Friday, April 23, 2004

Film Friday: A Punishing Experience

So, yeah, The Punisher movie sucked big time. But, as a cultural document, it's quite enlightening.

In the original Punisher comic book circa 1974, Vietnam vet Frank Castle became a vigilante after his wife and two children were killed in a random act of violence, caught in the cross-fire of a Mafia shoot-out in Central Park.

In the 2004 movie, Frank Castle's entire family is wiped out -- both sides and his wife's family too -- at a family reunion. A good 30 people are murdered in this massacre. And it's not random violence either: It's an evil and misguided act of revenge. Howard Saint's (John Travolta) son was accidentally killed during Castle's last undercover assignment as an FBI undercover agent; so Saint retaliates 30-fold. From my review in The Post:
The Punisher was first introduced as a supporting character in The Amazing Spider-Man in February, 1974, five months before Charles Bronson started avenging his wife's murder and daughter's rape as Paul Kersey in the first of the Death Wish series. These two cultural touchstones led a spate of anti-heroic movies that capitalized on 1970s anxieties about crime and social breakdown. Though violent crime rates have been in continuous decline since then, these fears have remained, which is why The Punisher comics continue to be compelling.

The [2004] movie, however, capitalizes not on our specific fears of random acts of violence, but on fears of evil, overzealous and misguided acts of revenge.
I didn't spell it out in the review, but, yes, I mean terrorist attacks and 9/11 specifically.

So, in the 1970s, at the height of the Cold War, we were scared that a family member or two might be killed by muggers. Now, we're scared that our entire families are going to be wiped out in one blow?

So it seems. Man, there's totally a good Cultural Studies thesis just waiting to be written here...

Here's my full review.

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