Feature: Vol. 1
Up until now in this series of unforgettable cinema, we have studied film narratives and techniques which have all revolved around a male protagonist in pursuit of their needs; each extremely driven to complete their individual tasks at any cost. The characters have been totally unaware, or perhaps just in denial, of their inner demons, each failing to possess a lack of clarity about their own lives which is holding them back. The questions that are raised in each of the films are how do these issues surface and what choices will the protagonist make in order to get what they need regardless of the impact on others?
To begin the series we watched “Broadway Danny Rose”, directed and starred in by Woody Allen. Now, you may not visualize Danny Rose experiencing the same traumatic journeys that each of the other three characters engaged in, for example, Ethan Edwards in “The Searchers” or Jake VanDorn in “Hardcore”, and you would be right. However, if we look beneath the surface at the underlying theme, Danny Rose undertook his own pilgrimage just like the others did, but in a much more subtle and amusing way. I believe this is solely down to Woody Allen and his unique style of shooting films. It highlights in the film that “Danny Rose is useless in a fight, can barely run up a hill without being sick, is a loser in business, is deserted by all except those even more troubled than him”. Unlike Allen’s previous films Danny Rose has “no book smarts, zero sexual presence, appalling dress sense”, proving he is a “long way away from the nerdy smart mouth persona that Allen patented in his “early, funny” movies”. Danny’s shortcoming in life was his inability to stand up for himself; his weakness was portrayed in the way he dealt with his world and the people around him who walked all over his good willed nature. Danny’s obvious distinctness from the people he comes in contact with, highlight his “solitude, his separateness, his alienation” which sets him so far apart from everyone else; showing us a deeper side of Danny Rose that he most probably isn’t even aware of himself.
It’s worth mentioning this loneliness theme isn’t too dissimilar from the way Ethan Edwards and Jerry Black are portrayed in the worlds they live in. It could be argued that Woody Allen just portrays tragedy and character flaws in a much more whimsical way than most directors. He turns character flaws into scenes of laughter; which is the beauty of Woody Allen’s skill, and especially in Broadway Danny Rose. Regardless of Broadway Danny Rose’s obvious differences to Hardcore, The Searchers and “The Pledge”, there are some simple similarities which we can argue in regards to characterization. Just like Jerry Black, Danny Rose does indeed “persevere in the face of failure and even madness to complete a task he has set himself”. Danny Rose proves this with his unwavering patience for his clients, especially that of Lou Canova. So many times Danny could, and perhaps should have given up on Lou and his fading singing career, but he didn’t. He chose to persevere against all odds to please his client so that he could give Lou what he needed to succeed. That was to bring Tina Vitale to his performance at the Waldoft-Astoria Hotel in New York; which in the end turned Danny to his madness. However the case may be, Danny completed the task he had set out for himself regardless of any of the obstacles in his way, making Danny “unquestionably a beacon of hope in a moral wasteland”. I believe we can compare and associate this important character trait with that of The Pledge and Jerry Black. Although their roles are obviously very different, Jerry Black has numerous opportunities to abandon his responsibilities but doesn’t. One example is the fact that he has retired from the police force so he actually doesn’t have any obligations to proceed in the murder case. A second would be when he meets Lori and her beautiful daughter we see glimpses of what his life could become if only he could stop obsessing over the pledge he made; but as we all know, he couldn’t do that. He perseveres, even to the point of madness, showing “us a man who has embarked on a terrifying and lonely quest into the unknown places of his mind”, and that is where Jerry remained. Even when Jerry is able to exude calmness, charm and stability towards the Lori and her daughter in their time of need “we sense deeper, darker currents, and issues he isn’t fully aware of himself”.
However, unlike Danny Rose, who overcome his issues with his “acceptance, forgiveness and love” for the people who took advantage of him, Jerry and Ethan failed to use Danny Rose’s example and let hatred and revenge consume their souls forever, evidencing this notion of how “pursuing the monster, he becomes the monster himself”. The Searching continuously examines the inner demons of Ethan Edwards as the narrative follows Ethan through an entire five years of him searching for his missing niece. His hostility for others comes after years of serving in the civil war which fuels his hatred and revenge against the Comanche tribes. Demonstrated by his actions towards the dead Comanche in shooting out the man’s eyes so that he won’t be able to enter the Comanche spirit lands, “he hates Comanches so much that he actually has bothered to learn their beliefs in order to violate them.”. His inner hatred surfaces for us to see after he witnesses the Comanche commandeer his niece, Debbie, and therefore gives him the excuse he always wanted to enforce revenge against the people he racially despises. This situation even causes Ethan to want to murder Debbie, “to shoot her dead, because she had become “the leavin’s of a Comanche buck””. This highlights the lengths in which Ethan is willing to go to purify the poison, that is the Comanche tribe. Therefore, the choice he makes is to track down the Comanche tribe to kill every last one of them, including Debbie, his own niece. Ethan’s miraculous journey is one of “rage given over to love, age reconciled to youth, feminine united to masculine, a psychotic reconnected to his soul”. He redeems his hatred and lust for revenge, by ultimately saving his niece from the arms of the Comanche and reconditioning his heart for a split moment with “acceptance, forgiveness and love”. However, unlike Danny Rose, Ethan’s adventure fails to end with any sense of hope or indefinite change. In fact, we are left with the mystery of why “a man who spends 10 years of his life searching for someone, realizes his goal, brings her back and then walks away”. It could be argued that after seeing Debbie, Ethan had a sense of clarity and realized it was wrong to murder her just because she had been taken in by his enemies at a young age; therefore he spared her life. However, his heart was so damaged and corrupt at this point, that he understood he could not stay in a world that revolved around accepting people, forgiving them and thus showing them love. Ethan was already too far gone to remain in a peaceful world, so he had no choice but to walk away “and like the man whose eyes he shot’s out, he’s destined to wander forever between the winds” .
