Let the Battle Begin: A Review of Neil Schulman’s 'Alongside Night'

Column by Terry Hulsey.

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Libertarians of all stripes, who by definition are committed to non-aggression, are thereby committed not to a revolution but to a war of cultural hegemony. However, this strategy that swept the Leftists of the 1960s swiftly into power won’t be “a long march through the institutions,” but instead will be an even longer march through their ruins.

The movies, and other culturally strategic high ground, are where this war will be fought--in groundbreaking libertarian movies like Neil Schulman’s Alongside Night.

*plot spoiler alert*

It is an apocalyptic movie showing the United States, specifically Las Vegas, in the throes of bankruptcy, when its inability to pay its own armed forces has resulted in the defection of a quarter of them to the “Revolutionary Agorist Cadre.” The government and the Cadre are locked in battle over the allegiance of Dr. Martin Vreeland (actor Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo), a Nobel Prize-winning free-market economist who alone has the trust of European finance ministers that he will warn them “if the U.S. starts devaluing their assets again.” This explanation he provides to his 16-year-old son Elliot Vreeland (Christian Kramme) an hour into the 115-minute movie. At this same critical juncture in the plot, both father and son struggle over which side to join. Hanging in the balance are Dr. Vreeland’s wife and daughter, who have been kidnapped – by FEMA, say the Cadre; by the Cadre, say FEMA. The motive of the Cadre in such an abduction would be to blackmail Dr. Vreeland into declining the government’s offered job as Treasury Secretary, and thus hasten its collapse. The motive of FEMA would be to tar the Cadre with such blackmail by staging the abduction as a false flag operation. To decide his entire course of action, the father decides to let Elliot enter the $23 trillion(!) FEMA camp named Utopia to see if they are indeed held by the government. Elliot’s close friend Phillip Gross (Eric “Desperate Housewives” Colton) is also incarcerated there.

The Revolutionary Agorist Cadre has already enlisted Elliot (and given him the moniker Atlas Rosenbaum!) for this task, which for their purposes is to disable the defenses of the Utopia camp so as to allow their soldiers to take it over. This takeover will expose the camp’s existence to the world, and if possible, free the political prisoners who are its inmates. However, the Cadre admits that it would not flinch from sacrificing these prisoners to its primary purpose of exposure. In this task Elliot has the assistance of Deanne Powers (Reid Cox), who under the Cadre’s code name of Lorimer provides the romantic interest. Lorimer/Deanne has joined the Cadre after discovering that her father, FEMA Director Lawrence Powers (Gary “Alien Nation” Graham), drove her mother to suicide for threatening exposure of FEMA perfidies. In her departure she also stole blueprints for the Utopia camp. Since both Elliot and Lorimer are on the FEMA arrest list, their entry is not a problem. However, effecting this entry into the camp with the proper equipment to disable its defenses requires that they be arrested by Cadre Major Benjamin Franklin Chin (Garrett “Star Trek” Wang), who bears resemblance to a FEMA agent with access to the facility.

Cadre General Jack Guerdon (Tim “Star Trek” Russ) launches the operation, backed by Cadre troops, but things go awry. FEMA agent Sam Shalhoub (Said “Green Zone” Faraj) identifies Elliot in live security video and launches a countdown that will end in an explosion that reduces the camp to rubble. However, agent Shalhoub has been so impressed with the honesty and integrity of Cadre members, especially Elliot, that he has him save a baby in the camp and escape with Lorimer and the rest of the Cadre forces.

In a concluding televised news conference, Dr. Vreeland makes his choice unmistakably to the world. Although he admits that he has “never been an anarchist,” he now recognizes that the Revolutionary Agorist Cadre, not the government that he planned to serve, represents the true principles of the American Revolution. While listening to the broadcast, Dr. Murray Heinlein Konkin (Ethan "Keeping Up with the Downs" Keogh) edits a copy of the U.S. Constitution, placing a period after “Congress shall make no law” and striking out the rest of the document. Suddenly at the newscast, a bearded cameraman pulls a pistol from the camera, aims at Dr. Vreeland, but is shot by Elliot. The assailant’s beard is removed to reveal FEMA Director Powers. Standing over her slain dad, Lorimer says to Elliot in a moment reminiscent of Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker: “Thank you. You just killed my father.”

Most impressive about the film is the quality of the acting. Most of them are name stars – talented, good-looking people who, it must be said, carry forward a difficult and at times unbelievable script with complete conviction. For example, Said Faraj as FEMA agent Shalhoub must quite suddenly display the sympathy for Elliot that will allow his escape from the Utopia camp while at the same time must show such dog-like fidelity to “the chief” that he will die in its demolition. Only the talent of Said Faraj saves this scene from utter ruin. Similar examples could be cited for every one of the film’s stars that have a listing in the Internet Movie Database.

