High Noon.

            There are a bunch of movies around about deadly men who have abandoned their previous lives to search for quiet, normality.  Then something happens.  Generally, it is some grave offense against innocents by super-predators.  The normal forces of Order prove impotent.  The Sleeper Awakens.[1]  “And Hell followed with him.”[2]  If I wanted to go all “cosmic,” I could argue—with a more or less straight face—that these movies are artifacts of the psychology of our time.  On the one hand, they’re instruments of vicarious “machismo” in an age when masculinity is often derided as “toxic.”[3]  On the other hand, they reflect the celebration of the prowess and heroism of America’s elite Special Forces troops during the “Forever Wars.”[4] 

            Basically, they are old wine in new bottles.  The old wine is, first, the idea of Righteous Violence.  Violence is terrible in its nature, but it may be the only way for Justice to triumph.[5]  Second, there is the idea of a society that can’t—or won’t—defend itself from danger.  These ideas come together in the basic story of the Second World War.  The bad guys over-estimated their strength, they kept bothering people who just wanted to be left alone, and they got destroyed.[6] 

            The new bottles are a very high kill-count, and the belief in powerful, occult forces that refuse to play by any civilized rules.  The high kill-count springs from lots of automatic weapons and improvised explosive devices combined with a theatrical athleticism.[7]  The occult forces are no longer either International Communism or the Mafia.  Now the occult forces are either Latin American drug cartels or Russian organized crime.  In either case, the villains are extreme in their savagery and, as a by-product, filthy rich.[8] 

            The Ur-story for this cultural theme is the Western “High Noon” (dir. Fred Zinneman, 1952).  Will Kane is a frontier marshal, once a “town-taming” killer who lived with the town’s madam.  Now he’s got a Quaker wife and plans for a peaceful life elsewhere.  Then he learns that an old enemy has been released from prison and is coming after him.  His one-time friends abandon him out of fear; his new wife insists on flight; he’ll have to face his enemy alone. 

            “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”  He does, then throws his badge in the dirt. 

[1] “Home Front” (dir. Gary Fleder, 2013); “John Wick” (dir. Chad Stahelski, 2014); “The Equalizer” (dir. Antoine Fuqua, 2014); and “Nobody” (dir. Ilya Naishuller, 2021).  Also the various sequels. 

[2] Revelation 6:8. 

[3] See: Tyler Durden’s soliloquies in “Fight Club” (dir. David Fincher, 1999).  The character of Walter White in “Breaking Bad” (2008-2013) seems inspired by a similar insight. 

[4] See: “Clear and Present Danger” (dir. Philip Noyce, 1994); “Tears of the Sun”’ (dir. Antoine Fuqua, 2003); “Zero Dark Thirty” (dir. Kathryn Bigelow, 2013); “Lone Survivor,” (dir. Peter Berg, 2014); “American Sniper” (dir. Clint Eastwood, 2014).  Compare these with “Restrepo” (dir. Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, 2010); and “The Outpost” (dir. Rod Lurie, 2020).  Also, “The Spear,” a podcast from the Modern War Institute at USMA, makes it very clear that American soldiers in combat rely heavily upon indirect fires and close air support.  See: https://mwi.usma.edu/category/podcasts/the-spear/ 

[5] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just_war_theory 

[6] Literally.  See, or listen to, Malcolm Gladwell, The Bomber Mafia (2021). 

[7] At the root of this athleticism lies “The Transporter” (dir. Corey Yuen—but really Luc Besson, 2002); “Ong-Bak” (dir. Prachya Pinkaew, 2003); and “District B-13” (dir. Pierre Morel—but really Luc Besson, 2004).  “The Transporter” made good use of the former UK Olympic Team diver Jason Statham. 

[8] See, for examples of the Russians, “Eastern Promises” (dir. David Cronenberg, 2007), and the Ukrainian character Sergei Malatov in “The Wire,” Season Two et seq.   


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