Who says young people aren’t politically motivated? From New York to Oakland, the men and women of the Occupy movement have put their comfort and their safety on the line to demand, um, a whole lot of things. Which underscores the problem: mass energy is a beginning, but it needs to be channeled into a fine point by charismatic leaders who know, as Leon Trotsky did, that “insurrection is an art.”
But where will we find the Bolshevik-Leninist leaders who will lead us from Zuccotti Square onwards to the Permanent Revolution? Try the pleasant, bourgeois streets of Montreal. That’s the plot of The Trotsky, a 2009 Canadian indie comedy that locates the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky — an original Russian communist who was eventually exiled and then assassinated on the orders of Joseph Stalin — in a 16-year-old Canadian high school student. Leon Bronstein (Jay Baruchel), which good Reds will know was Trotsky’s real name, is convinced that he is the Bolshevik leader reborn, and decides that he must live out his life in the exactly the same way as Trotsky did. That means a clash with his factory-owning capitalist father-in-law, a romance with an older woman (preferably named Alexandra) and an effort to unionize his high school in the face of boredom and apathy.
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If this all sounds a little Rushmore, it is, from the dorkily charismatic young student unshakably convinced of his destiny to the burned out older mentor inspired to rejoin life. But The Trotsky, written and directed by 32-year-old Montreal native Jacob Tierney, has its own small pleasures. Baruchel, whom you might know as the most nebbish of the Judd Apatow crew, can rock a pair of steel-rimmed spectacles and bring advanced socialist thought to bear on the student council. But the real value here is the sharp writing, as when his would-be girlfriend notes that for a Marxist, the reincarnation-professing Bronstein “is a hell of a Hindu.” Tierney lovingly shoots his home city of Montreal, which comes to seem as pretty as Paris, only with English-speakers who like mayonnaise on their French fries.
Occupy Wall Street protesters might have a little more time on their hands now that they’ve been ejected from Zuccotti. They should stream The Trotsky on Netflix and brush up on their dialectical materialism.
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