A lot of Tom Hanks movies help us untangle the complexities of the modern world: Philadelphia taught many of us about AIDS discrimination, Apollo 13 was a painstakingly accurate look at the space program, and of course, Larry Crowne was a hard look at ... well, whatever it was that happened in Larry Crowne. But we'd like to take a minute to talk about one of Hanks' most, sadly, underrated projects, the 1989 comedy The 'Burbs, directed by Joe Dante.
The suburbs have been the subject of a lot of political discourse this year; Donald Trump's re-election strategy heavily involved stoking racist fears among white suburbanites. And earlier this year, the Republican National Convention hosted Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the recently-indicted gun-toting rejects from a Freedom 55 commercial who threatened Black Lives Matter protesters. The couple warned viewers that the Democrats were attempting to "abolish the suburbs" -- presumably their warning that Joe Biden would personally bathe in the blood of each and every Pier 1 shopper was cut for time.
The 'Burbs similarly tells a story about white residential paranoia. Hanks and a gang of neighbors are immediately suspicious of the newest family on the block simply because they're "Slavic." And not even 20 minutes into the movie, one of the neighbors indiscriminately waves a gun around, nearly killing Hanks' character Ray.
Of course, the American suburbs' real story is an inherently racist one; state-sponsored housing projects purposely segregated communities out of fears that the property values of white homes would "decline" otherwise. One could argue then that The 'Burbs exclusion of Black characters in a story about suburban xenophobia is a giant oversight, but the film also grapples with another theme that is sadly relevant today. Ultimately, the movie is about how fear, privilege, and isolation are the gears that crank out the conspiracy theory sausage. Alarmingly quickly, Hanks and friends convince themselves that their resident foreigners are Satanists, a reflection of the real-life "Satanic Panic" in '80s America.
The mass hysteria that Satanists were abusing children throughout the country (sometimes through the unholy vessel that is The Smurfs) certainly has echoes in today's batshit crazy QAnon conspiracy theory -- and it, too, has been spreading in the suburbs. While The 'Burbs ultimately ends with the revelation that the mysterious foreign invaders did commit murder, that twist almost feels like an afterthought that could easily exist solely in Ray's fractured psyche. The point is that the titular "burbs" can serve as the perfect breeding ground for irrational, toxic obsessions. And while society has gone through like 20 Batmans since 1989, sadly, that hasn't changed.
Top Image: Universal Pictures