Saturday, June 10, 2006

X3: Take a - Essentially Unheroic - Stand

I caught a screening of X3 last night. It is certainly mostly okay for the young adult audience, as long as your kids aren't too much of the thoughtful type. I have only heard my Christian friends raving about the movie, but, um, was anybody else bothered by some of the story? There's a lot to like in the look of the picture and the action sequences. It is stylish and cool. But, it loses its way from our perspective. (By "our" here, I mean the enlightened Christian world-view perspective.) I was disturbed, and I had the distinct sense that the audience felt disturbed and unsatisfied at the end.

It is hard to excuse a comic book film which forgets what a hero really is. Hell, it's hard to excuse any story that does this. But it seems to me more egregious in the clear blacks and whites of the comic book genre.

Two main problems in the narrative....

1) Jean Grey comes back after having given her life for her friends. But she comes back not better, but worse, murderous and kinda demonic. What is the film saying here? She ends up killing two of the very people she died saving in X2. This narrative choice really messes with the whole Christ-figure parallel. Through the whole second half of the movie, we get endless cuts to Jean watching her friends struggle against evil. We keep thinking she is going to rise like the Phoenix and make the huge difference for the good. They set her up as the greatest mutant ever, but instead of saving the day she dies with a whimper.

And the way she dies...

2) The film ends with an essentially unheroic choice in which Logan euthanizes Jean after she exhorts him weakly, "Save me." Paraphrasing JPII, any time we see the solution to a human problem in the death of a person, we have bought into the Cutlure of Death.

But I think we can see this choice as problematic, just on a plain old narrative level. It isn't good story-telling to have the lead character, Logan in this case, build up to doing, (as Storm foreshadows the choice) "the right thing" which is really a very terrible thing - murdering someone as an act of mercy. It isn't sympathetic to have the main character concede to such an unheroic action. A good story builds to a moment in which the lead character conquers himself to do something great. In X3 Logan's character builds to the point that he can kill what's left of his true love in the name of the greater good.

Double effect prohibits this choice. We are not allowed to do an evil to bring about a good. We are only allowed to do a neutral act, which will allow an evil to result, but one that can be justififed by the greater good which results. In the moment in which Logan kills Jean, she has reverted weakly to her good self. She asks him to save her. He kills her. We're a long way from Casablanca here.

Heros in movies don't give up on people. That's what some real people do - and not the best of us. Entertainment heroes are entertaining because they are better than real. In opting to kill Jean as the best solution to his problem, Logan makes a choice that is not only not better than real, it is less than what a real moral person would do. For example, suppose someone you love is caught in a terrible addiction. It would be heroic to never give up on them. It is anti-heroic to do away with them because you lose faith that they are ever going to be able to get themselves under control. It isn't mercy to stop someone else's struggle towards the good. Even if it is a struggle that seems to be consuming them.

This is true for the virtuous man, never mind the supernaturally virtuous Christian.

Having X3 end this way felt like a huge concession to contemporary cynicism. It isn't what people need in their stories. Especially the young people who have made this film huge.

But one has to wonder why the franchise went to all the trouble to set up Jean as a Christ-figure, just to forget about that in the final movie. I am betting they just didn't think the implications of the character's choices through.

Help me out here, Leo. I am I missing something?

But, because I feel sure that most of the audience won't think about the film too deeply, but rather just see it as good comic book guys beating the crap out of bad comic book guys, I give it a thumbs-up. But or anybody out there who thinks deeply about things, I recommend a pass. You'll be disturbed by what is passing for heroism here.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree. The thought of Logan killing his true love just didn't wash for me. There was, however, a (kind of) resurrection at the end of the film (you had to stay for the credits.) Thoughts?

Mari said...

Well if they didn't screw with the cannon we wouldn't of had this problem. Certain people don't die in the cannon. The comic book Phoenix isn't a demonic Stevie Nicks. Of course, I've been told there is an Dark Phoenix in the Marvel Universe, but then again, doesn't everyone in the superhero universe go throught a bout of temporary evilness?
There are a lot of logical (can I say that about a superhero fantasy film?) problems with X3, but it fills the shallow things-go-BOOM popcorn movie need that one occassionally gets.

Edward said...

You nailed it, Barb. I was uneasy with that ending but I couldn't quite articulate why.