Sunday, April 16, 2006

Indiana Jones vs. Tommy Lee Jones

I love a good adventure film. One thing that strikes me as weird though is that the heroes in these films are often as cold blooded a killer as the bad guys. Indiana Jones actually takes pleasure in killing his enemies. Real soldiers in the real world experience trauma from killing people. Not Indiana Jones. I think there is a new kind of killer emerging in the entertainment world... the repentant killer. I just watched The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Tommy Lee Jones tracks down his friend's killer (Played by Barry Pepper) and forces him on an arduous journey of penance. All along we can see that the killer is traumatized by what he's done, and the trauma only grows the longer he holds his terrible secret. Not the cold blooded killer we grew up on in the movies. Have you seen "21 Grams"? Same thing... traumatized killers/would-be killers abound in that one.

I recognize that Indiana Jones isn't about the psychological impact of killing. It's an old fashioned archetypal adventure story. Still I think it's a little weird. When he shoots those 3 German soldiers in their stomachs with a machine gun in "The Last Crusade" they all die instantly and Indiana smiles at his dad all proud of what he's done. We don't see those soldiers writhing in the throes of an agonizing gut shot death (there isn't even any blood). We don't see the the pain of their families at the loss of a beloved husband, son, brother, friend. Instead we say "Yay for Indiana for killing those bad-guys!" There's a line in Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven" that says something like "When you kill a man you take away everything he was and everything he's gonna be". This is spoken from a hired killer to his eager young protogé, trying to tear down this kid's romantic notion of being a gunslinging assassin. The kid is unmoved... until his first kill. Then he breaks down, totally traumatized by his own violent act, and swears he'll never kill again.

Conveniently for Indiana Jones, The Nazis seem to be the ultimate symbol of evil in our society for the attempted genocide and the cruelty dealt to their victims. But the soldiers in that army were real people with real hearts and their own thoughts and dreams and loves. Many were forced into service unwillingly, just like so many of the drafted American soldiers in Vietnam. Part of an overwhelming machine of politics and power. Now it's getting harder and harder to point the finger at the Nazi's, or the Russians and say "those guys were evil, not like us good folk" when the American administration are standing accused of similar crimes; kidnapping, imprisonment without charges, torture, illegal invasion of a nation under false pretenses, blatant lying to their own people, rigged elections, disregard for human rights abroad and at home, war profiteering, imperialism, manipulation of the media and the American people... the list goes on. Then we end up with "V for Vendetta", a film where the government is the 1984 Big Brother style bad-guy and a brilliant "terrorist" is the good guy, and an unrepentant killer to boot... like Indiana Jones... and in the context of the film we end up rooting for him, just like Indiana Jones.

It makes for a more complicated villain. Can you even really call them "villain" at that stage? How do they best resolve what they've done? Is prison or death the only answer, or is there something else? I heard a story on CBC radio... I think it was an episode of "Ideas", discussing the idea of Justice. Two men assaulted another in a robbery. The man they assaulted became paralyzed from the waist down. The two parties, with the help of a mediator, came to an agreement that the two assailants would take care of their paralyzed "victim" for the rest of his life, and thus redeem and reform themselves and make the best of what they'd done. Seems pretty logical right? Well, the justice system would not allow for that solution. Instead the two assailants were thrown in jail and the paralyzed victim left impoverished to fend for himself in a harsh world. The tax payers end up having to pay for the assailants' incarceration. Nobody wins, and somehow this means justice was served.

Do you think the rise of the repentant killer in the movies is a sign of American guilt? I notice a couple of Tim Robbins' most famous films are about repentance and redemption. Shawshank Redemption, Dead Man Walking... and Tim is an outspoken pacifist. There are a lot of people who think the current Bush administration is pure evil, and many others who think it's simply bumbling, incompetent and blatantly corrupt. Barely 50% of the population voted him in... and if you believe the rigged election story, less than 50%. MacLean's Magazine this week asks the question, on the cover no less, if W. Bush is the worst president in 100 years. According to the article, on March 16 a Gallup poll showed public opinion of Bush had dropped to 37% approval "one of the worst scores of any president in the modern era." How do you feel proud of your nation under those circumstances? Guilt creeps in. You create a new story about internal struggle, and trying to right a wrong. A fallen character who has the courage to own up and repent or redeem. Villain becomes a hero of sorts. Perhaps this kind of character fills a deep need in the consiousness of a people outraged by their own leader.