Tag Archives: Hannibal Lecter

One More Point in Saving Mr. Banks

You may or may not have seen a post I did a little while ago about the film Saving Mr. Banks, readers. In it, I spoke about a line Walt Disney uttered in the film: “See, that’s what we storytellers do. We bring order to the world. We give people hope, over and over again.”

I wrote then about the way this statement affected me personally. (Among other things, it made me cry quite a bit.) Thinking more about this scene, and the movie in general, another line in the film struck me.

Throughout the movie, which shows Walt Disney doing his utmost to convince Mrs. Travers to allow him to make a film out of her Mary Poppins book, Disney again and again says that he wants to “make something beautiful” out of her story.   And he does not just want her permission to do this. He wants her help to do it.

How many of us use the word “beautiful” in conjunction with a film? Really, how many of us do that? I know I do not use the word “beautiful” to describe a movie. In fact, listening to Disney say it, I was inclined to squirm a little. How can a movie be “beautiful”?

I guess the better question is, “How could it not be beautiful?”

We do not use “beautiful” very much these days, readers, with regard to stories. Whether they are in print, song, or on film, “beautiful” is an adjective rarely attached to a story. Or, if it is applied, it can sometimes be applied to a film for the wrong reason.

A viewer might say that he thinks films such as Pacific Rim, Star Trek (the latest reboot), or Noah are beautiful. By this he could mean that he believes the CGI effects are beautiful. I will not disagree that CGI effects are impressive. I like Avatar simply for the CGI effects, and I would indeed call them “beautiful.”

I cannot say that about the story in Avatar, which is simply cowboys and Indians on another world. And the Indians win. I believe that I have watched Avatar a total of two or three times since a friend sat me down to see it first.

In contrast, I have watched Mary Poppins too many times to count since I was introduced to it as a child. Of late I have not watched it as much, but compared to Avatar, I would say that the story of Mary Poppins is a “beautiful” story. The story in Avatar I would call, politely, “mediocre” – at best.

So why would Disney call a prospective Mary Poppins film “something beautiful”? He would say that because a good story, just like a good photograph, painting, or song, is an expression of beauty. Beauty lifts us up. It reminds us of what is good, true, and permanent. That there is more to life than what we see, and that we rarely experience the “permanence” we can often feel but are rarely allowed to see with our eyes.

Parents often complain – laughingly – that their children almost endlessly watch a particular movie or movies over and over again, until they (the parents) are well and truly fed up with it. Why do children do this? Why do they watch the same film(s) time after time, when they know every line by heart?

I would guess it is probably because children have a sense that attracts them to beauty, which is crushed – or tamed – out of them as they grow up. I remember watching lots of films several times in the same week as a child. I never got tired of them. I enjoyed new stories, but the older stories were my close friends, and I did not want to leave them out of my fun.

Today, however, many storytellers – whether they work in the medium of print or film – are running away from beauty. There are others who embrace it, such as those at Disney, if only because it is their bread and butter. Others continually try to tear it down and destroy it.

Do you want proof of this? Check out the films that have come out recently. Along with the latest Marvel films, Disney’s Maleficent, Cinderella, and Frozen, we have such movies as The Purge, The Purge 2, The Hive, Gallows, and other trash. Yes, I called those films trash, and I will do so again. They are garbage, the vile refuse of small minds that take pleasure in “tearing the old world down,” to quote Alexander Pierce of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

These “storytellers” are not telling stories. They are not making films. They are propagating nihilism. They are worshipping destruction, death, and horror. And they have the temerity, the unmitigated gall, to call it “art.” “Art doesn’t have to mean anything except to its maker,” they howl hoarsely. “We’re giving people what they want. We’re giving them reality!”

Pardon me a moment, readers, but this is nonsense. No, actually, it is worse than nonsense. It is lies.

Art is not a collection of carpet fluff glued together to resemble a poodle. Art is not a bed covered in empty vodka bottles or a canvas someone spilled thirty cans of paint onto, and art is NOT anything like The Purge or The Hive.

