Pay close attention to the subtitle of Jim Shepard’s smart, stimulating new book, “The Tunnel at the End of the Light: Essays on Movies and Politics.” In these 10 pieces, first published a decade ago in the Believer magazine, you won’t find reflections on what we ordinarily think of as political movies — “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” say, or “Primary Colors.” Rather, Shepard discusses films such as “Badlands,” “GoodFellas” and “Lawrence of Arabia,” in which few if any politicians are portrayed, but which highlight certain character traits that shape our politics. Above all, he focuses on “the power and resilience of the lies we tell ourselves as a collective.” (Tin House) Take, for example, “Badlands” (1973), the first feature directed by Terrence Malick, in which Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek play young killers. Based on the 1958 rampage of Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend, the movie is narrated by Spacek’s character, Holly, who has a knack for detaching herself from the mayhem. For example, while the camera shows her companion, Kit (Sheen), brutalizing a cow, Holly savors a compliment he paid her: “He’d never met a 15-year-old girl who behaved more like a grown-up and wasn’t all giggly.” Kit is even more sunnily superficial, a perverse throwback to that standard Western-movie hero, “the affable man with the gun.” “Think about our conception of ourselves in terms of our foreign policy,” Shepard goes on. “We may screw up, we may blunder about, but we always mean well. Any harm done to others is either unforeseen or couldn’t have been avoided. Our hearts are in the right place, even if we act as though they aren’t.” In an essay on Italian American mob movies, Shepard prefers Martin Scorsese’s “GoodFellas” to Francis Ford Coppola’s vaunted “The Godfather” and “The Godfather II.” Shepard finds fault with the “rosy glow [cast] backward” by the Godfather movies, which evoke a kind of Thugs’ Golden Age when a code of honor centered on family loyalty. In “GoodFellas,” the only value is power. “If you got out of line, you got whacked,” one character observes. “But sometimes, even if people didn’t get out of line, they got whacked.” This shrugging off of