A Demented Man for All Seasons

A Demented Man for All Seasons

This has been a season of demented men. They flicker on the movie screen, igniting our emotions, and then leave us in darkness. Rarely do they touch the better parts of our nature. Mostly they engender fear and teach violence as a solution to the problems of society.

The demented man has a long tradition in the cinema. But recently there has been a change in how such men are portrayed on screen. In the past the demented man was someone who destroyed order: an outsider, a madman, a criminal, a sadist, or literally a monster. In the seventies and early eighties, he became a hero. The new demented man was a rogue cop or vigilante: a person who used unconventional means to enforce “law and order.” These newer movies seemed to recommend that Richard Nixon’s “silent majority” should take up arms to overthrow the Warren Court’s concept of due process. This was made explicit in a film where Sylvester Stallone pours gasoline on a group of criminals and incinerates them while reciting their Miranda rights. The vigilante films were part of an anti-sixties backlash, but they were also an updating of a Western genre—the lone gunfighter or sheriff who takes the law into his own hands to clear the town of outlaws. The vigilante film transferred the lone gunfighter to a modern urban setting, but he was no longer fighting for order against the criminal elements—he was rebelling against the liberal society.

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Lima