Sunday, May 28, 2006

Heroes: Torture Me or Torture Me Not?

How could I see X-men: The Last Stand and not think, “Man, what torture!” There are of course a few men among the X-cast who fit this bill (as told via blockbuster film).

Scott Summers (Cyclops) can’t control his optic blasts that incinerate anything in their path without his ruby goggles, so he always has to wear his sunglasses at night. Plus he’s married to Jean Grey, and ended up losing her at the end of X-Men United (but of course it was for a worthy cause).

Professor Xavier has dedicated his life (and everything he possesses) to protect and teach scores of mutants who elsewhere would be ridiculed. Not to mention almost dying because someone tampered with Cerebro, then having his mind melded with a chemically deranged ex-student to attempt the massacre of every human on Earth.

And last but not least we have Logan (Wolverine). Born with the ability to heal, he got drafted for a covert government experiment that ended up gifting him a grafted adamantium skeleton and deadly claws. He’s been taken to the brink of death who knows how many times, lost his memory and of course now finds himself caught in a love triangle with Scott Summers and Jean Grey.

And yet all three men still fight for what’s right, adhere to justice (okay maybe they bend it a teenie weenie bit part of the time), and try to help others. It’s what makes us like them and in some instance identify with their character. However, we respect them for overcoming life’s obstacles and becoming stronger. Afterall, isn’t that how we’d like to handle the situation? But my question is do you delight in seeing your heroes suffer? Would you like them less/more without all the reasons that make you go, “Aw, give the guy a break?”

I think this issue resembles a double-edged sword. The hero must have enough backstory to make him interesting to a diverse market. He can’t simply be a businessman or a politician (in Hank McCoy’s case) anymore because there has to be a conflict that threatens to tear his word asunder. And as everyone knows it’s even better if the heroine’s cause is in direct conflict. Though once again that leads to you guessed it--torture!

On the other hand, the hero can’t be tortured too much because everything they’re put through must have a purpose or else it’s simply gratifying the writer’s/readers delight for masochism. It also disperses the power the event has on the hero and everyone around him (ie. You can’t have him stabbed multiple times, then suddenly after jab number twelve have him undergo an epiphany). So note to self--make the torture you inflict count! And better yet use a few select instances to build from bad to worse, because it creates higher stakes, which means readers will keep turning those pages.

In my opinion, the end justifies the means. Your hero will have to make a journey, but the writer must enable him for the trek. If that means giving him a backstory where he’s been mutated into a genetic freak so you can dish out extra punishment, so be it. But if you’re going to put him through the ringer, then by golly you better give him one huge payoff.

For me today it came in Wolverine’s three simple words—I love you. His accompanying clinch with Jean didn’t hurt one little bit either. It showed that under all the built-up brawn born from a plethora of hardships, his heart could still tap into a purely, sentimental emotion.


Cassandra Kane said...

I haven't seen the latest X-Men film, though Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry were in the UK promoting it last week and I saw a couple of great interviews.

There was excessive amounts of suffering in the last movie and, as you say, it's a fine like between voyeuristic masochism and feeling for the plight of the mutants and the suffering they have to endure.

Lynda K. Scott said...

I haven't seen the latest X-Men either though I'm looking forward to it. Torture is nice (g) but I really appreciate the emotional torture, ie Scott's desperation to keep Jean from sacrificing herself in that climatic scene from X-Men United. That's the kind of thing I like--to tear at the emotions. Even Logan's more subdued, but equally grieved reaction was emotionally wrenching.

Of course, I'd have liked to see Scott rescue his love but...well, while it had a romance, X-Men isn't a romantic story (though I've hopes that Jean will have survived her encounter with the raging flood waters from that dam and emerged stronger for it).