Despite what the "It's just a movie, it doesn't mean anything!" crowd seems to think, movies are always pro-something, because if we don't believe in what the hero is doing, why would we care what happens on screen? It all comes down to emotional investment: We have to believe that Harry Potter stopping Voldemort is an overall win for the world, otherwise we just watched a cocky teenager murder a disabled old man by turning him into a fetus.
But movies have slyly convinced us to start rooting for some pretty terrible stuff. And I promise that's the last time I'll say the word "fetus," because that word is gross.
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The biggest mark the Star Wars trilogy left on cinema was the idea that balance is key. I know the philosophy probably predates that, but I'm going with Star Wars, because it's had a way bigger impact on contemporary society than any one religious text. Both the Star Wars prequels and the original trilogy give characters lines about "restoring balance to the Force," because apparently the centuries of peace and prosperity in the Old Republic was really off-kilter.
Maybe "balance" means "we finally get to use our fucking lightsabers."
X-Men: First Class is a way more recent example, where Xavier tells Magneto that the key to using his powers is "finding the space between rage and serenity," which is basically the same thing: Serenity is just dandy, rage is kind of a bummer. Therefore, it makes sense to find a balance between the two.
But Wait a Minute ...
No, it doesn't. Balancing between two ideas is a compromise, and compromise only makes sense when it's two sides that are willing to work together. Political parties compromise. Fighting married couples compromise. How do you compromise between two polar opposites, or with an evil force bent on your destruction? Kill off half your own population? That seems like a loss to me.
X-Men Babies is probably the more stupid of the two options here, because "the space between rage and serenity" is just "being mildly stressed out," as far as I can tell, which isn't nearly as dramatic a thing for Xavier to somberly whisper through a voice-over.
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"Imagine you're trying to rub one out before work, but the video's taking forever to load,
and you still have to make oatmeal so you're not hungry all morning."
But in Star Wars, "balancing the Force" means that both forces would be equally powerful, right? Yeah, we tried that in real life, with mutually assured destruction during the Cold War, and it was pretty goddamn stressful for everyone involved. Turns out building millions of nuclear weapons and pointing them at everyone, all the time, isn't really the best way to get any peace of mind. The problem is that a "balance" between two ideas that fundamentally can't coexist is never-ending war, which we can all agree is bad -- no matter how cool that one Civilization game is.
I'm not about to rail against the nuclear family or endorse some nihilistic bullshit here. To be clear, I'd do anything for my family, and I hope most of you would, too. Right? Not all of you have my nunchucks-and-ninja-wolves story to prove it, but don't worry, I believe you anyway.
And love? Man, love is rad -- especially the part where it makes us do dumb shit. I'm pretty sure blowing your savings to impress pretty people who like how your tongue tastes is one of the most important developmental periods you go through.
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It's hard to make something as awesome as kissing sound gross, but I did it.
But Wait a Minute ...
Movies have kinda gone overboard with this whole thing, and not in the normal way that they go overboard with everything. At the end of Armageddon, after Bruce Willis and his charming band of wacky dumbass rednecks pull off the most complicated procedure ever attempted in space (more on that in a moment), the entire story comes to a stop for a second so Bruce can say goodbye to his daughter -- which would be fine, if he weren't putting the entire world at risk to do it.
But the weirdest example has to be Saving Private Ryan. It's the single highest grossing World War II movie ever made, despite not actually being about the war at all. It uses the Normandy invasion, the biggest and riskiest invasion the world had ever known, as the backdrop for a story about taking care of Matt Damon's mom. And while the movie pays lip service to how controversial it is to sacrifice eight lives to save one, all the characters decide at the end that they're doing the right thing. Tom Hanks says, "Maybe saving Private Ryan is the one decent thing we're able to pull out of this god-awful shitty mess," which totally dismisses the real reason we invaded Europe -- to create a kickass video game subgenre.
Because at the end of the day, Matt Damon's mom is more important to us than the entire war effort. We care way more about our personal relationships than the rest of the world, mainly because our brains don't work properly.
When I was about 11 years old, my aunt Leslie gave me advice that's stuck with me to this day: "You can call someone a fucker, but you can't call them a dumb fucker." Then she drove me into the woods of Montana and left me there to find my way back to civilization alone. It was January, in Montana. Needless to say, I never let my Scattergories trash-talk get out of hand again.
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Then I befriended this wolf and he led me to safety. Then I snapped this picture, I guess.
I'm having trouble keeping track of my lies.
Despite the fact that you shouldn't take advice from crazy Montanans who live alone in the woods with lots of guns (or from me, now that I think about it), the root of what she said is right: Society places such a high priority on intelligence that calling someone dumb is about the worst thing you can do.
But Wait a Minute ...
If that's true, how come stupid people in movies always default as being alright folks? In the first Rocky, the Italian Stallion seems dumber than a box of pet rocks trying to explain the allure of Pokemon, and that only adds to his appeal. In Armageddon, NASA needs a bunch of roughnecks to pull off the single most complex space expedition in history, because they've got moxie or whatever. The only person we can trust at NASA is Billy Bob Thornton, whom the script tells us is pretty smart, but c'mon, how bright can he really be? He's Billy Bob Thornton.
"Duhooyyyyyy" -Billy Bob Thornton in this scene, probably.
You also see it in Moonraker (Jaws) and The Princess Bride (Fezzik), and even Mongo in Blazing Saddles references how he's "only [a] pawn in [this twisted, tragicomical] game of life." It gets flipped in Hot Fuzz when Lurch decides not to switch sides in the climactic fight, but of course that's the joke.
Basically, there's a "You must have this much IQ" sign plastered on the outside of Evil University, but the Forces of Good have recruitment booths set up outside all the remedial classes. Smart people are too unpredictable, always one step ahead of us, nowhere near as comforting as ...