2012: Good Guy, Bad Guy and the American President

[The article got published in the Souvenir of IR Grand Reunion 2012 on October 13. I am an alumnus of the Department of International Relations at the University of Dhaka.]                                                                      

The media has substituted them for the older world. Even if we should wish to recover that older world we can do it only by an intensive study of the ways in which the media have swallowed it.

-Marshall McLuhan (Sontag, 1977)


‘2012’- a film by Ronald Emmerich Hollywood’s reigning king of catastrophe (Kois, November 13, 2009), came into public on 13th November 2009 with a view to making the audience experience the end of the world. While 2012 enthusiasts point to Nostradamus’ Lost Book, Bible codes, the WebBot computer project, the Hopi and Cherokee Indians, the I Ching (Chinese Book of Changes) and Mother Shipton to support their theory, it all ultimately goes back to the Mayans. The theory suggests that the world shall come to an end on December 21, 2012 through a mega natural disaster (Hitchcock, 2009). Ronald utilized this fashionable chronicle as the plot of the movie and came out immensely successful to draw the interest of the audiences across the world. The character of the American President played by Danny Glover interested me to read the film from ‘good guy bad guy’[1] perspective. This short piece shall examine the act, the text and the image of the American President in the film, and shall try to value the representation of the American President in International Society.

Most of the audiences are aware of the belief of a dooms-day in 2012 and I suppose, they have watched the film with a view to experience the disaster on screen. But, with the charismatic making of the most disastrous film in the history of cinema the audience gets a hold of the leadership, the authority, the wisdom, the cruelty and the humanity of so-called ‘the greatest nation’ – America. The American President’s character was assembled with a heavenly host and a humane property.

Good Guy, Bad Guy

Hypothetically there are no bad characters in a screenplay. The Good Guy and the Bad Guy is a comic western (directed by Burt Kennedy[2]) from Hollywood that pioneered this benchmark to study film characters with the dichotomy approach – Good Guy/Bad Guy. Later many theorists and critics have enriched the approach with their speculations time to time. To Jim Piper, ‘main characters can also be categorized into protagonists and antagonists; good guys and bad guys. Complex characterizations of “sympathetic bad guys” or “good guys who do bad things” are interesting and can make for more interesting viewing.’ (Piper, 2001)

Liltorp (2009) describes, ‘a character without contradictions is boring, non-human and almost impossible to put in dilemma, which are the situations where we learn about the true nature of the character; through their choices under pressure’. He also cites from Robert Mckee’s Story:

True character can only be expressed through choice in dilemma. How the person chooses to act under pressure is who he is – the greater the pressure, the truer and deeper the choice to character. (Liltorp, 2009: 50)

The theory assumes that there are basically four types of characters; they are the good good guy, the bad bad guy, the good bad guy and the bad good guy. A good good guy is blessed with all good characteristics all through the film. It is supposed that the hyper-realistic good good guys still need some flaws like they are too trusting, too confident and sometimes too devastating! For instance, the superheroes like the Super-Man or the Spider-Man are mythically constructed good good guys who have those mentioned flaws.

The Act

The acts and appearances of the American President in the film are very thoughtfully crafted. The audience finds a very finely tuned innocence in his looks, manners and actions. The first appearance of the American President is made at a classified conference participated by the Heads of the States and Heads of the Governments from politically and financially imperative countries. The last man enters the conference is the American President and, no wonder he presides over the conference where he, addressing ‘my friends’ makes the declaration of the imminent end of the world. He also asks to the world leaders to participate in a master plan to save the human race even after 2012. This little act projects the dignity, the leadership and the credibility of the American President to the rest of the world.

When the end of the world has begun and most of the world leaders are taking on board to escape, the American President decides not to deceive but to die with his people. His truthfulness and affection towards the people is appreciated through his actions just before his death. He goes to church and prays to God. He comes out on the street to see the suffering of his people and consoles a mother with a dying baby.  He sends her only daughter to join the escaping team and with tears asks for forgiveness to her; and thus proves himself a good father. He also remembers his departed wife before his death. Hence, the acts of the American President present him in the film as a very religious, noble and flawless guy.

The Text

It is none other than the text that mostly schemes a character. Obviously, dialogue helps audiences understand the characters’ personalities and motivations. The dialogues of the American President are very carefully written; as a result they are very short and precise. ‘Six months ago, I was made aware of a situation so devastating that at first I refused to believe it. However through the concerted efforts of our brightest scientists, we have confirmed its validity. The world as we know it will soon come to an end!’ (Emmerich, 2009) – This is how the American President addresses 2012 before the world leaders. While talking to a young scientist he articulates, ‘I will be the last president of America! Do you know how it feels son?…A young scientist will worth twenty old politicians.’ The articulation as well as the delivery of these texts formulates him a man of great wisdom, vision and devotion.

