When the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Art is a mediator of the unspeakable,” he was almost certainly talking about Bill & Ted Face the Music.
For the last four years, a rage has been bubbling, seething in the American consciousness that has gone unexpressed — until now. With this surreptitiously subversive film, a sequel to 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Hollywood has managed to produce a Pandemic Work that says absolutely everything there is to say about the reign of President Donald Trump — while also saying nothing at all.
If you’re not too busy doubling over with laughter from the “No way / Yes way” banter, you may notice that the film appears to be imagining a world where Trump never became the President of the United States. He never descended that elevator and declared his candidacy, never promised to build a wall that Mexico would pay for, never presided over the deaths of 200,000 Americans from a killer virus. In erasing his existence, the film appears to be casting Trump as a figment of our imagination — a kind of ego spirit that rages inside us, playing golf and watching Fox News and tweeting about it.
The suggestion would be offensive if it weren’t so brilliant.
At one point, the time-traveling duo, played by Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, heads to 2022, by which time we would know who won the 2020 election. Donald Trump or Joe Biden. But as far as the movie’s concerned, the Most Important Election Of Our Lifetimes doesn’t matter. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but the film is undoubtedly saying that there is no difference between Trump and Biden and that nothing matters without serious policy reform. It’s a nihilistic, cynical argument that haunts most of the story.
And yet the thrust of the plot — that Bill and Ted must create a song that will unite the world — is clearly a fevered metaphor for the imperative of removing Trump from office. The song was meant to have been made back in the first film, which was rightly interpreted as a refusal to accept the legitimacy of President George H. W. Bush, who was inaugurated just a month earlier in 1989. Of course, that initial film was also credited with igniting the proto-anarchic practice of including two names in a film title – think Turner & Hooch, Tango & Cash, and Roger & Me.
And so Bill and Ted were meant to have created this song, as we were meant to have protected the American political system from Trump — but, as this film posits, neither of those things happened. So because of this collapse in civic duty, we are now tasked with removing Trump with the greatest song in the world.
The song strategy is a clear echo of Trump’s “Only I can do it” mantra. Only Bill and Ted’s super song can heal the world — nothing else. Not raising the minimum wage; not free tuition or healthcare; not racial, economic, and social equality… all of these things, in the film’s mind, would be a waste of time. It’s a brutal political statement.
I’m sure the producers would deny that this seemingly sweet cash grab of a sequel is sending a political message of any sort. But what do their denials say or not say about the effect Trump has had on the film industry? Who do they serve? What do they hide?
At this point, the natural progression of an argument like this would be to lead into conspiracy theories loaded with misinformation and delusion to really hammer the point home just how paradigm-shifting this film is. But I won’t indulge that impulse… except to say that I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some QAnon stuff going on here. After all, how much do we know about the director Dean Parisot? The writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon? Where are their vulnerabilities?
It’s also worth asking what happened to the original actors who played the girlfriends in the first two films. Other actors — Ted’s father (Hal Landon Jr.), stepmother Missy (Amy Stoch) — were brought back for the reunion; why not Diane Franklin and Kimberley Kates? Have they been silenced? What do they know?
Whatever the intentions of the filmmakers, one thing is clear: Bill & Ted Face the Music is the first true Trump Anxiety Film, and, if the movie gets its way, it will also be the last.
But the question remains: Is it worth spending your hard-earned money on this fervently libertarian/nihilistic/allegorical stew about the fate of democratic liberalism that will turn your world upside down and that, depending on how you watch it, might give you COVID-19? The answer is, urgently, yes.
It’s a political masterpiece on par with Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan or Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. Plus, the daughters are charming. And the robot stuff is funny, if also a gut-wrenching reminder that the internet’s algorithms continue to divide us all into bubbles of fractured groupthink and unbending ideology.