I don’t consider myself to be a movie buff, but I enjoy a good movie every now and then. During the 12 Days of Christmas, I watched the remake of The Magnificent Seven. I remember seeing the old Magnificent Seven and some of the old Westerns—I guess that marks me of a certain era! I enjoyed the old movie and, since I’ve enjoyed Denzel Washington’s acting, thought I’d watch the new Magnificent Seven.
I have to say that I was extremely disappointed in the new rendition of the old movie. I confess that I’m now quite disillusioned with Denzel Washington. I know that he’s played a multitude of characters from villains to the good guy to everything in between, and his acting is always great, but after seeing Magnificent Seven, my estimation of Denzel dropped a notch.
A few years ago, I saw The Book of Eli, which starred Washington; I had a strong visceral reaction to the violence depicted in that movie and to the premise that the King James Version of the Bible will save us.
What I found with these Washington movies is that they glorified violence to a very high degree, justifying Washington’s character’s use of violence because he was an agent of good. These two movies presented a false dichotomy between good and evil. The villains were stereotypically bad and Washington’s characters correspondingly stereotypically righteous.
Real life is never either one way or another. Real life is always a bit of this and a bit of that; it is always grey. Villains are never completely bad and good people never always good. We are quite simply… human!
And yet, The Magnificent Seven draws us into this false world of extremes. Is the hero justified in using violence to the degree that he did? Do we take away from this movie the idea that only by exacting revenge with prejudice will we see justice? Is the military-industrial complex myth that might will win out at play in this movie, and is it a depiction of reality?
As a proponent of non-violence as a legitimate means for achieving peace with justice, I object to the irresponsible use of violence as an agent of goodness, which we often see in Hollywood movies. I object to the dualistic and simplistic portrayal of good and evil. I object to the Western myth that a six-shooter will always get you justice.
Alternatively, I would like to commend a couple of Tommy Lee Jones movies I’ve seen recently: In the Valley of Elah and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Jones plays complex characters who are trying to do what is right for the sake of justice; but Jones’ characters often make mistakes. These movies lift up for us the human condition of trying to make sense of how we might live together with all of our differences.
As a follower of Jesus and the Way of Love, I affirm that there is a different path to justice than always reverting to violence. We need to change our stories and our myths to present a truer vision of humanity and another possibility, i.e. that justice can be achieved through love, reconciliation, human encounter, compassion, and hope.