Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Moral Monk

Walk the earth, meet people, have adventures
... a simpler dream free of morally bankrupt economic need
We just watched The Wolverine and I came away from it noticing a strange parallel.  At the end of the film Logan leaves to pursue the life of a righteous man righting wrongs, and he dismisses an offer to help his love interest run her family business.  Something similar happens in Iron Man; Tony Stark walks away from his family business and leaves it in the hands of his former secretary/love interest.

Is this a new idea?  That the male hero walks away from the dirty world of business (and law) and pursues a monk-like life of moral purity?  That this fantasy speaks to men is interesting.  Forget glass ceilings and financial power, you can have it all ladies, along with the moral turpitude that goes with it.

Walking away from financial power is something I'm looking for in future films, especially fantasy pieces like super hero films that tend to sell based on an idealized idea of how to live - they try to appeal to a deeply seated wish in their audience rather than through a well constructed narrative.

Other superheros come at this in different ways.  Bruce Wayne is the playboy who never has to concern himself with financial need and uses his wealth to create that singularly focused alter-ego.  He treats the money with disdain while secretly using it to live a secret, morally pure existence.

The way violence plays into this is interesting as well.  It is legal and financial constraint that prevents us from violently confronting each other more than we do.  You are threatened with fines and imprisonment for violent acts.  Fight Club plays into this frustration well by focusing the urge to violence inward (radically inward in the case of the narrator).  As willing participants the fighters in the club are able to avoid the social ramifications of their violence while being able to express the urge, at least in the beginning.

The superhero character avoids economic sanctions on violence  through costume and alter-ego, though the more modern take on super heroes (the one where they simple state to the media, "I am Iron Man!") is neatly avoided by giving up all financial responsibility.  If you have nothing, they can take nothing.

Hero characters have always had a dark side.  There are the heroes that choose to step out of the social constraints we've made for ourselves, and then there are the heroes that choose this for everyone, making the ultimate statement about the futility of modern life.  I'm thinking of films like Cabin In The Woods, The World's End and one from a ways back, Escape from L.A..  In these films the hero does not just opt out for themselves, but for society as a whole.  This kind of dystopian toppling has a long history, though I suspect that there have been more recent examples because social norms are only getting tighter and tighter in an overpopulated world.

It's one thing when a hero opts out of the economic and social constraints we're all mired in to enact pure, moral action, it's something else entirely when a film's message is to give up on your society entirely because it is the dystopia and living in it makes moral action impossible.