One of the many great things I love about Sin City

There is no settling down! This is blood for blood and by the gallons!
It’s the old days. The bad days. The all-or-nothing days. They’re back!
-Marv, Sin City
With characters and dialogue like some fevered dream of Mickey
Spillane’s, and buckets of the old ultraviolence, this is not a film to
improve the morals or fortify the soul. Valuable Life Lessons are not
learned; Very Important Issues are not addressed.

-Tom Phillips, The London Line

As I said in a prior post, Rob Rodriguez’s latest offering is just a fantastic piece of film-making. It all just seems to work and work well flawlessly – and, after seeing it for a second time it seems to stand up to the dazzling first impression – it’s rare one comes out of the cinema with a “FUCK YEAH – I’M SEEING THAT AGAIN!” feeling, never mind a a “FUCK YEAH! THIS COULD BE ONE OF MY FAVOURITE MOVIES EVER!” feeling!

Anyways what particularly attracted me, el MRDA, to this cinematic masterwork, hmm?

Let’s take a look-see…

I loved how, thematically and stylistically, this harked back to the film noir of old, with its marked shades of blacks, whites ‘n’ greys – a very nicely done job. Having read the first two graphic novels of the series on which this film is based, I’d say Rodriguez emulates its visual style purdy damn well! It’s fitting that sucha colourful director should make such a vibrant use of three basic shades. Let’s not forget the interjections of colour throughout the performance – the most obvious being Nick Stahl’s Yellow Bastard (though honourable mention must go to the the peepers on Alexis Bledel’s Becky – goddamn!). The most beautiful thing about the predominant use of black & white is that it reflected the marked ethical natures of the characters that inhabit Sin City. Here is clearly delineated conflict without fuzz or blur. Heroes and villains dominate this strange and dangerous landscape – no lesser! Some (like the above-quoted reviewer) would call Sin City an amoral, or “morally gray” movie. Others would call this movie “depraved and vicious”, or the violence meted out by the protagonists “sadistic” and whatnot – but then some people have their ethical compasses all wired wrong!

I’d argue that both ethically and aesthetically, black and white have never been so strongly marked out in a film.

A major theme of the film is individual justice, as opposed to the legalistic variant which is often a mockery of the concept. The heroes in each of the three segments are either working outside the law or enforcing it in a totally unorthodox, not-at-all-by-the-book fashion. No “due process” here, ladies and gents – and judging by the characters of all those meant to be “legit” in Sin City, I’d say that’s no bad thing! This is a world where law and justice are mutually exclusive concepts, where the reins of right are held by those on the wrong side of the law. Thus we have scheming senators, cannabilistic clergymen and paid-off police officers all collaborating to hold (Ba)sin City in their sinister stranglehold. By contrast our heroes are a collection of jailbirds, heavies, ex-special forces killers on the run, rogue cops and prostitutes. Frank Miller’s neat little inversion of the expected allows one to question their preconceived notions of good and evil – a re-evaluation of values if you will. I think one of the main questions asked (and answered) in the original source material was : do values like justice and ethics rely on an external framework for validation – are they merely by-products of an administrative social structure?

I suspect many who’ve criticized the film see it as another exercise in “might makes right” – to which I’d reply: “Yeah, and what?”. We often hear the might-makes-right viewpoint being derided in our society of consensus “reasoning” – of democracy – yet isn’t democracy itself merely one more instance of such a viewpoint in action – the might of the mass making “right”? And what of the government officials who’d (in the interests of their own survival) condemn individuals “taking the law into their own hands” – is this a strong ethical standpoint, or merely a buncha bureaucrats taking umbrage at having that monopoly on force they hold so dear threatened?

One has to wonder why theft and murder are seen as legitimate – even praiseworthy – actions when carried out by the dregs of the state and crimes – contemptible and punishable actions – when carried out by everyone else. Is it this double standard – this hypocrisy – that preserves what we call – “order”?

In any case, the philosophy of “might makes right” needn’t be looked upon in a bleak and negative light. A person can have the most well thought out argument, the most workable and efficient ethical blueprint at his disposal, but if he chooses not to exercise it, to not bring it into the world, what complaint can he wager against the unthinking and unethical in his passivity? To expect the unreasonable to listen to reason is something of a folly, no? Just as a gun cannot be expected to fire itself, just a guitar cannot be expected to bust out a riff in the absence of human interaction, what use justice in the absence of one who does not employ it (and employ it well)? Surely the absence of the umbilical cord of might in such a context leads to the stillbirth of right, does it not?

“Might makes right” or – to put the same idea in more politically-correct, user-friendly garms – “the best way for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”.

It’s a truth the likes of Marv, Dwight and Hartigan, sandwiched between evils from above and below, know only too well….


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5 Responses to One of the many great things I love about Sin City

  1. bastardzero says:

    Fuckin’ fuck yeah! Sin City is one of the best ethical movies ever (Just above Twelve Angry Men). Some people have said the movie partners virtue with suffering too easily, but I thought that what happened to Marv at the end of his story was a perfect tone setter for the environment. The viewer now knows that heroes don’t get to survive just because they have a big name star playing them, the movie becomes more dangerous, and since the heroes are actually putting their lives at risk in order to see their quests through to the end, the heroes become more impressive. What Hartigan does is proof that he’ll stop at absolutely nothing to see justice upheld.
    I once read about a cop who jumped from his bike onto a runaway train and managed to stop it. He was fined for the loss of the bike. On the other hand you have Amadou Diallo’s killers who got nothing more than a suspension. The law isn’t upholding justice on a regular enough basis, something like 93% of murders in the US go unsolved. I’m all for things like the Guardian Angels and people like Marv and guys like Batman.

    • MRDA says:

      A further thought
      “I once read about a cop who jumped from his bike onto a runaway train and managed to stop it. He was fined for the loss of the bike. On the other hand you have Amadou Diallo’s killers who got nothing more than a suspension.”
      I’ve always thought the criminal justice system was aptly named – this proves me correct all the more.
      I was wondering earlier if one of the reasons the film has been so poorly received by the critics is because the characters, both good and bad, are so extreme with their convictions, and extreme convictions tend to birth extreme actions. It’s very much a good vs evil conflict where both sides thoroughly live up to their affiliation, i.e instead of limp-wristed, cookie-cutter “good” vs slightly-naughty, slightly-cuddly “evil”, you have hardcore-badass GOOD vs hardcore, genuinely twisted EVIL. No messing around – thoroughly essentialized, despite the protestations of those who miss the point (I’m thinking of the more Randroid Objectivists here, amongst others).
      Many people simply won’t think outside their preconceptions of what good and evil should be like. This is reflected in things like the justice system and societal attitudes toward authorities and those who would deviate from accepted patterns.

  2. Great post.

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