capable of giving up everything for his family’s good.

Cheney with Bush

On the screen, we see an endearing American family happily spending a nice time with their Golden Retriever and takes us some credits that end rather abruptly. Is the film really ending? Were we really going to get a happy ending? No, not at all, the best, or the worst, is yet to come. From here on, the pace increases and we rush headlong through those terrible depths that bring us to our present day.

We’re unaware of what’s going on right in front of our eyes. The media manipulates us, the politicians play with us, and our future looks very bleak.

That’s how we leave the cinema, our heads reeling from what we’ve seen… from the tragic to the absurd. So who’s to blame for it all?

We could point to the main character in the movie, but he just points his finger right back at us. In the end, the one who teaches us a lesson is the very monster we’ve been hating throughout the film.

A necessary movie

Vice is a portrait, or caricature, of a terrible but extremely intelligent man. It’s an absolutely necessary movie, with a style reminiscent of documentary films like Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 11/9.

It dissects the whole plot behind the Iraq War, the addiction of power, and all those terrible lies that governments have told us over the years. Are wars fair? No, absolutely not. However, politicians try to justify them and sell them through the media, so that we can all point to a common enemy.

Quietly and very slowly, almost unnoticed, Dick Cheney reached the top and, when he got there, he controlled everything. Vice uses sarcasm to call for reflection and reminds us that people should always be our priority, even though some seem to have forgotten this. Like a sharp slap around the face, it hurts us, but, at the same time, it shocks us enough to wake us from our lethargy.