Friday, August 5, 2011

What are the unforgivable sins?

This is something I come across a lot in movies, and which is immediately a deal-breaker for me : I don't believe any action is so evil as to require death.

Sure, there's the argument that the character feels as though they could never forgive themselves, and so they purposely get in the way of danger. But there's also the typical betrayal scene, where someone important to a main character wounds them irreparably. By the end of the movie, that person will be dead. I don't know about you, but I don't want all the people who upset me to die, or I'd be swimming in my very own Dead Sea.

Let's take a look at some examples. I recently watched Category 6: Day of Destruction. Spoiler alert, but the main character's daughter's boyfriend accidentally shoots her in the shoulder. Oh no. Well, they're locked inside a bank without power and all of the hospitals have been evacuated so, yeah, it's pretty grim. But first of all, it was an accident. One of the other characters says, "You point a loaded gun at someone, that's no accident." But he shot her because the security guard tackled him. So he's an idiot who doesn't know what he's doing who just happens to have a gun. Welcome to the USA, if movies are to be believed. Does he deserve to be crushed by a giant falling girder, mere metres from safety? No, I think not. Is what he did unforgivable? The girl lived. She didn't even seem to blame him that much. Do you think she would be happy he was dead? It is really the best outcome for everyone involved?

I certainly don't think so. I think people like the idea of karma, which is why games like Fallout 3 and Fable treat you like a king when you're a good person. No one ever runs up to you in real life to give you a free Nuka-Cola just 'cause you're a swell guy. Similarly, the people who betray you don't deserve to (and hopefully don't often) get crushed by falling girders. It's escapism, but it's also self-aggrandisement in a very upsetting way - I'm better than you, you should die. Or, in most cases, you betrayed me, you should die. Really? I would have no friends and not even any enemies if that were the case. Let's look at some other examples.

Taken : the blonde girl who decides that she's going to sleep with every guy she can because she's on holidays gets killed, while the brunette virgin is fine (not even traumatised).

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade : Elsa is a Nazi. 'nuff said, apparently. Come to think of it, a lot of Nazis get killed in Raiders of the Lost Ark, too.

Cloverfield : everyone. The sexy girl for being sexy, the cameraman for not paying attention and trying to hit on the sexy girl when he's overweight (so, like, omg, gross, yeah?), and pretty much everyone else except the main characters, and the jury's still out on them.

Spiderman 3 : Peter's friend - "They're my friends, I'd die for them." Way to sign your own death sentence. But you know something that's inconvenient to the hero. How much easier is it for you to die than to relive the angsty tension of the last film? A lot easier, apparently. This becomes a lot more sinister when you come to the conclusion Peter Parker probably let him die.

The Mummy Returns : I love it, I do, but Imhotep's betrayal at the end does not warrant eating to death by scarabs. Benji in the first Mummy was greedy - he got himself killed. Anuk-sun-namun's reincarnated self just didn't want to die. Considering she lived through thousands of years as a spirit just to reincarnate to be with Imhotep it's a bit of a stretch, but sure. She's only human. I wouldn't plunge toward the chasm to hell, either. Does that really mean I deserve horrible scarab death? I hope not.

The Dark Knight : Two-face. He's such an interesting character. Can't you let him be a ridiculously unstable corrupted influence for just a little longer? No, he has to die because he betrayed his morals. Sigh.

Of course, there are cases where death absolutely makes sense : Dragonheart, The Reader, Kung Fu Panda, Star Trek, Aliens ("You always were an asshole, Gorman."), BioShock 2, Fallout 3, and countless others. Syd Field says that the best endings combine inevitability with irony. Sucker Punch has an amazing ending, for just this reason. Where it is the only outcome, then it is forgiven, even cherished. Where it is an easy way out, because explaining would take too long (or perhaps the writer doesn't have the skill to explain it succinctly?), then it should be boo'd and hissed from popular media.

Why? Because we shouldn't expect that in our lives. We don't want that. It seems like 'poetic justice', but about as many people understand that phrase as understand the saying 'that begs the question'. There's an episode of Family Guy where a pub owner gets caught after framing Peter for insurance fraud. Lois says, "Whatever he gets, it'll be too good for him." Well, he gets hanged and his daughter is put into an orphanage. I was delighted, because it shows just what a gap there is between our expectations and what we actually want to happen. We say a lot of things we don't mean. If all of them came true, the world would be a horrible place.

But when death is the inevitable end, as in American Beauty, Benjamin Button, Ghost, The Time Traveller's Wife, as, yes, Fallout 3, then we have time to appreciate life's beauty, to understand the sacrifice and to be grateful that such a difference was made in such a short time. We seem to forget, in most movies, that good people die too. It's watering down the issue to use death as a solution. What it is, is inevitable. And we should never hurry the inevitable. It has a funny way of catching up with us anyway.

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