Death Wish: a Movie or a Description of Hollywood?

By | March 5, 2018 | 0 Comments

Want to mess with my family?

Movies are a mixture of fantasy and reality. The plots and characters are fictional, or at least fictionalized. But the kind of movies we make, and the kind we watch, reflect the kind of people we are.

“Death Wish” is a 1974 film starring Charles Bronson. “Death Sentence” is a 2007 film starring Kevin Bacon. “Death Wish” is also a 2018 film starring Bruce Willis. The differences in the films are striking.

● Bronson looks uncomfortable dressed in a suit playing an architect, but he is in his element playing the avenging tough guy. Bacon is in his element dressed in a suit playing an insurance executive, but he looks uncomfortable playing the avenging tough guy. Willis plays a surgeon and just looks uncomfortable.

● In the 1974 film, Bronson’s wife is murdered, and his daughter is raped and winds up in a psychiatric hospital. This leaves him free to pursue the attackers. In the 2007 film, one of Bacon’s sons is murdered, but his wife and second son remain at home. Bacon goes after the attackers without sending his family to safety. In the 2018 film, Willis’s wife is killed and his daughter put into a coma ‒ from which she emerges several days later, hair and makeup intact, learns that her mother is dead, and cheerfully goes off to college.

● The 1974 film shows Bronson as successful. The lesson: Resisting criminals is praiseworthy. The 2007 film shows Bacon’s wife murdered by the gang, and his second son critically injured. The lesson: Resisting criminals only puts you and your family in danger. The 2018 film shows Willis torturing criminals to death, using his surgical skills. The lesson: Resisting criminals turns you into a sadistic murderer.

● In the 1974 film, Bronson never finds those who attacked his family, but contents himself with shooting street thugs who attack him as he prowls by night. As a result, the city’s crime rate falls dramatically. In the 2007 film, Bacon succeeds in killing those who attacked his family, but there is no change in the crime rate. In the 2018 film, Willis succeeds in killing the criminals who attacked his family, but no one mentions the crime rate ‒ which, because the story is set in Chicago, remains high.

● In the 1974 film, Bronson walks the streets and rides the subways, using himself as bait for street thugs. He is shown as moral. In the 2007 film, Bacon spends so much time running from the thugs that one wonders whether the subject of the film is crime or long-distance running. He is shown as morally ambiguous. In the 2018 film, Willis is too sadistic to be seen as a role model. His success in finding the criminals responsible appears to be largely luck.

● In the 1974 film, Bronson is introduced to guns by a friendly man from the Southwest, who teaches him to use guns safely and effectively. The lesson: Guns are tools that can be used by good people against evil people. In the 2007 film, Bacon buys guns from a repulsive criminal, then uses the guns without instruction or practice. The lesson: Guns are evil, they are sold by disgusting people, and they make people do evil things. In the 2018 film, Willis uses guns he learned about from the Internet. The lesson: You can teach yourself to use lethal weapons.

● The 1974 film shows less blood, and the violence is realistic and clearly moral. The 2007 film shows more blood, but the violence is cartoonish and morally dubious. The 2018 film shows torture, so the violence is immoral and repulsive.

● In a sequel to the 1974 film, a drug dealer wears a large cross around his neck. Bronson asks, “Do you believe in Jesus?” The drug dealer nods. Bronson says, “Well, you’re going to meet him,” then shoots. The 2007 and 2018 films are devoid of religious references. Many people no longer believe that violence can be moral, even if it is necessary to defeat evildoers. In fact, many people no longer believe in evil. After all, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,” right?

● In the 1974 film, Bronson asks, “What do you call people who, when they’re faced with a condition of fear, do nothing about it; they just run and hide?” His son-in-law replies, “Civilized?” Bronson rejects this idea with a loud “No!” In the 2007 and 2018 films, the films themselves give the same definition of “civilized,” but there is no Bronson to object. The film makers assume that “civilized” is the same as apathetic. If so, grazing cattle are “civilized.”

● At the conclusion of the 1974 film, the police suspect that Bronson is the “vigilante,” so he moves to another city. As he arrives, a rowdy gang runs past, and Bronson makes a “gun” with his hand and points it at them. The lesson: He will continue to fight violent criminals. At the conclusion of the 2007 film, the gang leader tells Bacon that they are now the same, and Bacon agrees. The lesson: He will stop fighting criminals and become “civilized” again – in the bovine sense. At the conclusion of the 2018 film, the police suspect Willis but let him go. The lesson: We’re not really sure what to think.

● At the release of the 1974 film, Bronson didn’t need to make apologies. At the release of the 2007 film, Bacon felt compelled to declare that violence “doesn’t solve anything.” But Matt Damon felt no need to apologize for the “Bourne” films. In Hollywood, beating up U.S. Marines and killing American agents needs no apology, but killing criminals does. How revealing. At the release of the 2018 film, there was no announcement.

● The theme in 1974: Sheep need sheepdogs to protect them from wolves. The theme in 2007: Sheepdogs are no better than wolves, so sheep should be left unprotected. The theme in 2018: Sheepdogs are wolves, so fear them.

● The bottom line in 1974: Fighting violent evildoers is difficult and dangerous, but we must do it to preserve civilization. The bottom line in 2007: Fighting violent evildoers is difficult and dangerous, and we must not do it or we become evil ourselves. The bottom line in 2018: Fighting violent evildoers may be effective but it is also disgusting, so should we do it or not? Who knows?

● The 1974 film is like a cup of strong, black coffee that wakes us up. The 2007 film is like a cup of decaf latte that helps us fall asleep again. The 2018 film is so mediocre that we are lucky to be asleep. So we remain asleep − while barbarians gather outside our window.

All three films are social commentaries, but from different perspectives. A lot has changed since 1974 − more violence, less moral clarity.

Charles Bronson is dead. But if he were still with us, where would he find roles to play? Now many movie heroes are cartoon characters like Spiderman, or magical characters like Harry Potter. Young people may be entertained, but they cannot emulate such fantasy heroes.

And even the human heroes are more adept at feeling psychological pain themselves than at causing physical pain to criminals. The few who are capable of fighting criminals are shown as indiscriminate killers − to be pitied perhaps, but certainly not emulated.

Many people have become pacifists. They sit on the sidelines of life, watching with smug indifference. They are apathetic spectators, both in our struggle against violent criminals at home, and in our war against terrorists abroad. As Dennis Prager says, many people have been taught not that they should fight evil, but that it is evil to fight.

But how can civilization be advanced, or even preserved, by such people?

Author’s Note: For convenience, Bronson, Bacon, and Willis are referred to by name, rather than by the characters they portray. Contact: You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.

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