5 Light-Hearted Movies With Dark Moral Implications
Sometimes, movies or shows that go out of their way to be light and inoffensive end up accidentally creating complex moral dilemmas. The writers will often do everything possible to avoid pointing out the troubling implications of their innocent plot ... but don't worry, that's what we're here for.
Harry Potter -- Wizards Disprove Most World Religions
If we say, "The existence of wizards would disprove most world religions," you could easily shrug and say, "Well, yeah, but so would the existence of the Force." But there's a key difference; there are no Christians or Muslims in the Star Wars universe. There are in the Harry Potter universe, and some of them are also wizards.
After all, every year we see the characters celebrating Christmas. Unless the "Christ" part refers to something else in this reality, that probably means that at least some of these characters believe in Jesus.
"What did our lord Christopher Walken get you this year, Harry?"
Also, in one of the books we see the tombstone of Harry's parents with a Bible verse engraved on it, so it would be safe to assume that they were at least a little bit religious.
That, or whoever buried them was kind of a jerk.
This presents a massive crisis of faith for anyone living in the world of Harry Potter, as the fact that magic exists automatically contradicts half the stuff that's in the Bible. The school is haunted by sentient ghosts (like Nearly Headless Nick) who are basically floating refutations of the Christian afterlife. The most feared creatures in that universe are Dementors, robed beings that can suck out your soul before God or Satan ever get to it.
And in this universe, most of the miracles Jesus was supposed to have accomplished only by the grace of God could be performed by a 12-year-old with a wand and a copy of The Standard Book of Spells.
Hell, according to the Harry Potter books, even resurrection is possible, and that's supposed to be a trick limited to Jesus only (and his close pal, that one time). Oh, and there's a magical stone that will grant you eternal life.
Therefore, anyone who both knows about magic and believes in the Bible is in for a huge theological dilemma: Can you continue having faith in God if it turns out He was wrong about a lot of stuff? This would be a huge blow to anyone's beliefs, but the books/movies never touch on the subject.
"And risk these sales?"
Now, in the Harry Potter world, most normal people don't know about wizards, but a lot of them do, including some important political figures, like Britain's prime minister. Many others witness magic firsthand when their seemingly normal kids start developing powers.
"I have to admit, I'm going through a mild existential crisis right now."
So maybe all those zealots who were convinced Harry Potter was anti-religion had a point after all (although not in the way they thought).
Star Wars -- The Droids Are Being Oppressed
Star Wars is one of those stories where there's absolutely no challenge telling the good guys apart from the bad guys: The Rebels are good because they're trying to liberate the galaxy from tyranny, and the Empire is evil because they shoot planets and dress in black and stuff. However, for all their talk of freedom, even the Rebels are guilty of one enormous crime that nobody seems to care about: the oppression of an entire noble race of mechanical people.
The Star Wars movies alternate between showing droids as beings that are capable of real friendship and emotion and disposable objects that get sent on suicide missions or traded for scrap. For example, as the epic 70-minute YouTube review of The Phantom Menace points out, one second Obi-Wan is emotionlessly watching droids being shot to shit on a screen ...
... and 10 minutes later the queen is personally thanking R2-D2 for being a hero who put himself in danger to save the crew. If droids aren't sentient beings, why would anyone bother thanking them for anything?
"What? No, I thought it was a real dude named Artoo! What's wrong with you?!"
That's like giving a medal to a rifle, or, like, some oddly shaped trash can that an enemy soldier tripped over. For that matter, why would they include R2 and C-3PO at the ceremony at the end of the first Star Wars? They should be in a closet at that point.
In other instances, R2-D2 demonstrated loyalty, courage and even inventiveness (like when he outwitted those two other droids and set them on fire). Meanwhile, it's been established that C-3PO is capable of feeling basic emotions like pride, terror and even grief -- in Return of the Jedi, when R2-D2 is shot by a Stormtrooper, he laments, "Oh, R2, why did you have to be so brave?" Though R2 is definitely braver, both seem averse to physical harm, suggesting that they actually feel pain.