According to the master plan selected persons are taking on board when the American President refuses to join the cruise and shares an idea with the young scientist about a lottery that should have been used to select the persons as future leaders. He says, ‘everyone should have a chance to go. May be that’s [the lottery] what we should have done.’ Here, the audience finds his fair judicious mind. At the very last moment, he decides to entertain people’s right to know the truth and addresses the nation: ‘my fellow Americans…today, none of us are strangers; today we are one family. We are a nation of many religions, but I believe these words reflect the spirit of all our faiths.’ Significantly, he delivers his speech not as the American President but as a member of the nation. His words reflect the solidarity of the nation and inspire the unified of credence of the people. Through this dying declaration he reaffirms his leadership before the nation. All the people in the street are listening to his words as if they all were acknowledging his divine leadership.

Just before he dies, the American President tells his departed wife, ‘I am coming home Dorothy!’ That’s exactly what a very ideal spiritual person would say at a dying stage. Here the word ‘home’ signifies the heaven. He is very confident that his services to the humanity are good enough to award him a place in the heaven.

The Image

The mise-en-scéne[3](s) manufactures an image of a character in cinema. The efforts of the director to create a realistic and credible image of the American President in the film are pretty apparent. The mise-en-scéne properties of the scenes lead us to the fact that he is not that successful to do so. Rather, the audience perceives his simplicity at the very outset. Though he is given due protocol at his first appearance in the film, his looks looked more kind and simple. At every mise-en-scéne the audience is attached with his emotions and greatness. None of the shots has too many of objects or metaphors that could help the audience to grow a thought about his psychology. The audience is left only with his formal dress, simple office and conference room, very less decorated church and, then with his monologues and dialogues. Hence, the constructed image of the character can only be described as simple, sympathetic, and of course very economical.

Perception Analysis  

If we collect the qualities that were put into the character of the American President altogether, for instance, simplicity, nobility, thoughtfulness, economic, flawless, visionary leadership, sweetness, spirituality and unquestioned popularity; we should admit that he is no humane character in the film. The only thing he does like a human is he dies. Hence, depending on the good guy/bad guy assumptions we can say that the American President is one of few good good guys in the history of world cinema.

Julia Galeota, a seventeen-year-old writer writes in her prize-winning essay, ‘the proliferation of American products across the globe is more than mere accident. As a byproduct of globalization, it is part of a larger trend in the conscious dissemination of American attitudes and values that is often referred to as cultural imperialism’ (Galeota, 2004: 22). Here, the character of the American President as a product has been sold with purposes to serve cultural imperialism. With the huge success of the film all over the world, the producer has successfully projected the leadership of American President, and has also justified the recent debated role of America in global crisis.

Susan Sontag in her famous book ­On Photography (Sontag, 1977) states, ‘a capitalist society requires a culture based on images. It needs to furnish vast amounts of entertainment in order to stimulate buying and anesthetize the injuries of class, race and sex. The camera’s twin capacities, to subjectivize reality and objectify it, ideally serve these needs and strengthen them.’ 2012 is no doubt serving in order to objectify the American President to the rest of the world. According to the statement of McLuhan initially cited, every moment the actuality of the world is being substituted by mediated the reality. The real character of American president has already been substituted by a mediated American President crafted by a capitalist view. If somebody after some years want to look into how the American President was in 2009 and around, s/he would find a very good good American President who led to save the human race!

Thus, in film we have good guys, we have bad guys and now we have a guy who is human but blessed with heavenly host. The guy is near to God.


Film has emerged as the greatest mass media in terms of communication as well as impact. Due to its very lucrative and conversed plot, 2012 has attracted and thereby has influenced a big portion of world common people. Through the subjective exercise of the making of the American President the producer of this film has projected and uplifted the image of the United States. In the language of International Relations; if we count the states as individual actors in international politics, of course the film suggests that the United States is leading. The Americanization and the cultural imperialism are justified. Those who criticize these two phenomena have to identify the role of capitalist images through films like 2012.


Corrigan, T. J. (2009). A Short Guide to Writing About Film. New Delhi: Dorling Kindersley.

Emmerich, R. (Director). (2009). 2012 [Motion Picture].

Galeota, J. (2004). Cultural Imperialism: An American Tradition. The Humanist , pp. 22-25.

Hitchcock, M. (2009). 2012, the Bible and the End of the World. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers.

Kois, D. (November 13, 2009). 2012 is a perfect disaster. Washinton: Washington Post.

Liltorp, S. (2009). Good Guy/Bad Guy. (R. Raskin, Ed.) POV: A Danish Journal of Film Studies (28), 49-53.

Piper, J. (2001). Get the Picture?: The Movie Lover’s Guide to Watching Films. Newyork: Allworth Press.

Sontag, S. (1977). On Photography. Newyork: Penguin Books.


[1] ‘Good guy bad guy’ is an approach often used to study the characters of literature, drama and film.

[2] http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0447944/ (August 14, 2012)

[3] Mise-en-scéne is a French word refers to all the properties of a cinematic image. It includes lighting, costumes, sets, acting and movement of the camera. (Corrigan, 2009)

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