Thursday, January 22, 2009

Altruism and avarice

Yesterday's post about video games and violence stimulated such impassioned discussion, that I almost felt bashful for my original views. I must confess that I have always defended gaming from a gamer's perspective, and holding games such as Half-Life 2 in such high esteem has (to my knowledge) not desensitized me to real-world pain and violence. Still, some compelling arguments were brought up to the contrary, and I will admit that it is likely that games do affect our psyche in ways distinct from other media and that we certainly need to regulate the exposure of developing minds to levels of content. However, I do believe that the promotion of positive stimuli is as important, if not more so, than the removal of negative stimuli. The content of video games is not only an influence on our society, but a reflection of it.

On my way home today, the subway was closed between St. George and Union. Apparently, a couple of riders had gotten into a fight, which concluded with a shooting at Osgoode station. Through my limited life of twenty-two years, I have become increasingly cynical of humankind (perhaps unreasonably so...?). Why do people continually hurt and denigrate one another? If I were of the mind that religion was a human invention, I would deem answering this question as reasonable motivation for its creation. Agreeing with this statement however, overlies the assumption of a standard of decent behaviour incongruent with people's actions, which leads into the question: Who defined the ideal? (an argument posed by C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity). Regardless of the origin of the ideal, however, society does laud kindness and altruism; though we often find such virtues frustratingly out of reach.

Seeking a reprieve from my studies on Wednesday, I sunk two hours into watching Korean movie on Crunchyroll called A Man Who Was Superman. It was a melancholic yet gentle tale touching on themes of benevolence versus indifference in a jaded world.

The film follows Song Soo-Jung (Jun Ji Hyun of My Sassy Girl fame), a disillusioned documentary filmmaker. With her company struggling financially and her boyfriend working far off in Mongolia, she appears at the beginning of the movie to be cynical and fed-up.

Her interests are reignited, however, by her run-in with a helpful yet strange character (Hwang Jung-min) under the impression that he is Superman. Claiming that his superpowers have been inhibited by the implantation of Kryptonite (radioactive shards from his home planet, Superman's one and only weakness) within his brain by the "bald villain", Superman continues to help people all over the city. He cites three reasons for his unusual altruism. Firstly, if he stops helping, he will forget how to, and then he will forget his identity. Secondly, if he continues to help, the Kryptonite will eventually find its way out of his head. Thirdly, he enjoys it. Soo-Jung is intrigued and begins filming Superman for a new television documentary.

The movie snaps back and forth between fantasy and reality, and it soon becomes clear that Superman is in fact, delusional. Mixed in with his genuine acts of kindness are erratic behaviours, such as poking sticks down a sewer grate in order to fight "the beast" living underground. When he injures some construction workers after confusing an excavator for a monster and is almost arrested, Soo-Jung is forced to seek out Superman's true identity.

Warming: Plot spoilers ahead! If you're interested in watching this movie, then do so [here] before continuing. (Although I wouldn't be surprised if Crunchyroll removes the film, since almost everything worth watching is gone)

Strength doesn't open big iron doors, but a small key.

Superman, as it turns out, is a young man whose wife and child died in a tragic car crash. Years earlier, as a boy, his father disappeared after going out to help during a night of street fighting. Running into the streets to see what was going on, Superman was shot in the head. His young brain healed around the bullet, which remained lodged in his head (his Kryptonite), but gave him seizures throughout his life. He is haunted by the memory of the dozens of bystanders who stood by while his wife and child died and the inopportune seizure that prevented him from helping them himself. His memories of his father centre around the movie Superman and his father's lessons of helping others, which provide the basis of his fantasy.

In order to protect Superman from harming himself and others, Soo-Jung has him re-institutionalized at the facility where he was treated for seizures as a child. The doctors prescribe medications for him, which suppress his emotions, drawing him back to reality at the expense of his extraordinary character. They then release him back into society to lead a normal but unremarkable life. Soo-Jung laments the extraordinary personality that has been lost to him.

Some time later, there is a car crash near the area where Superman lives. At the scene of the accident, surrounded by bystanders, one of the people involved flicks a cigarette on the ground. This ignites a gas leak coming from underground (at the very manhole where Superman used to challenge "the beast"). There is a huge explosion leading to a police officer being pinned under a car and an apartment building being set on fire.

Superman stands idly by in the crowd for a long time, but his inherent desire to help kicks in and he prepares to brave the fire to save a little girl trapped inside. Soo-Jung tries to stop him, declaring that being reckless will not bring back his family or his father. Superman counters that while the past cannot be changed, the future can be, as long as we remember who we are.

"Who am I?" Superman demands.

A teary Soo-Jung cannot help but reply, "My friend. And... My Superman."

Superman then runs into the building and locates the little girl, but finds his exit blocked. "Superman," the barely conscious little girl pleads.

Placed in a hopeless situation, Superman asks, "Can Superman fly?" Using his body as a cushion, he jumps out of the window and lands on his back, saving the little girl at the expense of his own life.

The movie ended in this manner - a story about a tormented character, stigmatized by mental illness. Yet the story is one of courage, warmth, and heroism from a most unusual man.

The melancholy rolls onward...

1 comment:

Teddy hates case report said...

I think you have been watching too many sad dramas/ movies that you need some dose of comedy to balance things out.