The Thing I Like About … [mild spoiler]

PsychoPass: the part where she can’t save her friend.

In PsychoPass, Akane is a new detective placed in charge of Enforcers, people with cloudy psychopasses who can use their latent criminal tendencies to find actualized criminals but who cannot be allowed into the general population themselves. The psychopass is a government-run assessment of personality and emotional state, and if it’s cloudy, then the detectives and Enforcers are authorized to use specialized guns – Paralyzers. Paralyzers can stun or kill, but each one will only turn on for its authorized owner, and the decision to stun or kill is made by the government-run computer network rather than by the detective.

Akane’s friend Yuki is abducted by the bad guy, and when Akane corners him, he uses Yuki as a shield. Akane trusts her Paralyzer, but it turns out this particular bad guy doesn’t have a typical psychopass, and the gun won’t recognize him as a threat. Akane does find an ordinary shotgun, loaded and ready to go, but she keeps trying to use her Paralyzer. She even aims the shotgun, and eventually fires it to the side, but she can’t bring herself to shoot the shotgun at the bad guy. Shooting him with the Paralyzer would probably kill him, given his criminal proclivities and the fact that he was actively endangering another human being, but Akane – who had literally vaporized other criminals with her Paralyzer – could not shoot the bad guy with the shotgun … even as he slits Yuki’s throat.

Akane can’t shoot him with the shotgun, because it would be her shooting him, and she’s never been expected to make that decision – even though she’s taken lives in the line of duty, it was always the Paralyzer making the ultimate determination, and doing the dirty work. She was just pulling the trigger.

Science fiction uses futuristic or otherworldly settings to explore current human problems, and PsychoPass explores several. But the shotgun incident – that leads to Yuki’s death – explores one that has been plaguing humanity since we arrived on the planet: we want things to be done, but we don’t want to take responsibility for the decision. We want outcomes, but we’re not willing to pay the consequences. “Authority” and “responsibility” are, for some reason, not synonymous; instead we equate responsibility with “blame” – and no one wants to be blamed, especially for stuff they actually do.

Akane isn’t the sort of person who wants others to do her dirty work, or who wants to avoid blame at all costs; in fact, her character takes her job, her responsibility, and consequences very seriously. But she has lived her whole life in a culture that encourages her subservience to the moral decision-making of the government computer network. She’s never been taught how to decide. She’s never learned how to evaluate. Her actions in this world aren’t her own to choose or to judge. She knows that she’s supposed to be “good” rather than “bad”, but she’s never been given the chance to understand the differences between good and evil, and to pick one or the other.

And because Akane lives in a world where a single entity guarantees that “bad guys” will be automatically eliminated, and where all the “burden” of selecting right or wrong will be rendered moot, Yuki’s throat is slit, and she dies for no purpose, and the bad guy gets away. No good is done. No wrong is righted. No cultural value is upheld. It’s a total failure on the parts of the hero, of the police department, and of good itself.

Even as Akane holds the loaded shotgun.

It isn’t that she’s bad, or inept, or that she doesn’t want to save Yuki. It’s not that she thinks the bad guy shouldn’t be stopped, perhaps by extreme measures. It’s that she doesn’t know how to make the decision in the absence of the computer network.

It doesn’t matter if the controlling entity is government, computer networks, parents, religions, bosses, peers on the playground … it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if that entity is benevolent or not, or if it’s competent or not; what matters is whether or not the individual knows how to go it alone. What matters is whether or not the individual has learned for him or herself how to decide – between good and evil, between right and wrong, between left and right. If you can’t decide to shoot – whether it’s a Paralyzer or a shotgun – then why say you’re doing anything at all? Why show up at all? If you don’t know how to tell what’s best to do, then how will you evaluate the moral ability of the entities who’ve been deciding for you?

Find your ethical center. Find the courage of your convictions. Learn how to choose, evaluate and act … how to be responsible, to accept consequences, to adapt to new information.

Before another Yuki dies.


