Really, the only thing that would have made it weirder is if the heroes had done the killing themselves ...
People die all the time in movies, usually because they deserve it. Sorry, Mr. Tattooed Henchman of a Russian Mob Boss, you knew things were destined to end this way. They covered it in orientation. But what's weird is that this kind of casual slaughter even happens in movies that are specifically about how all lives have value. Even weirder, not even the other characters seem to notice. Think about ...
In Infinity War, the requisite "Heroes vs. Horde of Glowy Alien Things" battle scene takes place in Wakanda, when the Avengers and the Wakandan army join forces to protect the Mind Stone from Thanos' invading monsters. The problem? The stone is embedded in the humanoid robot Vision. Thus, Wakandan surgeons need their army to hold off the invaders so they can destroy the Stone without killing Vision in the process. It's a pretty typical, flashy Marvel mega fight with cool effects and twists and last-minute theatrics. SPOILER: They're unsuccessful. But they tried!
But ... why is any of this happening? Why are these Wakandan soldiers so utterly willing to be slaughtered by the hundreds in order to possibly save Vision? Remember, they're not protecting the Infinity Stone; they're buying time so the Stone can be destroyed without having to harm Vision, who is one guy, and also a robot. Why is T'Challa cool with meat-grindering his own people, who presumably also have families and partners who love them as much as Scarlet Witch loves Vision? Hell, why is Vision cool with that?
Obviously, the real reason is that Vision is a familiar character in the franchise, while the foot soldiers are a bunch of extras and CGI. It's the same reason Independence Day is going to focus more on a character's fleeing dog than what happened to all 163 million offscreen individuals in Bangladesh. But it becomes a different, much weirder phenomenon when even the characters in the story start thinking of fellow characters as faceless extras, as though they themselves somehow know which individuals are on the poster and which aren't.
Really, the only thing that would have made it weirder is if the heroes had done the killing themselves ...
In The Shape Of Water, 2017's Best Picture Oscar winner, Sally Hawkins' character Elisa falls in love with a sensitive magical swamp thing and conspires to heist the creature out of the U.S. military's custody. She gets help from Michael Stuhlbarg's Dr. Hoffstetler, a government scientist who's also secretly working for the Soviets.
While they're removing the creature, a security guard stops them. But before he can inspect the huge lizard-man-shaped cake they're smuggling out, Hoffstetler leaps out from behind and stabs the guard with a syringe of deadly poison. The guard falls, Richard Jenkins' character remarks "Is that guy dead?" (a moment that's almost played for laughs), and the crew escapes, completely unaffected and unregretful over the life they just ended.
The entire movie is based on the life-affirming idea that our protagonist can form a magical, species-transcending bond with a cat-murdering beast because she's the only one to give it the proper amount of patience, empathy, and understanding. Everything is worthy of love and attention; you just need to get to know it. But then why the fuck doesn't that apply to the security guard? I'm sure he would've eaten an egg if you gave him one. Why is he not worthy of three seconds of empathy?
If your rebuttal is that he was working for the evil government lab and thus was complicit, please remember that Elisa also worked there. "But she didn't know they were torturing sea monsters, and changed her mind when she found out!" That guard didn't know, either; he probably had the same security clearance as the janitorial staff. Maybe he'd have changed his mind too, if given a chance.
I will entertain the ludicrous assertion that Guillermo del Toro probably knows more about filmmaking than the jokey dumbass writing this article, and he made the conscious choice to insert the "Is that guy dead?" remark to gloss over the moment, lightening it up ever so slightly enough for us to move on without questioning it. But if it doesn't create any kind of lasting effect on the characters or tie into the "All life is sacred" central theme -- you know, like if it actually had presented a moral quandary for the heroes -- then why include the murder at all? Have them knock him out or something. That guy's five children need their father!
Peter Jackson's 2005 King Kong isn't quite as lovey-dovey in its message as Shape Of Water, but it does put a lot of legwork into forging a plausible, mutually loving relationship between Naomi Watts' Ann Darrow and the titular CG ape. Her wacky dancing amuses Kong, Kong's lonely stares into the distance make her feel for the ape -- it's your classic rom-com, sandwiched between aerial triple dinosaur jaw-snappings.
