Sunday, February 12, 2012

Power vs. Responsibility genre in Film: Where do we stand?

I was compelled to take a stab at this topic, based mainly on the previous discussions in the X Men, First Class post; also, to a less degree, from all the critical decision-making while playing SWTOR game (yeah, the game is that detailed). 

It’s a bit contrived so bear with me.

Now, we have already discussed about the hero archetype based on film and in general storytelling in detail. We have also discussed about the villain, the fallen hero and even the anti-heroes as well. Yet there is one particular aspect we have yet to divulge into, err...though we did slightly with X-Men. 

This would be those that are given or discovered with a unique talent/power, how they intend to use them, (For good or nefarious purposes) and more importantly the end result of their actions.

This formula of course is nothing new. We’ve seen this take place with many aspects of storytelling, from biblical parables, to novels, to historical events in the past. The movies are no different. Just look as some of the characters we’ve discussed in this blog. 

Look at Harold Lauder, and his decision in “The Stand” to make something out of himself with his newly found insight and ideas in the ‘new world’ only to decide to hold on to the old bitterness of the old world past, and in the end causing the loss of lives of others, including him. 

Another good example would be Peter Parker –aka- Spiderman on his decision to not to stop that robber from stealing from wrestling bookie. In the end that same robber was one that ended up mugging and eventually killing his beloved Uncle Ben. Had Peter made the decision to stop that robber when he had the chance (and clearly he had the ability and opportunity to do so) he didn’t, and look what it cost him.

Don’t get me wrong, not all decisions these characters make end up in tragedy. Look at Neo’s decision when coming face to face with the Architect In “The Matrix: Reloaded”. Where he had to decide whether to start over with what was left with mankind (after a significant purge from the machines) like all previous ‘Ones’ before him. Instead he decides to save his woman (Trinity) from certain death in the Matrix. Granted that decision at first seemed like Neo was forsaking mankind for one person, But considering what happened afterwards with the war, and the final one on one with Agent Smith battle and the end result, arguably was the better outcome for the citizens of Zion. 

Let’s not forget the most obvious decision making character in cinematic history and his role in “Return of the Jedi”. For Darth Vader even after spending so much of his life on the dark side of the force, yet after realizing who Luke actually was, and (as Luke points out) is growing conflict within him to become good again in spite of the Emperor’s influence. Then comes the climatic scene when Palatine attacks Luke, in his attempt to kill him for not turning to the dark side of the force (much like his father), and Luke crying out to Vader for his help. At first he just looks at both of them at a time deciding whether to intervene or not. In the end he finally breaks into the light (side of the force) picks up the Emperor, and tosses over the railing down the elevated shaft, in a symbolic gesture of casting away his own inner darkness. 

So with this in mind I have to ask. When your talent/power brings you to that critical point on deciding whether to use your abilities to help others, or help yourself, what will you decide? Would you use it to your full potential, or keep it hidden like the man that was given one talent? Could you become arrogant with your unique talent to the point of becoming untouchable (or dangerous), or heed the advice Ben Parker gave to his nephew, “with great power comes great responsibility”? These can be fairly easy questions to answer, but I suspect if you give it some thought, if you were put in the position of “Andrew” from that new movie “Chronicle”, could you end up like him or something better? Your thoughts on this please, and again, forgive me is this particular topic is too contrived. LOL


  1. I haven't seen Chronicle yet, so at the risk of jumping to conclusions, it sounds much more like the kind of story I wanted to see told. The primary question a person possessing those powers faces is: how will I use them? Chronicle seems to tackle that head on.

    I agree that Spiderman is another good example of what you're talking about. There's the general element of doing the right thing in any situation, but then applying that to his new-found situation of having spider powers. The problem is, not all people will turn out that way.

    To me, it's as transposable as how a person might change once he's come into great wealth. Does he lose his way along with himself? Does he use it to serve himself or others?

    Any experience with human nature will show that power corrupts. Some rich people treat poor people lower than themselves, and the same can be seen in other scenarios where there is a difference in power. I'm not a believer that people are inherently good, and so I think this kind of behaviour comes naturally. I'm glad to see a new entry into this genre featuring the corrupting influence of super-powers when used selfishly.

  2. Hey there Lancer, Thanks again for the reply..
    I too havent had the chance to see Chronicle yet ethier, but plan to soon enough. Judging from the various trailers and other critqes Ive seen on the film, I do have an idea how they're appoaching it. Just like you said, looking at someone given that power and ablity they never had before, and using them in very negative ways, which you dont see that often this this sort of genre of film.

