I've watched two movies recently, Match Point and The Player, in which the proverbial "bad guys" win. There is no happy ending. The murderers not only go unpunished but also prevail. Ironically, in The Player, there is a film within the film in which the screenwriter insists that his movie not have a happy ending, that it be based in reality. But the unhappy ending flops in screen tests and is replaced by a predictable, happy one. But The Player itself has no such ending. These kinds of dark, anti-hero movies are commonplace these days, and they win awards. No Country for Old Men -- a gruesome film with a gruesome end – won this year’s Oscar for best picture.
What effects do such films have on us? Do they make us less likely to be just, compassionate, kind, courageous, and honest ourselves? I’d love to see a social psychology study analyzing the effects of cynical films versus uplifting ones on our attitudes and behaviors. (Dissertation topic anyone?) Although I’m only guessing, I think bad-guys-prevailing films may erode our care for others, contribute to our apathy, and justify our self-centeredness. I’m concerned that we’re raising in-it-for-me cynics instead of ordinary heroes through our trends in entertainment.
Yet, I also think this trend in unlikable characters successfully beating the system will soon fade. Even if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences elevates these "bad guy" films with its awards, box office sales still prove that we like heroism, and that we want the good guys to prevail. I also think that we crave more nuance and truthfulness in these complex times, and that simple happy endings will be disappointing and unsatisfying. I don’t believe that most of us want apathy reinforced, but we do want our minds sated; we want brilliance, not sappy, feel-good-but-ultimately-unrealistic finales. We want human complexity acknowledged, in which good and bad are not depicted in either/or characters, but in more subtle and complicated ways that require more clever and intriguing solutions for today’s -- and tomorrow’s -- world.
I welcome your comments.
Image courtesy of dubswede via Creative Commons.