Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Pathos of Evil

I used to write an occasional entry on a blog called "Doohickey" about some of my favorite movie villains. That blog has since been removed (probably due to inactivity), so I'll revive the series here for one more bad guy.

Before I begin, I want to say a word on film archetypes. Cinema has a language that is clear and easy to follow, especially since everyone in the present has grown up with television and movies. This language can change over time. For instance, in old movies such as Murnau's Sunrise, the good girl is blond and fair, a clear example of purity. There is another woman in the film. This one has dark hair, smokes cigarettes, and wears darker colored clothing. From the first frame she appears it is clear that she is a vamp, a stark contrast to the innocence of the blond. Since then, cinema's attitude toward blonds has turned them into more wild creatures. Blonds are ditzy and like to have more fun, while brunettes are often more intelligent, especially if they have glasses (see ANY dumb teen comedy or raunchy college flick). These are gross oversimplifications, but they are useful when there are only two hours to tell a story. Good and evil often have to be exaggerated and simplified in order for the audience to know who is who.

This brings us to the presentation of villains in cinema. It is all too common for bad guys to be unapologetically bad. Think of any Bond villain, historical epic, or children's film. Bad guys LOVE being bad guys. True, there are times when the villain is more complex and sympathetic, but they always seem to steal the show. There's a glamor to evil. In cinema, evil is always big, loud, impressive. This way, when they are finally defeated, the audience can safely know that the hero did the right thing in vanquishing them. This brings us to today's villain.

Jerry Lundegaard, Fargo (1996) SPOILERS!!!




Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) has an incredible plan. Hire two goons to kidnap his wife in exchange for half the ransom and a new car, which would bring Jerry a sorely needed 40 grand. That's not all, however. Jerry plans on asking for a bigger ransom from his father-in-law without telling the two hired kidnappers, and intends to keep the money himself. In most movies, this is the kind of plan that would be concocted by a devious mind with the gusto to actually attempt such a caper. Think of all the horribly complicated heist movies (Die Hard with a Vengeance, Ocean's11, 12, 13) where the plan relies on every little detail being followed with precision. The people pulling them of are of the sharpest minds and stunning talent. Jerry is no such thing. He's confused, incompetent, easily flustered, and overall a failure. From the very beginning of the film, before the plan is even explained, it's clear that Jerry is a small man. His manner of speech is quaint and sheepish. His stature and facial expressions lack confidence. He wears a dorky hat. He looks completely out of place in the bar where he utters the first line in the movie, "I'm, uh, Jerry Lundegaard." That's it? he doesn't even sound too confident in his own name! When asked by one of the criminals why he doesn't just ask his father-in-law, Wade, for the money, he stammers and can't confess the fact that he just isn't man enough to do it. Then there is this scene, where Jerry suffers a serious let-down and loses face in front of his father-in-law.


What was he thinking? He's in way over his head, and winds up with nothing for his efforts.

Fargo does have a conventional villain in Peter Stormare's Gaear Grimsrud, the silent, cold-blooded killer, but Jerry brings something new to the table. This would-be mastermind is absolutely pathetic. Naturally, nothing goes according to this plan. Due to events set in motion by him, seven people wind up dead. And where is Jerry at the end of all this? Crying out in desperation, he is arrested in his boxers trying to escape out a motel window. He isn't even given the dignity to go down in glory like the conventional movie villain. Even though he deserves what he gets, I can't help but feel bad for the guy.

In short, Fargo demonstrates a very real truth about evil. It isn't glamorous or romantic to be a bad guy, but small, pathetic, and pitiful. Jerry's life is in ruins because he thought he could get away with it. Instead, he has a dead wife, a traumatized and motherless son, no father-in-law, faces serious charges, and no money. He's left with nothing but shame.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Just a quick update.

Gabba gabba hey!

So, I'm doing Spring break in Ave Maria, FL. One of my buddies has friends here, so we road-tripped through the deep south. Nice drive, but very long. We stopped in NOLA on the way, and stayed with the seminarians. Got to Bourbon St. on a Sat. night, and found a great blues club that WASN'T a strip club (it really is a den of debauchery). Then we got beignets at Cafe du Monde before turning in for the night. Fun town, but I don't think I could live there.