So when Ann reunites with Kong in New York, she risks her own life to deter planes from killing him, then weeps as Kong (85-year-old SPOILER) fades and falls off the Empire State Building. There's sad choral music, the shots are all slow and linger for a while as Ann bursts into tears. Meanwhile, the movie couldn't have given less of a shit about these poor dudes who die even more brutally:
No sad choral music for those worthless nobodies. Where'd claw guy's body even end up? Who gives a shit? The movie's not called Man Who Thought Climbing Would Keep Him Safe But It Really Just Killed Him Faster, even though that's an excellent title for a film.
More importantly, the other characters don't care either. We're supposed to feel empathy for Kong because he forms a bond with Ann, but he sure doesn't give a shit about the trio of probably-now-paralyzed blonde ladies he grabs and chucks aside when he sees they're not her:
Notice how the camera stays fixed on Kong for the whole sequence. We don't get even a brief shot of these women landing to show whether they're OK or if their brains wound up splattered on the pavement. The framing of the shot assumes we don't care, treating them like props who briefly got in the way of true love. Again, the message is clear: Love transcends species, it just doesn't transcend, like, the fifth spot down on the IMDb cast.
The Jurassic Park franchise doesn't start out insisting that dinosaurs are people too. It's more about the dangers of playing god and reckless capitalism. A T-Rex saves them at the climax of the first film, but it's not like the heroes climb on its back and ride into the sunset. By the time we get to Jurassic World, though, a clearer moral starts to take shape. Chris Pratt's character learns to communicate with the beasts, while most humans want to exploit them for profit. And for that, they deserve to die.
So the good guys gleefully allow Vincent D'Onofrio's military asshole guy to get torn apart by raptors. They leave him there, we see a spatter of blood fly, and that closes the book on that jerk, who was chubby and wanted to do military things. FUUUCK him.
But much weirder than that is the death of Zara, the assistant who is juggled around by several species of dinosaur while she screams her lungs out ...
... getting mangled, drowned, and then eaten, all while the kids she was watching barely bat an eyelash. The movie cuts away so quickly that you almost expect one of the kids to crack some one-liner ("Hope she waited 20 minutes after eating to jump in the pool!") That's the kind of fate normally reserved for Bond villains. Why does the movie take such joy in her prolonged, gruesome demise?
But really, did any of these people deserve to die? Did any of the soldiers or park employees? They opened a big zoo. We all watched Blackfish and got really mad at Sea World, but I don't think most of us came away hoping all the Pepsi execs who sponsored the Shamu Show got bisected alive by orcas. It's almost like they based their franchise around the vague sense of a high-minded theme, without ever thinking it through. Hey, speaking of which ...
It's no coincidence that HBO's Westworld plays like "What If Jurassic Park Was Robot Cowboys Instead Of Dinosaurs?" considering the same guy originally wrote both books these series are based on (Michael Crichton). The show's moral philosophy is a little wonky at times, to say the least, but the moral dilemma is familiar: These incredibly lifelike robots populate a theme park for rich tourists who selfishly treat them like objects. We find out early on that the robots are self-aware, and if you've seen a movie or TV show before, you know that a rampage is coming.
In Season 1, the human character who's supposed to stand in for the audience is William, a young man making his first visit to the park who falls in love with a female robot, to the point where he risks his life to defend her from his dickhead future brother-in-law Logan. Eventually, William ties Logan naked to a horse and sends him galloping off into the wilderness. Logan survives, but spirals into a suicidal depression and kills himself offscreen in Season 2. That's what you get for being mean to the robots, shithead! They're people too! But you're not!
Logan's death is but a drop in the bucket in the end. The robots soon start slaughtering park employees and guests with gleeful brutality. There are a few "good ones" we're meant to worry about among the humans, but the rest get their heads exploded while an expressionless android says something badass.
But mostly, the emotional draw for the viewer is the compounding trauma inflicted on hosts Dolores and Maeve, and the exploration of how their ability to suffer makes them "human." But definitely don't apply the "Are these creatures human?" to the actual humans who committed the sin of either A) taking a job in what they thought was a whimsical cowboy-themed amusement park or B) choosing to vacation there. Almost none of these people know the robots have feelings! They're all shocked to find out! It'd be like if tomorrow you were confronted by all of the NPCs you'd ever killed in a video game, because it turned out the developers had made them sentient for some goddamned reason.
All of these examples are a great demonstration of how movies subtly manipulate your emotions, regardless of what's occurring in the story. Whether a death is played as tragedy, victory, or slapstick depends entirely on how it's shot and edited, what music cues play, and whether or not the victim is played by Michael Shannon. It's the kind of shit we'd think was creepy if it turned up in a political ad or propaganda film, so yeah, it's at least worth noticing in the next thing you watch.
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