We can perhaps compare this concept of charactization to Star Wars and the journey of Darth Vader. It’s no surprise that we can see glimpses of other films within The Searchers because it is well known it led to “inspiring such ’70s classics as “Star Wars”, “Apocalypse Now,” “Punch-Drunk Love,” “Kill Bill,” “Brokeback Mountain” and “Taxi Driver”. Nonetheless, In “The Return of The Jedi” written by George Lucas, Darth Vader turns his back on the dark side for a brief moment to save his son, Luke Skywalker, from being destroyed by the Emperor, thereby going against every belief and instinct that Darth Vader had grown accustomed to since he devoted himself to evil and hatred. However, even though he saved Luke and the rebel alliance from total annihilation, there was no way Darth Vader could transform back to his original self, Anakin Skywalker. Not after everything he had done. Darth Vader had already passed the point of no return. The same perhaps applies to Ethan Edwards in The Searchers, there was no way he could return back to an ordinary world; even if he had restored some sense of his humanity through compassion and empathy towards Debbie. There was always going to be some part of his soul which longed for “his solitude, his separateness, his alienation”.
Then we have Jake VanDorn in Hardcore; who is the polar opposite to Ethan Edwards. Jake VanDorn begins his revolution as a strict Calvinist Christian and somebody who had very high expectations for himself and his family. Whereas Ethan converted from a racists, sexist and a full-blooded hate-monger to showing compassion and love towards others, Jake VanDorn had to travel down a reversed road of that nature. He went from attending church every weekend with his family, to attending the sex shops and strip clubs of California in the search for his runaway daughter who has become a porn star; thus creating moments of “pure revelation”. Jake is the very definition of a “fish out of water”. However, as the plot thickens we begin to construct that Jake isn’t all as innocent as he’s made out to be. Although Jake is at first sickened by the obscenities of sex and naked women that surround him, there are hints that Schrader portrays within Hardcore of a man who might just be opening his mind to sin and the sex underworld. For example, when Jake walks into a sex shop and is taken to a private room by one of the prostitutes there, he barely protests at her taking off her top and showing him her breasts. He does turn down her approaches, but not in the firm or resilient way you’d expect a Christian to act in those situations. Another example, is when Jake holds fake auditions for a male lead role in one of his pretend porn films; in a bid to find the guy who starred in a film with his daughter. Well, as each male porn star comes and goes, he finds himself looking at each of their members, when nobody is forcing him to look. Implying that Jake’s godly mind isn’t all that virtuous and thus makes us question his character that had been portrayed at the outset of the film. Is Jake all that he’s making out to be? Or is this the underlying meaning as to why his daughter ran away from him in the first place?
Here is another example of “Captain Ahab, an American hero gone mad”, meaning “In pursuing the monster, he becomes the monster himself”. Jake spends so much time in and around the sexual underworld that he finally transforms into a pimp himself. The same exact thing happens in The Searching, the longer Ethan hunted down the Comanche, the more he became like his opinion of them; barbaric beasts. Again, another example of this idea is within The Pledge; Jerry becomes so obsessed by the scheme of catching the murderer that he actually starts to lose his sanity and become just as twisted as the criminal at large. It could be argued that each of the characters slowly lose their rationality as the narratives progress, and this is all in conjunction with the Captain Ahab syndrome. In pursuing their fixations they all become and identify with the people that they wish to discover. The same concept is discussed within Batman: “The Dark Knight”. Spoken from the crooked mouth of Harvey Two Face, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain”, and perhaps he was right. It certainly sums up characterization within all of the films mentioned above. Harvey Dent’s character arc is very similar to that of Jake VanDorn, Ethan Edwards and Jerry Black. The longer Harvey searches for The Joker, the more his characteristics mould into one of a psychopath.
Hardcore has an almost identical narrative plot line to that of The Searching, depicting “an obsessed man who searches for someone-a woman, a child, a best friend- who has fallen into the clutches of an alien people. But when found, the sought one doesn’t want to be rescued”. The reason Kristen didn’t want to be rescued was because the situation at home was not as rosey as Jake VanDorn envisioned. Kristen admits at the end of the film to not feeling worthy enough or godly enough to be in Michigan with the family because her dad had set such a high bar that she just felt she couldn’t reach the standard he demanded. All Kristen wanted was to be unconditionally loved by her father, even if she did have faults. We learn from Hardcore that “Jake is as obsessively controlling of women as the pimp who has taken possession of his daughter – Kristen has traded in one manipulative father figure for another”, so it wasn’t just Kristen who had indiscretions either. Jake had underlying problems, one way or another, asleep or left dormant, but deep, dark issues all the same. Making it vitally important for him to come to that realization on his own that he wasn’t good enough either. So “how on earth can he and his daughter possibly recover from what they’ve seen and experienced?”.
In the famous words of Danny Rose, “acceptance, forgiveness and love”.