The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Thursday, January 27, 2005

He Can't Exist!

[Contains spoilers for Buffalo Soldiers.]

With only two hours to convey a complex plot, we can understand the pressure on movie makers to rely on a stock set of characters. And when part of that precious time is budgeted to fires, explosions, and sex in automobiles, this pressure can only increase.

But more interesting than the stock characters are those which are forbidden, or are strictly confined to their native genre. The leading example is the tough, honorable soldier (THS, for short). In his genre, he is the leading man, often played by Bruce Willis (e.g., in Tears of the Sun). But outside his genre, in a cynically "realistic" movie like Buffalo Soldiers, he may not tread.

Thus, when about 20 minutes into the movie we meet an apparent THS (played by Scott Glenn, no less), our first reaction is startlement. How has he escaped from the reservation? A little analysis (we have neurons to spare during the vapid swimming-pool scenes) shows the answer: he is not a THS, but a Deranged Militarist Killer in THS clothing! And behold, an hour or so later the THS disguise is cast away, in what is apparently meant to be a surprising twist.

There are two points here. The first is that the drama of what is, after all, a decent movie was deeply undercut by its adherence to the conventions of its "realistic" genre; and how this evidences that this genre has in fact no special advantage in worth or breadth of view.

The second is the possibility that the writers of these films truly believe that there are no honorable soldiers in the world. Despite the repeated examples set in the real world, for anyone with eyes to see, there are apparently people who cannot believe.

They are real, in a way that should humble all of us.

Update [27 Jan]: Clarified in response to Mr. Lindsay's comment. I will also add that honoring enemy warriors is in no way heterodox -- as long as their conduct is not intrinsically dishonorable.