August 24, 2011

The Green Lantern - movie review

A few days ago I’ve seen the 2011 superhero film Green Lantern with a friend, and I have to admit that given both the psychological and the philosophical aspects of the film, I left the movie theater with quite a profound feeling. But apart from that, I genuinely consider it to be an average action film.

Theatrical poster
I’m no fancy critic, or someone who has a deep insight into the world of movies, but I do am someone who is really into philosophy and psychology, so I would like to point out a few aspect of this film, lest they be unnoticed. I’m also a fan of silver age comic books, so first, I was dumbfounded when I heard in the narration how they changed the plot of the original comic books. And boy was I relieved that they didn’t reproduce that total and utter mistake that the makers of the new X-men trilogy did (i.e. scrambling the storylines, rewriting genealogies, etc…). Their secret was not altering the story that much, but only up until the point of being able to make a movie out of a comic book series. This point is usually neglected by comic book fans who fervently demand the original story to be used which is, in most of the cases, longer than that of 100 War and Peace’s. So I said to myself that I wouldn’t compare the movie to the comics, and instead of doing it, I watched the film as if I saw it without any preliminary knowledge on the stuff it was based on. 

First of all, after examining the body of Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) Dr. Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) says:
"It's indicating a convergent evolution.  Or perhaps a common ancestry.  And the implications of that, are staggering."

He's right. Based on our most widely accepted scientific theory, we believed that life started here on Earth, and then millions of species evolved from those initial primitive lifeforms. These two sentences echo the theories of "panspermia" or "exogenesis". The theory of Panspermia states that life may have started elsewhere in the galaxy, and then it was distributed by meteors. This was first proposed by Anaxagoras in the 5th centruy BC, yet he phrased it in an other way using notions like "life seeds" and "life-carrying rain clouds". A more recent researcher could be Professor Sir Fred Hoyle, or his follower, Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe.
So scientists researching the possibility of extraterrestrial life usually warn us that it if life like that existed, it would be completely different from what we can see here on Earth. This is true if the most common ancestor was indeed a primitive lifeform and not a more developed one. In the first case, the descendant special ould be completely different from one another, since from the very beginning, they had to get accustomed to different conditions; however, if that common ancestor was already developed (for example if they an endoskeleton, a spinal chord, four legs, and a vascular systems with hemoglobin based oxygen carrier formulations), then the derived species would still resemble their original state, but they would probably specialize to their distinct environment. Be that the case, Dr. Hector Hammond would be right to assume a convergent evolution resulting in e.g. different humanoid species.

Theatrical poster # 2
But there is another implication in what Dr. Hammond is saying. Should a convergent evolution truly exist, the notion of "personhood" would be the subject of future extension. There is a movement which seeks to bring about a change in the use of this terms, since they want to extend it to great apes. The usual counter argument is that even though these animals are the most closely related living creatures to humans, they lack sentience, hence they cannot be recognized as bona fide persons. However, a convergent evolution might result in more than one sapient species, therefore humans would have to face the fact that their culture (I mean the culture of the Earth including all the distinct cultures) is just one of the numerous cultures in the Universe. As all other kind of pre-humans had to face extinction, the Homo Sapiens remained the only "knowing" species, so such a scenario would mean that humans have to deal with a situation they have never ever had to deal with before. The whole legal system would be in jeopardy, unless species must agree on basic laws applying on them while living on each other's planet. Religions usually talk about "humans", and most restrictions and commandments apply to "humans" and not "sapient creatures", so there would be huge debates about how can a member of another special practice a terrestrial religion.

The other part which really got my was the discussion concerning fear. Sinestro (Mark Strong) says while having a training with the newest member of the Green Lantern Corps named Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds):
"Fear is what stops you, and makes you weak. Makes your constructs evil. You must ignore the fear. When you're afraid you can't act. You can't act you can't think. You can't think, you die."
This thesis statement and the following corollary alludes to the teachings of Master Yoda:
"Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering"
What is common in both philosophies is their mutual condemnation of fear. What's more, in the movie, "fear" itself becomes the nemesis of Ryan Reynolds' character, and it grows bigger and bigger by consuming other creatures' fear. The most fundamental skill a Green Lantern (or a Jedi) has to learn is to eradicate fear (since it is unilaterally portrayed as a negative force), whereas in reality, fear is a basic survival mechanism. Of course I'm not talking about intense dread, terror, or fright, but the fact that from an evolutionary psychology perspective, fear helped humans to survive. If he hadn't been afraid of lions, he would have gone up to them to pet them, so he would have been eaten. The slightly obsolete use of the verb "to fear" is much more expressive in this case: if he hadn't FEAR lions, he would have been eaten.

Theatrical poster #
Other example, our criminal system is—in a way— based on fear. For some, it is not enough that "You can't do this, you can't do that", so the criminal system uses negative reinforcement to get the desired effect (i.e. no illegal activity). So basically Pavlov is the legal system, and the dog is the offender. There is only one difference between the two scenarios. In Pavlov's case, if the dog DID something that Pavlov wanted (i.e producing saliva), the dog got a reward (food), whereas in the "Legal System-Pavlov" case, if the dog DID NOT do something that Pavlov wanted (i.e. obeying the law),  the dog gets a punishment. So the point is that in this case fear (of prisons, or of legal persecutions) may be—for some—the reason why they obey the law, therefore according to consequentialist ethics, fear can be good, as it keeps people from hurting your children for example.

Finally, I really liked the end of the rising action, just before the climax. Prior to Hal's final confrontation with Parallax, the embodiment of fear, he has a well-written dialog with his love-interest, Carol (
Blake Lively). Up until this conversation the 2 theses were that 1) Green Lanterns are fearless, and that 2) neither his father, nor Hal had ever felt fear, since it was their "job description". But in this dialog, she says:

"The ring didn't see that you were fearless. It saw that you have the ability to overcome fear. It saw that you're courageous."
This line is just amazing, as it basically summarizes the whole 114 hour long film in a mere three sentences. If someone would ask what the basic teaching of the film is, then this would be probably the best answer to that questions: overcoming fear. Hal confesses to Carol (in a wild outburst) that he is indeed afraid. This admission makes it possible to face his demons. This makes his solution better than Sinestro's. Hal advocates that the eradication of fear is impossible, and that the willpower gained after someone admits that (s)he is afraid is the only way to defeat fear. Sinestro, however, maintains that the only way to combat fear is by using fear itself, and he he continues to deny the fact that he is afraid. This is a great massage for the audience: denying your problems is not the same as solving them.

Theatrical poster #4
So, I enjoyed this movie, because these parts really got me, even though the film itself is no better than any other action movies. O.K. I wanted to end this post, but I just can't help pointing out another similarity between the Star Wars saga and the Green Lantern :D. In the cliffhanger, Sinestro puts on the yellow ringswhich the Guardians of the Universe had created to "tame" fear with iteven though the threat against which it had been created was over. The prediction of Hal Jordan becomes true ("Once you've given into fear, you'll never go back"), as Sinestro's uniform goes yellow from green, indicating that the evil force of fear took control over him, and that he will become the next villain in the second part of the upcoming Green Lantern trilogy. The very same thing happened to Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader. Initially, all he wanted to do was to save his secret wife, Padmé, but he fall to the dark side of the Force. Yep. Poor Anakin. So that was it, these were the ideas that came to my mind while watching Martin Campbell's Green Lantern. Please, take Obi-Wan's catchy line as you leave:
"You have allowed this Dark Lord to twist your mind until now . . . until now you have become the very thing you swore to destroy."

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