Someone Call A Vexillologist, I’ve Invented a New Red Flag

Someone Call A Vexillologist, I’ve Invented a New Red Flag

Red flag films, and if they really are all that bad

The Wolf of Wallstreet, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, Joker, and Fight Club. All these films have something in common, but what is it? Is it that they are all regarded as great pieces of cinema, with die-hard fans from all around the globe? Is it the great stories that they tell, ones that inspire the masses? Maybe it’s even the relatable and realistic protagonists, with pros and cons who may seem grey but in the end, redeem themselves and ultimately come out on top. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s the fanbase they’ve created, filled with film bros TM  who fail to see the subtext of the film and have chosen to relate to some of the most abhorrent characters to ever be a protagonist in film history.

They’re also all based on a book of some kind… maybe that’s the connection.

After hours (1) of extensive research (scrolling through TikTok in an unfeeling catatonic state), I think I can now confidently state that the internet is a shithole that should have been wiped out by a solar storm in 2012. I have also concluded that ‘Red Flag Films’ seem to be a particularly hot topic in the film community.

As I’m sure you can imagine, a Red Flag Film is a film that when enjoyed by an individual can be seen as a red flag in their personality. It could be because the director is a dodgy individual (Tarantino, Kubrick), the movie is just plain old bad (Jack And Jill, Suicide Squad), it deals with rather odd themes (Let the Right One in, Lolita), or, the protagonist is an unlikeable arse wipe who people aspire to be like and will gladly tell the world how much they relate to a narcissist who is liked by no one in-universe and is clearly the physical manifestation of Satan himself.

One of the most popular Red Flag films that I see discussed is the aforementioned The Wolf of Wallstreet. In case you don’t know of the film (and to increase my word count), the rough plot is: Leonardo DiCaprio wants to work on Wallstreet, he does but then the market crashes and he no longer works there. Still wanting to be a Girl Boss who makes 50K a day working from home, he gets a job selling penny stocks, finds a life hack, becomes a millionaire, and then gets hooked on drugs, drink, and women.

Red Flag Film Example - The Wolf of Wallstreet
The Wolf of Wallstreet film poster

Wolf of Wallstreet is a perfect example of a film that often gets misunderstood and thus earns it the title of red flag. Obviously, it’s a very popular movie, and so not everyone who enjoys it is necessarily a baby killer. The issue with this example comes from the people that aspire to be like Jordan Belfort. At no point in the film is Jordan seen as a good person, he lies to people down on their luck for a quick buck, he has very little loyalty, whether it be his wife or most of his friends/business partners, there are very few crimes he hasn’t committed and is just generally an all-around unpleasant fella.

Yet despite all of these obvious character flaws, there is a small, but loud, group of people who aspire to be just like Jordan. They don’t see him for the lying, scheming criminal that he is, all they see is an inspirational story about how if you’re white enough, and if you’ve got enough Y chromosomes, you too can become insanely wealthy and have sex with Margot Robbie.

The story seems to draw a particular subsection of human who is obsessed with extreme wealth. You know the type: they’re interested in the stock market and their YouTube history is full of ways to make passive income and how to be more productive. Whether it be through the media or their own trauma, they have gotten it in their head that without a hoard of gold protected by a dragon their life will never be complete.

It’s the same type of person who will defend Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos online, admiring them for their ‘hard work’, and fighting anyone who dares to suggest they have an obligation to pay more tax. The same group of people, who despite not being affected by it in the slightest, objects to taxing the 1%, just in case their BA in Quantity Surveying will make them their millions.

It’s a similar fate that was met by Mad Men. They’ll look at the horrible Don Draper, glaze over his misogyny and temper, and only focus on how he’s rich and super creative and really cool and wears fun suits. Time and time again, they only see the superficial.

These people are so deluded with the promise of this American dream, of the idea of wealth and family and success that they fail to see the important things. They overlook what really makes a character; they either choose to be unaware of the flaws or fail to see them out of pure ignorance. Some of them are self-aware enough to see that there is no such thing as a likeable businessman and pretend that they only respect the drive, and how business savvy Don was, this, however, is the same as ‘respecting Hitler for his public speaking skills’, or allowing a sex offender to compete in the Olympics because ‘he can swim a bit fast can’t he?’.

So is that it then? Are pieces of media like this forbidden from ever being watched again? No more will you be allowed to voice your views on these films for fear of being labelled as some kind of a deviant.

