Day By Day

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Death of the Heroes

David Harsanyi asks, "Where Have All the Superheroes Gone?".
[M]oral absolutism is frowned upon these days. Our nation seems unable to serve up fictional characters without weighing them down with moral ambiguity and layers of complex emotional baggage. Our cinematic heroes are most often tortured, imperfect souls, even when they do good. We've become so cynical, in fact, that we can't even imagine ourselves as unconditionally in the right. Sure, we still have Rambo, but at 60 and with a questionable grasp of his mental facilities, no one is overly confident.
Read it here.

Lileks agrees:
If they’d made the original Star Wars in the current day Luke would have found out that the Rebellion was a false-flag operation set up by the Empire, and he would have renounced the Force, moved back home and sold pots. I fear the next Indiana Jones movie, in a way; it’s possible he will spend the fourth movie apologizing for the first three, and do his best to battle the forces of English imperialism as he seeks to return the Elgin Marbles.
Read it here.

In the old days we understood -- absolute evil exists, and it must be fought. And the hero was the man who knew just what had to be done, and did it. Captain America fought Nazis and Commies; Superman fought criminal masterminds; Dirty Harry fought sadistic predators.

Now, it's different. I date the beginnings of the change to John Ford's revisionist western, "The Searchers", that came out in 1956. There John Wayne portrayed the traditional rugged individualist western hero as a borderline psychopath. Then came all those "adult" westerns with flawed heroes, then Clint Eastwood decided that there was no moral difference between his heroes and his villains, and the rest was a quick descent into the slough of todays masochistic relativism.

Yet today, in the wake of 9/11, we are beginning to return to the idea that absolute evil exists. Three films this year took up the theme. In Rambo we saw a return to the old days. Rambo tried to stay aloof and ignored the evil spreading just down the river, but in the end he couldn't maintain his indifference. He took up his guns and soon chunks of flesh were flying everywhere. Of course the critics panned the film. Not so two other films, judged to be "great" by the critical community. In the Oscar winning film "No Country For Old Men" the resourceful individual, played by Josh Brolin, proves incapable of opposing implacable evil. He dies a meaningless death and the film's moral arbiter, Tommy Lee Jones, simply gives up the struggle. Evil is triumphant. Then in "There Will Be Blood" the question of evil is taken a step further. Daniel Day Lewis' character, the modern equivalent of Duke Wayne's rugged individualist is no longer a borderline psychopath -- he is a full-blown embodiment of evil. And, rather than being a frontier loner, he embodies the evil spirit that animates capitalism. The moral of the film is not just that evil is triumphant and pervasive and cannot be effectively opposed, but that it is us.