World on Fire

I want you to know something.
(a beat)
I’m going to kill them. Anyone who opens
their eyes at me.
Lisa doesn’t answer, but the connection between them is
suddenly monumental. Finally, Creasy looks away. He
picks up Pinta’s battered, old TEDDY BEAR.
He turns, but she doesn’t look back at him.
Kill them, Creasy.
Creasy nods. He will. As he continues away…
Kill them all.

That’s an excerpt from the screenplay of Man on Fire.  I refer here to the remake with Denzel Washington, rather than the original version with Scott Glenn in the lead.  Also, this is from the original draft; Creasy’s vow of revenge, uttered in a resigned matter-of-fact tone, is even more extensive in the movie (or in this short clip).   The provocation for it: the little girl Creasy was hired to protect was kidnapped; at this point he believes her dead.  His retaliation, he says, will encompass “anyone who opens their eyes” in his direction.  And few in the audience, I’m inclined to believe, are unsympathetic.  Why?  Hasn’t the hero become the very incarnation of disproportionate response?  And Lisa, the girl’s mother, is hardly a restraining influence.  “Kill them all,” she says.  What is going on here?

Why are mass audiences so willing to applaud, or at least countenance, violence in such apparent excess at the movies but, if the MSM (main stream media) are to be believed, so delicately averse to anything like it in fact? 

I don’t know the answer, really.  It seems to me, however, that it has something to do with an audience’s ability to find inside the darkness of a movie theater, at an instinctive and intuitive level,  a kind of proportionality and fairness that, sorry to say, eludes sunlit rationality.  As some purportedly saner character always explains to the purportedly unhinged protagonist: you know, what you’re about to do (i.e., take revenge) is not going to bring so-and-so back.  Has any protagonist ever responded: hey, you know you’re right; let’s just forget it and go get ourselves a latte with skim milk?  Or, yeah, okay, I’ll just wait for a UN commission to dig into it.  Well, obviously, something like that would bring the story to a sudden and insipid halt.  But is that the only reason?  Aren’t there reasons –beyond the exigencies of plot development, above the easy explanation of dark and primitive emotions– that the protagonist must always go ahead. 

In Man on Fire, Creasy’s actions (which include murder and torture) are permitted some moral valence by two things: the girl is saved; Creasy dies.  By  any doctrinaire Buddhist standard of non-harming, however, those same actions would seem to fail miserably.  The problem is that, if Creasy had not acted, the girl, along with other victims to come, would not have been saved.  The systematic kidnapping, along with the corruption which protected it, would have endured.  It’s hard to find the non-harming in that.

In Buddhism the root causes of suffering are often identified as greed, hatred (or ill-will), and delusion.  Measured against these, I’m not sure Creasy fails that miserably.  He is not greedy.  His ill-will is reserved for some very bad people and, even at its furious peak, is used to fuel the fighting spirit he needs.  He is afterall badly outnumbered.  The issue of delusion is more problematic.  It exists at so many levels.  I think it could be argued that Creasy is less deluded about the realities  of both the material and spiritual realms than most of the other characters in his world.  And it’s this lack of delusion that results in a very rough form of justice and his own redemption.

Well, this post has already gone on too long.  I’ll leave it to the few people who care to apply the themes of Man on Fire, item by item, to the events of the day, be they in Gaza or Afghanistan, Sri Lanka or Darfur. 

Peace.  For everyone.


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