Monday, 22 October 2007

Stardust


Stardust, directed by Matthew Vaughn, is one of those average fantasy adventure films which could have been much better. In particular, the writing and editing needed to be tightened so that the film could flow instead of stutter. As it is, we are left with some very funny scenes [especially those involving Robert De Niro, who steals the film (as he did with Brazil)], some gorgeous cinematography, above average special effects, uneven acting, and an occasionally interesting adventure.

If that was all there was to say about this film, I could recommend it to those who enjoy this genre. Unfortunately, however, the film ventures into a very bizarre form of the myth of redemptive violence, which, at the least, needs to be challenged, if not condemned outright. The bizarre form to which I refer could possibly be described as humorous redemptive violence. In a violent black comedy, such humour can at least be understood, if not condoned. In a film aimed at children, treating murder as something to laugh at is positively inexcusable. One prince is pushed out of a window, another is made to drown, another is poisoned and the fourth has his throat cut. Most of these murders are treated in a lighthearted manner designed to elicit laughter, especially when the dead princes immediately become ghosts who make silly comments to each other and represent the primary running gag in the film. Perhaps the film is trying to satirize redemptive violence by treating it as a joke. If so, the film should not end in the way all such films typically end, namely with the horrific death of the “bad guy(s)”. In this case, we are treated to the horrific deaths of three bad guys (all women). The last death (using the power of good and beauty to destroy evil) was particularly gruesome and should never have been allowed in a PG film (actually, most of the violence in the film was inappropriate for a PG audience). Any chance of a favourable review from me was dashed by this callous use of violence. Very sad.

My mug is down for this gorgeous adventure film. **+

3 comments:

  1. I've got to say that I think you missed it on this one. You can only stay focused on the myth of redemptive violence so long before you start getting a skewed perspective. First of all - you can't use redemptive violence in the same sentence as you refer to the deaths of the brothers. No one is referring to that in any redemptive way whatsoever. You can call it unnecessarily lighthearted violence for a kid's movie, if you want to.

    When it comes to the witches, I just think you've lost your ability to think metaphorically. The reason the myth of redemptive violence is so prevalent and persistent is because there is truth mixed up in it. That truth is that we have to rise up and fight against evil. We just have to learn to grow up and stop personifying that evil and projecting our evil on others. But in this case, it's a pretty good example of this genre actually going in the other direction. They deliberately make Tristan not kill anyone (except for unleashing the animals on the one witch and the only reason they kill her is because of what they'd seen her doing so often - so it really is a symbol of her own violence turning against herself) and the final witch dies purely as a result of starlight - how much clearer can you get metaphorically. Starlight doesn't kill humanity - it kills evil. The witch (living artificially far beyond her human years) is a symbol of the evil of trying to grasp youth and beauty instead of giving oneself away in love and living forever. Come on.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I don't even know where to start. I'm afraid we're not speaking the same language here and am not sure I can learn a new one without face to face discussion (over a mug of the best fair trade, made in my new European-style coffee maker).

    I'll begin by granting your first paragraph's point; my own point was precisely that the violence was too lighthearted for a kid's movie.

    The second paragraph is in a different language to that which I can easily understand, so I can only coment on it as far as I have grasped it.

    I am not comfortable with your sentence about rising up and fighting against evil. I would prefer saying that we must expose and challenge evil - nonviolently if we are not to become evil ourselves. To use violent language or violent mataphors is to be caught up in one of those evils: violence. In a time when violence is so prevalent, it's just too dangerous.

    You say we have to stop personifying evil and projecting it on others but that is precisely what this film does. Once it does so, I am opposed to any use of violence to overcome that evil. Killing a personificaton of evil is wrong, even if I were to grant that kiling evil metaphorically is fine. But my big problem here is that the film is aimed at children who are not going to see this film primarily as metaphor but are going to see (as they do in almost all such films) only that violence is the only or best way to deal with people who are presented as evil. This contributes mightily to a society that is eager to project evil on others and then fights that evil with violence. The deaths of the witches is just another example of the necessary eliminaion of the personification of evil, commonly seen in Disney films, rather than exploring more redemptive nonviolent ways of eliminating the evil being personified.

    This probably does not make sense but, like I said, this requires a real discussion.

    Even Star Wars makes an atempt to redeem Darth Vader (kiling off the evil emperor in the process!) so why couldn't they have found a way to redeem these witches, or the witch in Enchanted, etc.? Look at Spider-man 2 and 3 for examples.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Finally we get into some meaty dialogue here. Your comment clarifies both where we agree and disagree. First of all, I agree that personifying evil in the form of witches is not the ideal way to use a metaphor because it does blur the line between violence and an assertive battle against evil (which is language which I am very comfortable with myself).

    But here's where we disagree: Personally Eller's Christian Anarchy helped me to be wary of taking any principle including pacifism and making it into an absolute (my evidence for this is your implied lack of recognition of my suggestion that a little truth is mixed up in the myth of redemptive violence). When you start to deny the language of battle to a fight against evil it sounds like nonviolence has taken on idolatrous proportions. I think using violent language in the right way (against non-personified evil)is actually redeeming it - we need to guard against it slipping into a justification of actual violence. The reason I feel strongly about this is that without it language fails us in making sure we take an active and even aggressive response against evil. I really do think we need strong active language (hard to find if we screen out all metaphorical use of violence) or we become to passive and fatalist.

    I also disagree about the difference between adults and children. I haven't actually confirmed the evidence for this (but my guess is that it's out there), but I think that a) kids old enough to watch movies just as naturally, if not more so, understand metaphorical allusions and b) the difference between how adults and children are affected is a matter of a continuum not a matter of difference in kind (I'm think of ten year olds not four year olds here).

    Here's a thought that will probably highlight our differences: if I was in the world of Stormhold and I was with a witch who had lived triple a natural life because of evil supernatural practices and I knew that cranking up the starlight would mean an end to her life - I would probably do it with little if any regret. I would see ending such wrongly and supernaturally extended life as an act of mercy and love (her life at the point having become a form of "anti-life").

    Finally I will end with a note of agreement: the ideal, of course, is an attempt at redemption such as in Star Wars or Spiderman.

    ReplyDelete