Art is a manifestation of beauty. Everyone can see and recognize beauty, and they can either love it or hate it. Everyone who loves beauty is gifted with expressing it in some way, from a waitress smiling at a customer to a director doing his utmost to turn a great book into a remarkable film.

And everyone who hates beauty will try to destroy it. They will try to destroy those who use their talents to express beauty. One of the first targets, therefore, will be the painters, songwriters, storytellers, and others who make beauty visible for all to see.

These haters of beauty try first to shout and beat these great artists into submission. Finding that shouting does not work on all, they instead whisper and sneer, making themselves look reasonable and more real than the beauty these artists portray.

Everyone says they can make art. And someone who makes a good movie, writes a good book or a song, or paints a beautiful picture, has proved their worth. But those who paint death, horror, destruction, and malfeasance of every kind yet call it “art” are liars, cads. They are the Wormtongues of our age, the useful puppets of the Sarumans that feed them the falsehoods and monstrosities they then display for all to see.

No longer is a storyteller believed to bring order to a chaotic, brutal world and give people a taste of what true reality looks like. No longer is a storyteller expected to bring hope to the people again and again, to give them characters that will live forever, safely cherished in the viewers/readers hearts.

No. Instead, the Sarumans say storytellers are supposed to revel in the transient. They are expected to give form to passing feelings, fleeting fads, and to lift up the slime at the bottom of the gutter and proclaim it art. This is now the anticipated path of an artist.

G. K. Chesterton said on his deathbed that there was only the light and the dark, and every man had to choose which he would serve, for which he would live and die.

What do these sides, the light and the dark, look like? Look to your heart, readers. Who rides there? Captain America? Aragorn? Luke Skywalker? They are the emblems of the light, the ideals of those who choose goodness, right, and truth. They are what these people truly strive to be. All who live according to the light, who love the day and the stars at night, they fight for the light. They are the true Avengers, the real Fellowship of the Ring, and the living Jedi Knights. To believe in beauty, to fight to keep it present in the world – that, readers, is choosing and fighting for the light.

What do those who serve the darkness look like? Whom do they carry in their hearts? Loki, Saruman, Hannibal Lecter, Thanos – these are examples of the outriders of evil. It is these who are carried in the hearts of those who serve the darkness. They, like these characters, have rejected the light. For them it is better to rule in the dark than to serve in the light. Non serviam, they say. Those who are minions of evil resemble these wicked characters in some manner.

It may not be an obvious resemblance, of course. Does not Crossbones wear a mask? Do not Saruman and Thanos hide behind useful puppets like Gríma Wormtongue, Loki, and Nebula? Does not Hannibal Lecter do his work where none can see and stop him? And was it not Loki who was told by Coulson, “You’re going to lose.”

“Am I?”

“It’s in your nature.”

“Your heroes are scattered,” Loki answered, “Your floating fortress falls from the sky… Where is my disadvantage?”

“You lack conviction,” was Coulson’s prompt, true answer.

Why would evil wear a mask if it were so utterly convinced that it had nothing to fear? Evil wears a mask because it does have something to fear, something far greater than itself. The Light is what it fears, and for that reason true storytellers serve the Light.

This is why I blog about stories which I know are beautiful. This is why I blog about characters and songs I know to be beautiful. This is why I write. There is no other reason for this blog. If there ever was another reason, it has long since passed away. Writing about beauty is one way of making beauty visible to the world again and again. Of bringing order, if only for a few paragraphs, to a chaotic society. Of giving hope, however small, where it is needed most.

Excelsior, readers!

The Mithril Guardian

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Torches in the Dark

Captain America The Winter Soldier

Ideal (noun):

  1. A concept or standard of supreme perfection.
  2. A person or thing taken as a standard of perfection.
  3. A high principle; lofty aim.

Funk &Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary, Vol. 1, 1969.

“Mom, what does ‘humble’ mean?”

“Check the dictionary, dear!”

“Dad, what does ‘patriotism’ mean?”