    Yet you have to wonder from a realistic POV, those of us that have been given something they never had before, how many of us would truly utilize them for the greater good? Not to condem my fellow mankind, but lets face it, historicly, men and women with some sort of power (political, social, financial, physcial, and even intellectual)have used their talents for themselves or to bully or rule over others poorly. Don't get me wrong, I'm trying not to be Mr doom & gloom, but to me it does seem more realistic that someone would use their newly found ablities for selfsh (and evently dangerous) reasons..such as we may see in Chronicle. I only hope that will not be the case of anyone we know personally that would do the same if given the choice.

    Indeed absolute power does corrupts absolutely...:(

  3. It's indeed refreshing to see what we might expect as the more realistic manner in which someone deals with their powers. But, that's what makes the hero-type inspiring - Blade had the powers of vampires, without their weaknesses, but he fought giving in to his dark side.

    And, of course, we believe that, although Jesus "could have called 10,000 angels", exercising his power, he instead exercised his responsibility for following through to the ultimate sacrifice.

    I also think that the idea of "coming into great wealth" provides the opportunity to show character that may not be available before the windfall. There are temptations that the rich experience that the poor do not - some people don't gamble, not because they wouldn't if they could, but only because they can't afford it.

    Same thing with power. It's one thing to turn the other cheek when you don't have the chops to put the boots to the guy...but, when you could smack him out, that's when it's a statement of character to suck it up and walk away.

  4. I agree with you DA, that it doesn't have to devolve into a lowest common denominator exposition. I'm fine with stories that reveal heroes emerge from these situations... even when they have the wherewithal to never abuse their powers. I just think that the temptation to abuse them shouldn't be glossed over, and instead treat some other issue as the main problem (eg: acceptance by the community).

    IMHO there are too many anti-heroes and not enough true heroes in today's literature. Everyone admires the bad boys, as they are more exciting. My issue with that is that sometimes the bad boy will really let you down. And while some good guys can turn evil, the bad boy has far less to prevent him from doing so. The temptation is there for everyone to go to the dark side. It is like the Eye of Sauron. Everyone is tempted to use it for good, but it is ultimately impossible... it will change you to evil. This is like trying to bring good out of doing sin; it corrupts you in the process. It is why we have to be very careful about the things we think can save us.

  5. Hey Lancer, I hear ya. Interestingly, we have talked about that "trying to bring good out of doing sin" idea in a theme we've tagged as "join'em to beat'em". Right now the only article is on The Distinguished Gentleman - now that you've brought up the topic in the natural course of conversation, I'll tag this article as well.

    Loving it, thanks!

  6. Heh I guess the asspect of the Anti-heros adds that "spice" and realism to the average least from some personalty perspective..remember my article on Anti-heros several months back? I still think Hollywood focuses on these anti-heroes from general ones to add a element of realism and action...thus making a bigger profit at the box office methinks. Just look at some of the more recent "blockbuster films" that have some sort of anti-hero element in the past couple of years...or even the trailers of the ones coming out. Coincidence?

  7. I've oft wondered why "villains" are often considered "more fun" for actors to portray, or why we seem to be more fascinated with the bad guy than with the good guy.

    Having given it some thought, it occurs to me that people want to understand "why" the person is bad. Good guys have an obvious motivation, to "stop the bad guy," and nobody needs a compelling reason to pursue that objective because it's the right objective. But, what is the motivation of the bad guy? Why do they do what they do?

    Consider the great line towards the final confrontation in the movie Falling Down between Det. Prendergast (Robert Duvall) and Bill Foster (Michael Douglas), when Prendergast says, basically "that's what this is about? You've been lied to? We've ALL been lied to."

    Consider the great disappointment with which we viewed the Star Wars prequel trilogy's poor treatment of helping us try and understand how the one who would restore balance to the galaxy could become Darth Vader.

    Examples abound. The more complex ones occur when we come to find that "the bad guy isn't so bad. A sterling example is The Rock, which masterfully crafted a story in which not one, but two characters that were presented as "bad guys" (Ed Harris' Brigadier General Hummel, and Sean Connery's John Patrick Mason) who were both in fact very complex and misunderstood in a world that is unfortunately all-too-often conveniently black and white.

    And, yeah, M. Wanderer, the realism in part stems from seeing our reflection in those characters, recognizing that there's good in the worst of us, and bad in the best of us. That simple good guy who is "all sunshine and puppies and apple pie and lemonade all the time" is hard to relate to because we know we have bad days and aren't all virtuous all the time. And the simple bad guy who is just evil incarnate becomes an other-worldly monster because, really, who among us is that far-gone and still has time to watch a movie?

    In these complex characters though, we actually feel good about pausing before we judge them to whisper "there, but for the grace of God, go I."

  8. M.Wanderer, I agree that it adds spice, but I'm not sure it's just for realism. Everyone fantasizes about being able to do whatever they want. To many people, "liberation" is needed in order to adequately express oneself truly. Self-expression has become a sacred-cow in our culture, whereas self-restraint and humility is thought of either as quaint, or derided as prudish. What used to be called "discipline", is now called "repression". It used to be that people valued acting in a way that distinguished us from animals, but now people question if it's even healthy to deny our instincts.