"BEEP BEEP BOOP BE -- oh shit, that actually hurt! Motherf-!"
Presumably all droids (or at least the ones that look like R2 and C-3PO) have minds that are just as humanlike, and yet people are routinely wiping their memories. That's the first thing Luke's uncle Owen tells him to do with the droids in the first Star Wars, and Luke doesn't seem to think there's anything wrong with the equivalent of brainwashing a human (his protests are more along the lines of "farming is lame!").
Of course, C-3PO had already been lobotomized before, at the end of Revenge of the Sith, when Leia's adoptive father casually instructs the dad of another minor original trilogy character to delete all trace of the droid's hopes, fears and personality.
"We can't have any awkwardly placed throwbacks to the original trilogy here, no sir."
The most likely explanation here is that the humans know droids are people, too -- they just don't give a shit (even though some of them have robot parts and all). And that's what we in this world call "slavery."
Dr. No -- James Bond Single-Handedly Turns the Caribbean into a Nuclear Wasteland
In James Bond movies, it's accepted that the end justifies the means -- we're fine with Bond killing supervillains' workers, lab technicians and janitors left and right because he needs to fulfill his mission at all costs, and also those guys are dicks. The end of Dr. No, however, is one of those times when he might have gone a little overboard.
Just a little bit.
As part of a plan to sabotage U.S. missile and space launches, the evil terrorist organization SPECTRE employs atomic poindexter Dr. No to build a nuclear-powered toppling ray on the Caribbean island of Crab Key, near Jamaica. Bond successfully dicks up these plans by forcing the island's atomic reactor into a catastrophic overload, resulting in Dr. No's ironic demise ...
"NOOOOOOOOO -- oh, haha, I see what you did there, Ian Fleming."
... while Bond and the sexy companion he acquired at some point triumphantly run from the resulting explosion, presumably (definitely) to have sex behind the nearest shrub.
But shockingly, causing a nuclear explosion in the middle of the Caribbean isn't as harmless as the movie depicts it -- let's just say that by now, instead of being known for their reggae music and dreadlocks, Jamaica would be famous as the land of impoverished five-eyed babies.
Let's look at what was in Dr. No's lair (since Bond obviously didn't): a pool-type reactor from this era should have around 56 kilograms of uranium. Considering that Dr. No was running an entire island out there, including a bauxite mine, a million-dollar aquarium and a goddamn rocket toppling ray, it would be safe to assume that he was using at least three times the normal amount of radioactive material -- so that's 168 kilograms (370 pounds) of uranium blown into the Caribbean sky.
That's nowhere near as bad as Chernobyl, but that's not saying a whole lot. If we take a fallout map of the Chernobyl disaster, adjust it to the scale of this explosion based on what we know and superimpose it on a Google Maps image of the Caribbean, it would look like this:
"Hey, Bond, CIA here. While you're at it, do you mind helping us with a little problem down here? It's called Cuba."
See that patch of land under the lower red cloud? That's the entirety of Jamaica. The city of Kingston and its more than half a million laid-back citizens would receive the brunt of the radioactive fallout, making the city uninhabitable for a century. Not that anyone would be coming back: A quarter of the country's jobs and a good chunk of its earnings come from tourism, and nobody wants a Jamaican glow that actually glows.
Depending on prevailing winds, large swaths of Cuba and Haiti (and Bond himself) could have been fatally irradiated ... simply because Bond wanted to make a cool exit.
"This would make a great story for my grandchildren, if I wasn't sterile just from standing here."
Midnight in Paris -- Time-Traveling Romance Alters the Course of History
In the past decade or so, time travel has somehow gone from something that could only happen in sci-fi/fantasy movies to a common trope for chick flicks. Romantic comedies like Kate & Leopold and Happy Accidents show the stressed-out female protagonist becoming involved with a quirky man from another era, while dramas like The Lake House and The Time Traveler's Wife have found an easy new tool to make the audience cry: paradox-related accidental death.