“I’m a bit busy right now. Look it up in the dictionary and I’ll explain anything you have a problem understanding later, okay?”

 

I am one of those fortunate people who had parents who would tell me what a word I did not understand meant – once I checked it in the dictionary! If they themselves did not know its meaning, or were uncertain of it, they would grab one of the (many) dictionaries in the house and find the answer there. When I was old enough, they taught me how to do it.

For a while, I found it irritating, not least because some of the definitions were as confusing as the word I was looking up. But after a while I grew to enjoy it; these days, I could literally spend an afternoon perusing the dictionary just for fun.

Anyway, not long ago I was thinking about one of my favorite things in the world – fiction. I was thinking about how professional critics like to praise really nasty characters these days. You know the ones I mean – Hannibal Lecter, Dracula, Moriarty, or characters like them. And I was trying to figure out what these people see in such characters. What do they like about them? I wondered. What do they find so interesting in these black holes that are void of everything that makes a person good? Why do they hate the characters with principles and extol the characters that have none?

The only answer I was able to come up with is that a lot of these critics seem to hate the standards the good characters embody or aspire to achieve. As an example, one of the things I heard said about Captain America prior to The Winter Soldier’s release was that Steve Rogers had the “most colorful” uniform of the Avengers but the “least colorful” personality.

I was confused by the statement. “How can Cap be bland?” I asked. “He’s a great leader, a compassionate man, and he will protect people who cannot protect themselves. He’s magnanimous, he’s just, and he is someone who will stand up to evil no matter the cost to himself. What’s so dull about that?”

Apparently a lot, if you listen to some people.

In contrast to what they said about Cap, professional critics babble endlessly about the bad guys and how “great” they are. How much “depth” they have and how the reader/viewer/audience-in-general can “sympathize” with them when they see the reasons for their behavior.

I am not sure I sympathize with the likes of Magneto or Khan Noonien Singh. They are both men who will kill indiscriminately in order to gain power. After all, in a world ruled by mutants, should not the strongest lead? What government was Magneto planning to set up after he achieved global mutant dominance? If his rule of Genosha in Wolverine and the X-Men was any indication, he had a Fascist/monarchal government in mind. Khan’s ideas were about the same: “My race is supreme and I am the most supreme of them all. As for you – well, if you’re a normal human, then you’re just scum. If you’re enhanced, like me, then you’re simply less brilliant than I am.”

Nevertheless, I do pity Magneto and Khan. They are two brilliant men who squander their intelligence by trying to subject the world to their will. They are smart enough to help society in so many ways, but instead they choose to force their idea of perfection on everyone else. So they are unwilling to hear anyone say, “No, I don’t want to do that,” because those words offend their pride. Those words remind them that they have no business ordering other people to live by their twisted wills, and their pride will not accept that. It is this that makes them so pitiable.

However, while I feel sorry for these characters, I definitely do not sympathize with the likes of Hannibal Lecter or Moriarty. At least Magneto and Khan tried to be good initially. Lecter and Moriarty went bad almost the minute they were old enough to decide between up and down. Such a choice is not going to engender even a drop of pity from me.

“But how can the critics hate the good guys?” some may ask. “They never say they do!”

As a friend of mine likes to say, this is where language matters. And this is why it is a good idea to look up words in a dictionary – or read it just for fun.

Professional critics rarely state plainly that they hate fictional good guys. They know that anyone who likes fictional good guys will not listen to them if they state flatly, “I hate Superman/King Arthur/Frodo/fill-in-the-good-guy-of-your-choice because they’re good.” So instead they use language that makes the good guys seem weak, unreal, and thin. They label Cap a “Boy Scout,” old fashioned, or the old standby of “idealistic.”

Now you understand why I started this post off with a partial definition of ‘ideal,’ readers. The full definition has been cut in most modern dialogue so that its adjectival meaning alone is present. So when one hears phrases like “He’s very idealistic” or “He has great ideals,” one immediately thinks that the person being spoken of is not in touch with reality. They get the impression that the ideals the person espouses are “Capable of existing as a mental concept only; utopian; imaginary” (also from Funk &Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary, Vol. 1, 1969). In other words, ideals are about as tangible as rainbows and as real as the Sidhe of Irish mythology.