    To some extent, our society has bought into the idea that morality is derived from what "is", not from what "ought". The logical extension of this is that a person who has super powers and doesn't use them is not "being themselves". That may or may not be a morally neutral proposition, depending on the nature of your powers. Is reading people's minds just because you can morally neutral? Do not people have a right to privacy? One thing that can be said in Prof.X's defense is that he resists the urge; one that must be quite tempting. That tension won't exist for all kinds of powers, but in every case there is something that is lost from a lack of discipline: character.

    In Fantastic Four (the movie), the human torch is a cool guy. He's adventurous, exciting and good-looking. He beds all kinds of women. Does he have character? IMHO, no. There are a lot of movies with characters like that (eg: Iron Man), but you get to see them build character through the course of the movie. A lot of that involves giving up some of the person's old ways that made them "exciting" at first, but I think what you get in the end is a far more interesting person.

    That is basically the plot of most chick-flicks, BTW. You start off with a rogue, and by the end of the movie he's an honourable man. It's something that really tickles the pride of women; that a man would change for them like that. My observation is, if you're still interested in that guy after he's gone through this metamorphosis, then there is still something exciting about that person once he's built up his character.

    So I don't really buy into this cliche that persons of good character aren't as interesting as rogues. Is Captain America boring? What about Iro (Zuko's uncle in Avatar: The Last Airbender)? Is Aslan? Is Jesus? I really don't think so, and sometimes it's the way that their virtue surprises us that makes them interesting. Furthermore, does being considerate mean you can't be funny? Does treating women honourably mean you can't enjoy fast sports? I don't think so. I just think we've just been over-titillated by less noble things that we can't conceive of excitement without it, and we've in the process lost an appreciation for the fruits of a good character.

    In closing, I want to say there is no adventure more deep and unending as God's infinity. If you want to live the dangerous life, then follow the Lord with all your heart. If you've ever read about someone who really lived the Christ-life, you'll know there's a lot of wonder to be found.

  9. I hear you, Lancer. I've heard actors relish the opportunity to play a "bad guy", and I think the public appetite for treatments of "the bad guy" is a result of the kind of observations you made. Character as a trait of value has waned in the face of a beastial "if it feels good, do it" hedonism, so that heroes of virtue are out of fashion.

    You watch a film like The Usual Suspects and find yourself wondering "is there a good guy ANYWHERE in this movie"; even Inspector Kujon is just so arrogant ("I'm smarter than you and I will the truth out of you") you almost cheer for the comeuppance he gets. But whatever the case, a movie full of bad guys is assumed to be a lot more compelling than a movie full of good guys.

    One of my favourite heroes is Optimus Prime - I'd follow him into any battle. He knows no thought or decision that does not spring forth from a bottomless motherboard of self-less principle. When the only logical choice presented itself, it was a no-CPUer ("no brainer", you get the idea), he should sacrifice himself. Yet even he showed a surprising edge in how he dispatched Sentinel Prime.

    Another hero of mine is Lt. Col Hal Moore. This is a guy who would rather stand his ground with his men, trapped under overwhelming fire, than take a chopper back to base for a meeting. "I'm not leaving my men" he yelled. Based on a true story, this man had a wife and children, yet when his tour of duty, America's first real heavy engagement in the Vietnam War, was over, he returned by choice for three more tours, leaving his family to risk his life on the field of battle. His speech to his men before they left US soil to venture into the valley of the shadow of death is among the most powerful in my recollection of cinema. "We are going to what home is supposed to be...I will be the first man to step onto the field of battle, and the last man to step off it, and I guarantee you, I will leave none of you behind. Dead or alive, you will all come home." I get a lump in my throat every time.

    I agree, the good guy can be just as interesting, intriguing, compelling, inspiring... we should not see things the way "the world" sees things, but see at a higher level, with "eyesalve" that Christ bids us to get in good quantity.

  10. Sorry, I should have mentioned, Lt. Col Hal Moore is played by Mel Gibson in We Were Soldiers, easily one of the best of the entire Vietnam genre.

  11. Thanks again for all this feedback guys..its aprecated..

  12. Just wanted to add that I did get around to seeing the movie Chronicle. Not too bad a film...though the ending to say per say but somewhat "meh".

    Interestly enough, much of what we talked about on this post, happens in this film. I should point out, that the character Andrew, does start off with good intentions, but due to previous and current social and family issues (the later is pretty bad) the end result...well, you know that old saying about the road to ruin is paved by good intentions....I;ll just leave it at that. I do suggest you check out the movie will add more insight to this conversation.


What do you think?!