Our contemporary media has seen a recent influx in the number of film and television series which are set in the 80s. The sociological reasoning behind this trend is a subject for another article entirely, however in its simplest terms, simulated 1980s environments are products of nostalgia. They are just far enough in the past so that young people may idealise the decade for its vibrant fashion and music, while older individuals tend to view the period through rose-tinted glasses. This proves to be a profitable combination in terms of media productions, and although it is often an exploitative endeavour, I would argue that the 2019 film, Blinded by the Light, remains acutely self-aware of its setting and does not approach the campiness of the 80s from a manipulative angle.
On the very contrast, Blinded by the Light stars a Pakistani immigrant as its protagonist, and we are presented with the rampant racism of the decade, as opposed to the popular interpretation of seemingly better times that we are typically confronted with. Were times actually better in the 80s? Absolutely not and Blinded by the Light sets out to illustrate the case in opposition of this now popular sentiment. Despite the flamboyant costume design that the film emphasizes to us in its opening scenes, the melancholy of Javed’s existence is quickly brought to the forefront; as a member of an immigrant working-class family under conservative government, he is miserable, and his existence as such during the British 1980s is never romanticised.
Perhaps the film is riding upon the coattails of our contemporary love affair with 80s culture, however, Blinded by the Light firmly establishes its endorsement of the decade as nothing more than a surface-level facade. Javed serves as a source of realism and authenticity as he finds himself yearning for a less conservative world, wherein he is free from the control of his father and far beyond the reach of a local fascist organisation. Racism runs rampant through Javed’s teenage experience of the world; we witness both him and his family falling victim to violent, racially-motivated crimes, thus we are forced to re-think our idyllic view of the 1980s. Blinded by the Light’s brilliance comes about through its ability to embrace the light-hearted and sinister all at once; the film is simultaneously an often cheesy period drama, and a damnation of British conservatism. In this way, it establishes itself as a poignant reminder that while we should revisit the 80s through our media under a critical lens, we must not fall prey to the common pitfall of convincing ourselves that we were better off in bygone times.
Alex Mulhare – Film & TV Writer