Yet the definition of ideal goes beyond that. An ideal is a “concept or standard of supreme perfection;” it is a torch in the dark that you take up to give you light as you walk around. An ideal is a goal, like a dream job or a trophy. If you want it, you have to work for it. And that is hard, daunting, labor to say the least.

The particular ideal(s) we want can be societal or personal. Societal ideals, such as justice and honor, are hard to achieve. Personal ideals such as compassion, self-sacrifice, and related virtues are even more difficult to achieve. I know – I have been trying to attain them and others for years. In fact I am still trying to reach them. So I know from my own small experience that working toward these ideals is a tiring vocation.

The thing to remember about achieving an ideal is that those who choose to pursue it are never satisfied that they have actually mastered it. For instance, others might consider a compassionate person a great hero, but that person will always feel as though they are not compassionate enough. So they practice it more and more, becoming even more heroic in the eyes of others. But in their own mind they will always sense that there is more for them to achieve – something that does not make the puzzle complete, something just over the next hurdle that they have to reach in order to be perfectly compassionate. And they will feel this way until they must transfer from this life of time to the life of eternity. Why? Because this life will never let them be perfect.

But you know something? That does not stop these committed people from continuing to work at being perfect – at least until they are in forevermore and do not have to worry about it. Because once such people are in forever they become as perfect as they can be.

So what does all this have to do with good guys and bad guys in fiction? Good guys are, as I said above, either the embodiment of an ideal or they are striving after an ideal. That ideal can be societal or personal, but it is an ideal all the same. Galahad is the ideal of knightly virtue, Cap crystallizes all the virtues that define the U.S. as a country in his personality, and Aragorn is the consummate model of a good and noble king. Other characters like Spock, Teal’c from Stargate SG-1, or Jason Bourne are all pursuing an ideal. Spock pursues the ideal of humility, recognizing that he and the entire Vulcan species are not superior to humans, while Teal’c and Bourne are each in pursuit of redemption for their past evil acts.

The most important fact about all these characters is that they are trying to be something better. Even Galahad, Cap, and Aragorn are not satisfied with their current levels of what we could call perfection. They are not as perfect as they can be and they know it. They are still striving after perfection. It will always elude them because, unlike us, they will be in this world for centuries to come. We will be here only for a short time, and one day we will be allowed through the curtain separating this life from eternity. They will not follow us because they are here to help keep us focused on the goal they are not designed to attain.

Some of the critics who go into raptures over the bad guys know this. What is more, they reject it. Why, I do not know. And as the old saying goes, “Misery loves company.” Rejection of ideals, of the race that we each feel the need to run toward perfection, leads to absolute misery in the here and now. And it is an awful thing to be miserable in solitude, because one knows precisely why he is miserable. Excuses for it make a thin shield which is only strengthened when more than one person is using them.

This is why, I believe, so much attention is being given to fictional bad guys by professional critics these days. No, not all professional critics are bad. But some are making everyone else toe their line, just as Magneto and Khan each tried to make the people of their worlds follow their wills. If there is no one to try and disarm these mistaken critics of their flimsy defenses, then they have no need to battle their own inner darkness and can sit pretty on it.

How can we combat this evil that they have accepted? By liking the fictional good guys and explaining why we like them. An even better method is to imitate the good guys’ virtues as best we can – after all, that is why they are here.

The best response, though, is to never stop trying to be better than we are today. Our own real competition is with our own bad tendencies. We are naturally inclined to choose good and not evil, despite what others may say. And as long as we stick with the good, as long as we fight to keep it and make it grow, we are running the great race and fighting the good fight. There is no greater challenge in life.

I do not know about you, but I enjoy a good fight. And if it is with my own faults, then that makes it an even better battle. I hope I win.

But more importantly, I hope you win your own inner battles, readers.

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian