Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Sin City (billy)

I saw the movie Sin City last night with a friend of mine. After all as a guy and newly introduced to the 30-something decade, I am still very much that same boy who enjoys the shoot-em-ups, the comic books, the sci-fi / fantasy genre, Star Wars Action figures (yeah, I got a red Ep III Vader), and RP video games. Yet I am also a man in love with Jesus, a man who prays to the Christ each day, studies the Word and teaches others (reluctantly to be sure but nonetheless), a man educated in philosophy, ethics, apologetics, and pop-theology.

So Sin City was incredibly interesting to me on both the artistic and movie-craft level (it was amazing, pioneering, visionary, and visceral) as well as on the moral / ethical / philosophical level.

-Mild Spoilers Ahead-

There are no heroes in this movie. There aren't really any "good guys". Even the "good guys" are dark and seedy and very human in a post-human kind of way. What struck me about the three intersecting stories of the film is how I found myself rooting for and identifying with those characters I was "supposed to" but surprised at how different from me they were. The protagonists were men with exceedingly dark souls who were faced with a moral / ethical decision and ultimately made the "right" choices - even at great personal expense. They were at once martyrs and convicts being justly punished.

Yet while it was easy to cheer for Marv in his quest for just retribution, I admired the rightness of a fervency for justice while I wondered at the basis for his decision. Where did that sense of justice come from? As I rooted for Dwight in his quest to ensure liberty for the self-determined, Henry David Thoreau style "intentionally living" whores of Old Town, I saw the rightness of valuing of liberty. At the same time I couldn't help but wonder why he bothered. As I hoped that Hartigan would survive the injustices and suffering he was made to endure on behalf of another (one truly innocent and pure), I had to question whether or not his day job was really enough to make him do it.

It dawned on me during a post-film discussion with my friend. The film is an excellent depiction of the moral life adrift. Without a transcendent tether, where man is the measure of all things (as Protagoras said through Plato) including those things intangible and belonging to the thoughtful realm (e.g. ethics, morals, knowledge of good and evil), the ability to act righteously or with nobility does not vanish. It exists, it manifests, it may even motivate and spur one to the ultimate sacrifice. Yet it extends only to the edge of the agent's skin.

Ethical acts become bastardized in a very literal way. Every ethical act has a different father, a different cause. Marv, Dwight, and Hartigan each acted righteously. Yet there was no transcendent righteousness in Sin City. This is not because Marv was a thug or Dwight a convicted murderer on the lam or Hartigan a cop with a penchant for vigilantism. It is not because Sin City is a Hobbsian foil to Locke's notions of civilization and government - irrational and unavoidable. It was not because of what each of the characters were. Their righteousness was bastard because they fathered it themselves.

In Matthew 7: 9-11 Jesus makes mention of the fact that even the evil know how to be kind, just, loving, and sensitive. Yet he never claims that this is sufficient for anything (a satisfying life, getting to heaven, being liked by others). He mentions clearly that He is the only thing that is enough.

Bastard morality - morality I father has the sheen of right-ness. I want to root for it. I do root for it. But it's never enough to satisfy, sate, or slake a thirst for lasting right-ness or the peace a lasting right-ness precipitates. For that a transcendent morality is required. Else the peace lasts only as long as the space between the end of this and the start of the next moral crisis.

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