Not necessarily.

I’m not ready to fully get into this argument quite yet, but I feel that Red Flag Films can almost be seen as a different side of the coin that is ‘can we separate the art from the artist?’. If an actor in a film turns out to be a horrible person can we still enjoy their work? If a film deals with sketchy themes can we still enjoy it? The answer to that question involves a pesky little thing called context.

Sorry if this is a copout answer, but it’s true, it’s all pretty much based on the context of what you enjoy about the film. Do you enjoy Lolita because of its performances? Maybe it’s the director and how he tells a complex and challenging story to really makes the audience think. Or is it because you too want to have sex with a child?

Especially with how rampant so-called ‘Cancel Culture’ is, it’s important to know exactly why someone likes the things they do. Don’t get me wrong, there are some real horrible people out there, and they deserve to have the internet bring mass attention to them, and their horrible views. But it now gets to the point where people are afraid to voice relatively tame opinions for fear of being put on blast.

Saying you enjoy the shining shouldn’t be a bad thing (having grossed over $47 million, it’s safe to say that quite a few people have enjoyed it). Saying that you relate to Jack Torrance, or that you respect the way Kubrick treated his actors: these are what should raise concern, but often discourse around this topic ends before one can even begin to explain where they’re coming from.

It all comes back to making the film community seem more toxic and gatekeep-y than it’s already perceived to be. People already look down on the community enough as it is, and I don’t think that us deciding what films you can and can’t like is doing much good for PR.

When looking at the importance of context, an important aspect other than the why, is the who. Who is it that is enjoying the film? This could just be my systemic internal misandry speaking, but whenever I hear a guy say that he likes Rick and Morty I obviously will immediately assume that he’s a massive virgin know it all loser. Yet whenever a girl says it, I’ll just think that she happens to enjoy the show and is probably nothing like rest the of the fandom.

Even if you don’t agree with my specific example, you can’t deny that the basic premise still rings true. Oh, you like My Little Pony: The Movie? Are you 8 or 38? What’s that? You say your favourite film is American Psycho? Do you have a daughter or not? 500 Days of Summer? Are you a sensitive nerdy white boy who just can’t seem to catch a break, or literally anyone else with half a brain?

So next time you hear someone sing their praises for a Red Flag Film, don’t panic, just take a step back and think about context. Before you, as the kids might say, capture them in 4K, consider who it is saying it, and why they might be saying it. If it’s a close friend then you could easily deduce what their intentions are. If you don’t know them well enough to figure out why they might like a particular film, then you might not know them well enough to judge if they’re toxic or not. Red flags in relationships are a big deal that should be treated with the utmost importance, but if said flag is that their favourite film is Grown Ups 2 then you might want to reconsider your priorities.

Ever the optimist (and snowflake) that I am, I generally hate to see any kind of disagreement or fighting, but there’s something about this form of infighting that rubs me the wrong way.

 Fair enough if the person you’re fighting with deserves it, in my eyes blood is just as thin as water. If someone does something shitty they deserve to be called out on it, no matter who they are. But when we start blaming innocents and greens in the community for liking some of the most popular films out there, it really sets a bad precedent.

In the end, it shouldn’t matter what films we do and don’t like, or what character we do or don’t relate to, and especially not the implications of what any of it means.

Like nuns who find Jesus’ face in a slice of bread; If you scrutinise any piece of media enough you’ll start to find reasons, that aren’t even there, to make liking it problematic. If you’re in the film community then chances are, to some degree, you’re pretty weird and a bit fucked up. We’re all just as flawed as one another, some just don’t show it through their taste of film, but I assure you, look closely enough, and you’ll find that someone who enjoys The Grand Budapest Hotel is just as flawed as a fan of The Clockwork Orange, and honestly, I think that’s a beautiful thing.

Illustrated by Chantelle Weir

About The Author

Matthew Cowan

Hey, I'm Matthew, a 20-year-old writer, and creative based in Glasgow (writer meaning I like to write, and does not necessarily indicate quality or professionalism). Currently, I'm studying Broadcast Production: TV & Radio at UWS. As far as writing is concerned I mainly enjoy comedy writing and screenwriting, but I like to get my metaphorical foot wet in any genre of writing. When I'm not writing I like to watch anything on a screen, read, listen to podcasts, and worry about how I'm wasting my time by not writing.

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