National Treasure: Book of Secrets

The National Treasure series has largely been about uncovering antiquities which tie the past in with the present. In the first film, this lead the main character– Ben Gates (Nicholas Cage) and his friends on a quest for a golden treasure trove left behind by the Founding Fathers. The adventure brought the audience and the heroes into the direct business of the Founding Fathers. In the sequel, the same unfolds, tying the conflicts of the past in with those of the present and rewriting history in the most charitable ways possible.

The Ties that Bind

This film supposes that there is a “President’s Book”– a secret log in which presidents of the past have written careful person notes which cannot be viewed by anyone other than presidents. This allows the heroes to go right to the internal dialogue of past president’s to uncover the mysteries they face today. The primary conflict in the present is that one of Gates’ ancestors has been linked to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, recasting the man as a traitor to the union in a time of great upheaval, rather than the hero Gates knew him to be. Through a mess of convoluted plot twists and reverse irony, Gates and company determine that the entire ordeal was a rouse to force them into finding an ancient treasure.

History Rewritten

The treasure spoken of is Cibola, one of the fabled lost cities of gold. In modern mythology, there are actually two sets of cities of gold, some started by Christian clerics, and some built by Native Americans. This is the latter. The film postulates that the Confederate States, in league with the British crown, attempted to find Cibola so that they could fund their war effort against the United States and France. Gates ancestor foiled this plot, and the city remained untouched.

It’s location and the details surrounding it are where things continue to diverge from history into fiction, and do so at the benefit of American historical figures. This is done almost as a sort of creative revisionist history. In the film, Cibola is purported to be in the Black Hills Mountains in South Dakota. What is odd about this, is that the Mayan Empire would construct a massive subterranean gilded city underneath a mountain range. This was done in the film most likely to tie Cibola into American historical iconography, as the Black Hills Mountains are now the home of Mt. Rushmore. The film explains that the US built the monument there– thus destroying a sacred Lakota Sioux natural monument called Six Grandfathers, to hide Cibola from the world. This deflates the controversy around the construction of Mt. Rushmore, and acts as sort of a band aid over what was an occasion of incredible American hubris in Indian relations.

All historical commentary aside, this is an interesting film which makes some clever assumptions about history and archaeology. It depicts a hero with a tremendous sense of honor and respect for his country, history, and his family.

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