A Countdown for the Holidays

The Wisdom of Pinhead: Part Five
“He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake!*

Last year for Christmas, I blogged about my favourite part of Hellraiser V: Inferno.  I talked about how Pinhead’s dark, scary message was really a cautionary Christmas tale – avoid superficiality and selfishness and embrace what really matters, or, you know, pay horribly forever.  I realized afterward that Pinhead has always had some very Christmas-y things to say … when seen in the right light.  So this year, I will be presenting a Pinhead-Christmas-personal empowerment-happy-joy-countdown.  At the end of it, I hope readers – Christian and non-Christian alike – are more disposed to find the love and joy the Christmas holiday represents.

And maybe they’ll want to watch the movies too.

“It is not hands that summon us. It is desire.”

Pinhead refers to the young girl who has been asked to solve the puzzle-box by the evil Dr. Channard.  The doctor wants to know what secrets the puzzle-box holds, but he doesn’t want to pay any consequences for opening it.  He has coerced the young girl, Tiffany, to open it for him … but Pinhead knows who the true “client” is – and unfortunately for Dr. Channard, where he is.

He seeks out the doctor and leaves Tiffany alone.

The world can be quite ludicrous, in far too many ways to describe here.  But by following Pinhead’s excellent example, we can be a force of love and logic against the absurd.  His message here certainly seems clear enough:

– Children only know and only do what they have been taught.  They are inherently innocent, even when they are in the wrong, because they’re still figuring things out.  You might say, “Well, how long could it possibly take to figure things out?!”  To you, I say, “Do you have things figured out?  How old are you?”

– Grown-ups are responsible – for ourselves, for the world we’ve created, for the children we’ve created, for any messes we’ve made, for the evil we watch, for the evil we allow.  We’re responsible.  If we don’t accept that responsibility, “unpleasantness” occurs.

– Whatever higher power there may be is likely very hard to fool.  Why, for the most part, we can’t even fool one another.  Far too often, we can fool ourselves … but in the end, our guilt remains.

– Having other people do your dirty work does not make you innocent.  It makes you a coward.  And if Pinhead catches you, it makes you a coward whose skull is pierced by a giant, sucking worm that drags you around by your brain.
[This outcome was for Dr. Channard.  Other clients may experience different results.]

This holiday season, let’s try the love-and-logic strategy.  Let’s be kind to children even when they push our buttons.  Let’s acknowledge our sins and crimes, apologize for them like big girls and boys, and make amends where we can.  Let’s take responsibility for our lives.  Let’s be brave and confident.  Let’s be honest – with ourselves, with others, with our gods.

It’s not so hard once you get started.

* “Santa Claus is comin’ to town” by Coots and Gillespie


A Countdown for the Holidays

The Wisdom of Pinhead: Part Four
“He sees you when you’re sleeping; he knows when you’re awake …”*

Last year for Christmas, I blogged about my favourite part of Hellraiser V: Inferno.  I talked about how Pinhead’s dark, scary message was really a cautionary Christmas tale – avoid superficiality and selfishness and embrace what really matters, or, you know, pay horribly forever.  I realized afterward that Pinhead has always had some very Christmas-y things to say … when seen in the right light.  So this year, I will be presenting a Pinhead-Christmas-personal empowerment-happy-joy-countdown.  At the end of it, I hope readers – Christian and non-Christian alike – are more disposed to find the love and joy the Christmas holiday represents.

And maybe they’ll want to watch the movies too.

Kirsty Cotton: I’ve come for my father!
[the Cenobites laugh at that]
Pinhead: But he is in his own Hell, child, and quite unreachable.
Kirsty Cotton: I don’t believe you!
Pinhead: But it’s true. He is in his own Hell, just as you are in yours.

Only in life can we suffer; after our death, our troubles are over, as they say.  But this doesn’t mean that life is only suffering – quite the opposite: life is also beautiful and wondrous and good.  In this quote, Pinhead reveals that his “Hell” is for the living, that his “clients” choose consciously to open the box while alive, and bring Hell upon themselves with their own actions and desires … and after they’re dead, they will be as far from Pinhead’s reach as all those who avoided the box and its delights entirely.

