Independence Day is, from its title to its characters to its plot, a patriotic film. Though this promotion of America and its culture is a manifestation of globalisation it can be argued that there is something more to be found in its national pride. That is to say that though the central conceit of the film – that of an American holiday becoming global, American ideals of freedom becoming globally relevant, and American society leading the world in a fight for American values – does seem to indicate a certain agenda behind its patriotism, it may be more reflective than imperialist. The sweeping clichés with which the film represents America as well as, more perfunctorily, other cultures speaks more of a mythic vagueness than of deliberate ignorance, and it is in this mythological self representation that Independence Day operates as a mediator and a redemptive fable.
The apocalypse blockbuster always operates on a basically self validating level, in that destruction of the protagonist society by external crises or threats is always represented as a tragedy. In films such as Armageddon and Deep Impact, in which civilisation is threatened with extinction by a natural enemy, in these cases by an approaching meteor, there is a certain indignance involved from the outset. These two films are excellent, almost hyperbolic examples of the self validation that the apocalypse plot usually relies upon. The reaction to a natural threat, a manifestation of cosmic chance, is one, as has been said, of indignation. The scenario preaches a certain ascension; that the human race somehow deserves to be immune to the whims of nature which threaten other species. This is a grand example of the way in which the apocalypse plot traditionally creates a parable of the intrinsic worth of its protagonists. In Independence Day, the protagonist is America, which replaces rather than represents the entire human race, and the threat is another culture, one that is alien, hostile, and fundamentally morally inferior. Thus the validation fundamental to the genre is directed at American society.
One can observe the cultural imperialist aspect of the film as secondary; once the premise has validated American society, its superiority to others emerges as an almost unintentional extension of the primary argument.
The America which is being validated a curiously non-specific, and one which may appear to have little relevance to any actual manifestation of American society. The film can be seen as having shockingly little substance, in that its plot is driven by characters with very little depth. The frenetic Jew, the comical homosexual, the innocent children, the slightly neurotic scientist, the exotic dancer with a heart of gold, and the handsome, funny, one punch knockout soldier; these are more like a collection of 21st century archetypes than actual characters. They are more indicative of modern mythmaking than of any kind of naturalistic approach to drama. Perhaps most notable of these neo-Olympians is the noble president: a square chinned family man of unspecified political affiliation; his place not in the middle, but in the uncoloured separation from, the political spectrum, more obviously than anything else indicates the way in which Independence Day works towards reconciling opposing aspects of American culture. America has always had, and continues to have, great problems with its national identity. Its culture lacks historical stability, or any kind of ethnic clarity, and politically the nation has oscillated between isolationism to idealistic military intervention; America seems to never be quite sure what it wants to be. This uncertainty can be summarised – necessarily briefly – in its presidential politics. Candidates promote their military service, yet also strive to maintain an impression of a caring family man. The American voting public wants their candidates hard, but also soft. This seemingly impossible combination is representative of the kind of schizophrenia which troubles American culture, and which is seen to be achieved and reconciled in the mythic America in Independence Day. The president is the ideal leader, an antithesis to Clinton, who was doubted and mistrusted at the time of release, and a perfect manifestation of the dynamism of Kennedy – an American myth in his own right – and the New Right ideology of Reagan.
This kind of ‘best of’ tapestry is evident throughout the film. The landscape is one of American urban landmarks, from the White House to the Empire State Building, and the plot is a patchwork of Hollywood clichés, employed lovingly to create a film which, by so heavily referencing its own genre and heritage, creates a myth of amalgamated shared cinematic memories. Where ancient myths were woven with such universal themes as love, betrayal, jealousy, and the like, Independence Day creates a myth by employing iconic images, plot points, and cinematic moments.
A setting which is a dreamlike amalgam of American cinematic memories populated by modern archetypes: this is the mythic platform from which the redemptive parable can be told. It validates American culture through unquestioned merit in the face of danger, exorcises American guilt by vindicating an alien culture which is largely composed of the worst aspects of American politics – militarism and a parasitical consumption of natural resources – and reconciles the opposing polarities of American culture. America is redeemed, victorious, and unified, transparently fictional but thoroughly reassuring, in the myth of Independence Day.