Ave Maria is a neat little town. It feels like a combination resort/retirement home/ model community/ University, and it's all brand new and clean. The weather is sublime, and the people nice. I stopped in at the academy here and sat in on Dr. Beane's math theory class. That took me back. Good times! I'm here for another day, so I'll probably grab a coffee/beer with him sometime.

The Oratory is interesting. It modernizes the design without sacrificing the traditional schema of a church. I'm still mulling it over. It's not my favorite design by a long shot, but I think it has a good enough charm to it.

Now... just dinking around at the Queen Mary Pub. They have a drink called "Bloody Bess," inspired by the terrifying reign of Elizabeth I... They would do that in this town, wouldn't they? :D

I'll try to update more often from now on.

-IS

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dallas Pt II

Okay, it's been almost two weeks since I got here. I love this school! I've never been in such an intellectual environment before. Almost everyone, from the students to the faculty, is devoted to the diligent pursuit of knowledge. This is gonna be a great two years.

I thought that, because this is Texas, that people would be dressed in stetsons and cowboy boots, etc. Maybe they dress like that everywhere else in Texas, but UD is actually kind of secluded- stuck on the outskirts of the metro area. It's a little pocket of Texas where all the geeks in the country gather to geek out about Aristotle. There are sweater vests, bow-ties, suspenders, and Irish caps everywhere. I'm kind of... fitting in...

I've begun doing my grocery shopping at the Mexican supermarket. It's called Fiesta, because every time you shop there, it's like going to a party! :D It's also a lot cheaper and just as good as any regular place. Also you can get things other grocery stores don't have, like nopales (cactus)!

I mostly do my own cooking (except when Jacqui was visiting- she likes to cook :-) ), but I've gone out a few times and found that Texas has some great fast food. If you're ever down here and find a Steak & Shake, check it out. That's a gooooooood steak burger! Also, there's this place in Addison (another suburb of Dallas) called the "Flying Saucer" that has over 100 beers on tap. On top of that, pints are 2.75 on Mondays!!! A word on Addison. They probably have more restaurants per capita than any other place in the country. They have miles on nothing but places to eat, and there's something for everyone. If money weren't an issue, I'd go there more often.

There's a lecture on Aquinas tonight on campus. I might go (there's nothing else to do- this is what UD students do for fun).

I'll survive this semester without one, but I really ought to invest in some form of transportation. A bike would be most economical, but a moped would be way cool. I'll think about it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Ian Does Dallas! :D

Hey all y'all!

Items!

1) It's like Spring down here! Maybe a light sweater or a long sleeve shirt, but that's it!

2) Everything is a million miles away! The campus is right across the street, and there's a gas station and a McDonald's in walking distance, but other than that, One would have to drive... or hitchhike. Fortunately, the other students are very friendly and always on hand to give a ride if need be. They know how it is. Sunday morning, I ate breakfast at McDonald's for the first time. Sausage egg mcmuffin. It was pretty good, to my surprise.

3) It's small! Only about 3,000 students! So the bureaucracy can only be so bad!

4) Classes!
i) History of American Education
ii) History of American Art
iii) Aristotle's politics
iv) Hobbes/Locke/Rousseau
- The art hist course is for kicks, the education one is something I have a mere dearth of knowledge in, so a class would be nice to see how our current model of education developed, and perhaps discern any inherent flaws. The Aristotle and Hobbes/Locke/Rousseau will be good, since those show the ancient and more modern influences on American political thought during the framing of the constitution. When interpreting the law of the land, it is important to understand the political/philosophical environment in which it was born. Unless, of course, you don't care (I'm looking at YOU, congress). So, these will be solid classes! I'm back in academia!!!!

5) The people are very nice so far.

6) My living accommodations are good. Close to the university, clean, fairly priced, and very helpful management. Also, I have my OWN place. Nice.

7) Did I mention the weather is heavenly?

8) The campus is actually rather nice. The architecture is a bit dated. You can tell the buildings were constructed in the 60s-70s, but there is some very good landscaping, and a surprising number of trees.

9) There's a Catholic church on campus!

10) I don't have to work!!! :D My time will be completely devoted to study!!!

I'll post more as the time goes by. I have food, but no cookware, so I'm hitching a ride to Walmart with some people this afternoon. Hurrah!

Adios muchachos!
Ian

Tuesday, December 15, 2009