What does this mean for you and me?  It means that we make our hells for ourselves.  It means that we really don’t know what happens after we’re dead, until we die.  It means that, just as life can be suffering, it can also be joy, or despair, or loss, or bliss – and that, far more than we usually realize, what life is for each of us is under our own control.

It also means that, whether we like it or not, whether we believe or not, whatever thing we may believe in, absolutely none of us knows – really knows – what’s waiting for us after that last breath.  Some of us have glimpses, some of us see wonders that give us some comfort, but in the end, even Hell doesn’t know what happens.  In the end, we’ll just have to accept that death is a mystery … because if we don’t, that lingering fear of death and its uncertainty will turn us into little, stressed-out globules of anger who are always quarreling with one another to distract ourselves from our own worry.

Kind of like the way we already do it.

So maybe for the holidays – or all year round, if we feel we’re up to it – we can reorganize some of our burdens.  We can agree to be in charge of our own lives here – to accept the consequences of our actions, to recognize that so very often we make our own pain and suffering.  We can stop wasting our living moments searching for death, and instead allow whatever god may exist to be in charge of the afterlife.  We can stop creating Hell on earth in all manner of creative ways, and instead let Pinhead be in charge of Hell.

He seems to doing a much fairer job of it than we do.

* “Santa Claus is comin’ to town” by Coots and Gillespie

The Thing I Like About …

Volcano: the part where Stan saves the train conductor.

Despite growing evidence to the contrary, Stan – who runs the transit authority – does not believe his trains are in danger.   He ignores Mike Roarke’s recommendation to suspend the train service, and, as disaster movies are wont to do, Stan’s trains are soon imperiled by a huge lava flow.

Rather than stand there befuddled and wondering what to do or how he could have been so wrong, Stan climbs into the disabled train with his crew and sets them to rescuing all the passengers.  He then makes his way to the front, where the conductor – who would not be there if Stan had not sent him to work – is near death from the heat.

The lava has flowed under the train by this time, and the heat is melting the windows and walls; as Stan picks up the conductor to carry him through the train, the rubber of his boots is melting to the train floor.  He never pauses or falters or weeps, but only says a prayer.  When he gets to the rear of the train,  he is able to throw the conductor to safety, but Stan himself is lost.

Stan’s ego did prevent him from seeing the danger coming, but, once he saw the lava with his own eyes, he didn’t waste any more time on his ego, or on panic or indecision or fear.  He went to work, and he saved the day.  When the world around him was literally on fire, he looked neither to the left nor the right, but only continued on his mission.  He’s … well, he’s way cool, and I hope, if I ever find myself up against the wall, that I can be like him.

The Thing I Like About …

Clear and Present Danger:  the part where Jack Ryan takes the blame.

Clear and Present Danger describes a probably-all-too-common occurrence, in government and in our regular lives – there’s a clearly delineated “bad guy” who obviously needs to be eliminated, and a “good guy” who may not be a saint but whose heart is most decidedly in the right place.  He makes a decision that leads to outcomes, that lead to other decisions that lead to other outcomes – and somewhere in there is the ego, the part of people that doesn’t want to admit any culpability or acknowledge any embarrassment.  This well-meaning man and his cohorts make the actual situation completely horrible in an effort to seem like they made everything okay.  You know, the road to hell and good intentions and all that….

But Jack Ryan is one of those actual good guys – the ones who put others ahead of themselves, who would rather be honest than rich or famous, who would rather fix problems than hide them.  When he discovers the multi-layered cover-up – one that has resulted in a military team being left behind in the Columbian jungle with no resources, no support, and no escape route – Jack immediately goes to Columbia to rescue the soldiers and to do what he can to stop the bad guys.  He puts himself in harm’s way without complaint; he performs every action based on both what is efficient and what is right – no ego-decisions here.

