Monday, March 30, 2009

Dark Heros

An article in today's Entertainment Weekly asks why today's movie heroes have gotten so complex, conflicted, and sometimes downright dark. But I don't believe the difference is in the heroes, it's in the writing.

True there are sadistic psychopaths like the guy in those Saw movies, but they're relatively few, just as psychopathic killers are relatively few in real life.

Heroes have always been complex and needing redemption, and plenty of them have achilles heels (including Achilles). Surely we remember Sherlock Holmes, all the way back in the 1890's, shooting up cocaine when an intriguing case didn't come his way?

And in fact we've always been quite aware that many of our real, flesh and blood heroes were not impassable saints. The very real Winston Churchill "was never without alcohol in his veins," says his biographer William Manchester.

Right now I'm reading Samuel Johnson: The Struggle about one of the greatest crusaders for right and truth that England ever produced -- but also a man constantly grappling against his demons and, for the most part, beating them soundly. True there were no superhero films back then, but everyone realized that Samuel Johnson wasn't unique in not being a 2-dimensional character. And his friend, biographer, and hero-worshiper James Boswell, made that quite plain when he wrote his famous biography of the man.

No, it's not that that real or fictional heroes have never had shadowy corners in their souls that they struggle to beat off and subdue. It's just that only recently have we been ready to write realistic screenplays. And that, I believe, is an evolutionary leap for moviegoers because a realistic hero is a much more inspiring hero. That's why we write stories about heroes: To model heroism so others can learn and imitate it.

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