In a television interview after the destruction of Utopia, Dr. Murray Heinlein Konkin states that his forces will be the “new guard” watching over American liberties. The interviewer suggests that they are worse than the current government for having not been elected, and are in any case no better than the government they replace, and he asks, “Who will watch the watchers?” To this Konkin replies that the Cadre, since they are hired and not elected, can be fired and replaced by other armed groups, or by the militia that the Cadre will help the people form. Indeed, the noble adherence of the Cadre to truth and justice is to sweep all before it, just as it softened the heart of FEMA agent Shalhoub. One is reminded of the finale to The Pirates of Penzance, when one of the disarmed policemen says to the well-armed and menacing pirates, “We charge you yield in Queen Victoria’s name!” And of course because they love their Queen, they do! But unfortunately there are worlds where men do not yield – not to the Queen, not to truth, not to justice.

The twin burden of Mr. Schulman is to show that America can collapse, and to show how Agorism will save it, with the emphasis on show. On the first count, we see orderly streets, clean and well-clad protesters, schools and infrastructure in perfect working order. It would have been more compelling to show empty grocery shelves, unpaid welfare recipients running amok, fires, riots, etc. – all easily staged in the environs of Las Vegas, to be sure. On the second, the viewer is told many things, and not just about Agorism. In the first five minutes alone he is pelted with references to Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, the burning of Federal Reserve notes, “progressive mutualism,” Friedrich Hayek, Adam Smith’s labor theory of value, and John Maynard Keynes. On the positive side, we do see that the Cadre requires Elliot, before enrolling, to agree to submit to arbitration of disputes instead of resorting to violence, but more effective would have been to show how several groups – not just Agorists – would compete for power in the vacuum created by a Federal collapse, and do so in a way that does not lead to chaos. Schulman does show an Agorist marketplace, offering for sale (illegal) gold coins, drugs, and yes, your very own nuclear weapon. Of course, the merchant of the nuclear weapon is, notwithstanding his black mask, a sporting gentleman who wouldn’t dare sell it without a background check, he says. Should I hasten to add that the scene is meant to support the Agorists? The whole craft of filmmaking, it seems to me, is the ability to find those few deft visible strokes that the intelligent viewer can flesh out for himself. And for a movie that presents an entire world view, agorism, that is alien to today’s cultural context, that challenge of craft is even greater.

I enjoyed this movie immensely, in spite of these failings. Particularly, the music is first-rate. Schulman enlisted the talented Daniel May to compose for it. The Alongside Night title song was composed and performed by Soleil O’Neal-Schulman. Listen to it and decide for yourself whether her performance reminds you of Shirley Bassey belting out Diamonds Are Forever, as it did me – and ask whether the moving gold ring image was inspired by that theme’s moving diamond image. The violin solos were performed by Neil’s dad Julius Schulman (Tchaikovsky’s Canzonetta), Marat Bisengaliev (Ravel’s Tzigane), and Louis Lev (May’s compositions). Popular songs were composed by the songsmith of the revolution Jordan Page, who performed the concluding anthem Unchained, with lyrics and music by Soleil O’Neal-Schulman.

I also enjoyed – maybe perversely – the crammed references to icons to the revolution, lesser and greater. See if you can spot these references, in order of appearance: Ludwig von Mises, Penn and Teller, Ron Paul, Brad Linaweaver’s Moon of Ice, Robert LeFevre’s A Way to Be Free, the Shire Society, Emma Goldman as an Obama Hope poster, Charles P. Hammill, Tom Zarek, Tanstaafl, John Locke, Thomas Paine, Samuel Edward Konkin (who looks so much like Putter Smith!), Dennis Hof, Victor Wolder, and King of Sweden David D. Friedman! All of these appear before the final credits, which completely slip the bridle in an orgy of citation ranging from Alan Gottlieb, Walter Block, John Stossel, Doug Casey, Julian Assange, Sean Gabb, and Lew Rockwell, to Hillsdale College, Ira Levin, Thomas Szasz, and Red Skelton.

And on the theme of name-dropping, it should be said that Schulman’s 1979 novel of the same name was praised by none other than Anthony Burgess, Milton Friedman, and Ron Paul.

Although the film’s red carpet premiere was on July 14, 2014, at the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills, it is, according to Neil Schulman himself, “awaiting general release” and is “not yet available on Blu-Ray, DVD, VOD or streaming.” You can go to the TUGG online service that helps viewers get new indie films shown in your neighborhood. This service has already enabled six showings of Alongside Night across the country by sponsors other than the producers of the film. At the very least you might go to the Internet Movie Database ratings page and lift its ratings. Schulman is rightly suspicious of one 10-day flurry of activity apparently designed to drive this rating down. You can also post this review on IMDb if you think it’s worthwhile. You can get more details on the movie from its online site or its Facebook page.

One can only stand back and marvel at Neil Schulman’s achievement with Alongside Night. It is a lamp to other aspiring creators in the war of cultural hegemony – the only war open to the libertarian intellectuals who have renounced the sword for the pen. It is also a lamp to the way ideas are truly learned: not like a spider poring over books alone, but through the flesh and blood inspiration – even when he is wrong in so much – of a single man taken as a mentor, in Schulman’s case, Samuel Edward Konkin III. The 1979 book, the 2013 graphic novel, and now the 2014 movie of the same name are his own Atlas Shrugged, a monument to a lifetime of effort that fully deserves our respect.

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