Of course, the surviving soldier doesn’t know anything about Jack Ryan.  All he knows is that things went terribly wrong, and that his comrades died unnecessarily.  All he knows is that John Clark – the man who sent the team in and the man who’s escorting Jack now – did not answer when the soldiers called for help.  The surviving soldier runs out of his hiding place and attacks Clark, accusing him of leaving the men to die.  He’s bigger than Clark, and he’s very, very angry and stressed out, and he’s got Clark pinned down, but then Jack intervenes.  “It’s not his fault!” he yells in defense of Clark.

The soldier turns on Jack.  “Well, whose fault is it, then?”

“It’s mine!” Jack tells him.  “It’s my fault.”

Jack feels it’s his fault because he appropriated the funds for the mission without understanding clearly what the president intended to do with the money.  He feels it’s his fault because he thinks he should have pinned the president down, but I’m not entirely sure how a person would do that.  He thinks it’s his fault because he sees a wrong has been done right under his nose and – unlike almost everyone he works for and with – he finds it unacceptable for wrong to be done.

He takes the blame, and the soldier stands there and stares at him, not knowing what to make of this … no one takes the blame.  Blame is for giving, not accepting.  Blame is something people don’t want to admit to, and the need to avoid blame is what got his fellow soldiers killed in the first place.  The fear of taking the blame is what makes governments, corporations, and even schoolyards go round.  No one takes the blame.

Ignoring for the moment that I don’t think it’s really Jack’s fault at all, when he accepts “blame” he’s really accepting responsibility – a whole other thing – and through that he’s able to do something none of the cover-up specialists even entertain as a possibility – he solves the problem.   He solves it, gets credit for solving it, and becomes the most heroic, honest “boy scout” in Washington, while the men who worked so hard to avoid blame end up covered in poo.

Of course, Jack can’t go back in time.  He can’t un-make the decisions that led to these disastrous events.  He can’t bring the dead back to life.  And the soldier sees that too, in that moment when he doesn’t know what to make of Jack’s words – he sees that finding the person who’s at fault doesn’t really actually fix anything.  It may make it possible to seek the justice of punishment or the safety of removing “bad guys” from society, but it doesn’t un-ring the bell.  This thing that people spend their lives running from – it doesn’t really change one little thing at all.  Embracing it, though, allows Jack to move forward, to see what needs to be done and what can be repaired.  It allows for healing.  And it makes Jack one of the most honourable people in film.

Here’s to hoping people like that start popping up in the real world.

The Thing I Like About …

The Chaperone, starring Paul Levesque and Ariel Winter:  the notion of responsibility.

In The Chaperone, Ray is released from prison after serving seven years for driving a getaway car in an armed robbery.  He attempts to make amends to his daughter, but it’s an uphill climb – not once does she make it easy for him; she’s filled with anger and contempt.  She wants him to leave.  She’s embarrassed to introduce him to her friends.  She is, quite justifiably, upset and hurt that he has not been part of her life.

But Ray never stops trying, and he never makes excuses for the things he’s done.  He speaks to her openly about his crime, and answers her honestly and immediately when she asks why he’s done what he’s done.  His mantra, in fact, is, “Confront it, tell the truth about it, and move on,” and he lives up to that mantra.  He accepts everything that’s happened – including the negative consequences – and he never once whines about it or feels sorry for himself.

His attitude pays off as he slowly starts to regain his daughter’s affection, so much so that she attempts to blame the armed robbers for setting her father up for the crime – but he stops her, refusing to blame anyone but himself for his actions.

Because he is so willing to take responsibility – both for his mistakes and in his role as a father – he is easy to forgive, easy to trust, easy to like.  He becomes the kind of person we would each like to be, and it makes a lighthearted little action movie into something meaningful and inspirational.  By the end of it, it’s clear that taking responsibility is actually a lot easier than not taking it, and that living honestly doesn’t have to be melodramatic or unhappy.

Give The Chaperone a try.  It just might help you face some things in your own life … and help you find the kind of reward that Ray earns for himself.