The weirdest part is that they don't even remember saving that bus that one time.
Time travel gives these movies a sense of romantic adventure, and also horrifying unaddressed consequences.
For example, in Midnight in Paris, Owen Wilson is an American tourist in Paris who gets drunk one night and wanders into the 1920s, where he meets and hangs out with important historical figures like Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway.
It's just like Hemingway said: "If you're drunk enough, there's nothing you can't accomplish."
This isn't a booze-induced hallucination, by the way: During one of his nightly time trips, Wilson hooks up with a girl from the '20s. The next day, back in the present, he buys the same girl's diary in an antiques shop and finds out she wrote about him -- in other words, he's actively changing the past. The implications are vast, but he seems completely oblivious to them.
"How much is this book?" "Ten swasti-euros and 25 Goering-cents."
The guy doesn't exactly keep to himself during those time excursions: He casually interacts with some of the most influential thinkers of the early 20th century, pitching people their own future film ideas, carelessly passing around his unfinished novel and even giving some Valium to Zelda Fitzgerald to calm her down -- thus taking away half the material for her husband's classic novels.
The Mediocre Gatsby had poor reviews.
The unfinished novel alone could have disastrous history-changing consequences, since it was written and set in our present, presumably including details of modern technology. It's a miracle that, when he got back, the whole world didn't look like the middle section of Back to the Future II. Also, at the end of the movie, we see that the private detective following Owen Wilson ends up in the court of Louis XIV -- he would have said anything to the French royals to avoid being thrown in jail, like, say, "You guys might wanna stay away from guillotines."
"Don't make any funny remarks about cakes. Trust me on this one."
Tron -- If Computer Programs Are Alive, Do They Have Rights?
If the "robots are slaves and nobody cares" element of Star Wars is weird, the treatment of computer programs in the two Tron movies is infinitely weirder.
In Tron, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is a game programmer who basically gets sucked into a computer and interacts with physical embodiments of programs (one of whom is called Tron). In computerland, everything is neon lights and spandex, and programs have thoughts and feelings just like people.
Even your mom's browser toolbars are capable of friendship.
Anyway, Flynn eventually defeats the evil programs -- being a real person in the digital world gives him powers (like Neo) -- escapes the computer world and sets everything right ...
Except for all the living programs that are being tortured and killed every day all over the world, that is. He doesn't seem to care a whole lot about that.
At the beginning of the movie, we see Flynn hacking his way into the software company that stole his game ideas by using a program of his own creation -- at the same time, we see the program in the computer world (who looks like Flynn but talks like he has Asperger's) being chased by anti-hacking spaceships, who capture, torture and kill him. He actually screams in pain as he's being deleted ... the implication being that this happens every time you use your computer.
Pictured: What happens when you empty the trash can.
But the characters in Tron only seem to think that this is a problem while they themselves are inside the computer having their adventures. The moment they leave, they completely ignore the fact that every program in every computer in the world is a living being capable of feeling pain. The film also implies that video games are actually some sort of cruel Roman spectacle where programs have to fight to the death: The Identity Disc battles are basically Pong seen from the point of view of the little bar ...
... and the Light Cycle matches are a game like Snake.
The movie completely ignores the ethical ramifications of all this. Sure, the programs are all eager to serve their masters, but that doesn't make their tears any less real. Not to mention that in many cases, the ones sent to the games are there against their will and only trying to survive. They're working their hardest to sweep our mines and be as angry a bird as they can, and we're deleting them to make room for more porn.
The worst part is that Flynn not only created many popular games, but also owns an arcade, making him one of the biggest genocidal killers in history (after Shigeru Miyamoto). The fact that he knew programs were alive and didn't immediately try to tell people after being released makes him at the very least a terrible person. In fact, he did the complete opposite: He became the CEO of a software company and continued creating and selling innocent programs en masse.
No wonder his Second Life avatar hated him.
You can keep up with Brendan Bourque-Sheil's other writings if you follow him on Twitter. Chris Hyde is a U.K. screenwriter and motion graphics artist.
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