A Frozen Morality from The Winter Soldier
Some movies are interesting to be discussed as a “movie”. Some others are more interesting for the questions they raise. Captain America: The Winter Soldier may seem like another money-making installment from the great Marvel/Disney machine, but look underneath, the movie raises a serious question to both Gen-X and Millenials alike. If anything, the movie’s theme is far from the innocent boyscout face of Captain America.
But let’s first give a quick review as a movie. I can say that TWS (The Winter Soldier) delivers beyond my expectation. I was ready for another “kiddy” entertainment, and I was proven wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy kiddy entertainment. I love Tangled, Wreck-It-Ralph, Frozen, etc. I love The Avengers for its kiddy quality. It’s fun, it’s family “clean”, it’s entertaining. But TWS took me by surprise. The opening ship mission is no less thrilling than the opening sequence of a Bond movie. The fighting scenes are serious mortal combat, you almost didn’t see “superpower” being used. In the middle of the movie, I swear TWS could have been a “24” episode, with Jack Bauer on steroid and blonde bleach. I was so thrilled by the plot, I wonder if kids below 12 could actually enjoy TWS. To me, TWS took a completely different route from The Avengers, and it’s AWESOME.
But the greatest hidden treasure of TWS is the question it poses to our generation. And only a frozen hero like Captain America can raise this question with credibility.
Captain is a unique character in the superhero universe. Unlike the Batman who is a contemporary, or Superman who is an alien, Captain is a human being from another era, with different sets of values back then, who was “forced” to live half a century later, in times of new, alien values. He represented what is called The Greatest Generation in the US. This is the generation that ended Nazi insanity, and put a stop to Japanese ambition. Captain is not only of that generation, he was the HERO of it. He is the embodiment of his generation’s ideal values. And those values were pretty much black & white.
The WWII was almost a black & white global conflict. Two countries went berserk, dead people started to pile up, and somebody must stop them. Simple.
But then Captain got frozen, and he was thawed in post 9-11 era.
Times have changed now. Back in Cap’s days, we smacked offenders after offense was comitted. Now, we live comfortaby with the term popularized by W. Bush as “preemptive strike”. We read about drones hovering above the sky, raining death to people down there without due trial, and we just shrugged.
60 years after Captain America’s era, the world seems to punish offense before it is even committed.
These conflicting morale values, between Cap’s black & white generation, and today’s complex “war on terror” dilemma, couldn’t be captured better by the dialogue between Cap and Nick Fury, upon inspecting the latest technology of terrorism prevention:
Fury: “We’re gonna neutralize a lot of threats before they even happen”
Cap: “I thought the punishment usually came after the crime”
The filmmaker beautifully raised this important question to today’s generation in Captain’s naive retort.
This is a classic “security vs. freedom” dilemma. Complete security, safe from terrorists and “bad guys”, requires giving up your freedom, completely. You want a totally safe world? Then let the government watch everybody’s move, install surveillance camera in all corners, tap everybody’s phones and emails. Evil doer will be detected and can be dealt with before they even leave their bed to carry their plan. Domestic terrorism and crime will disappear, and so will your freedom.
TWS may feature impossible, ridiculous looking heli-carriers, but to me they are just symbols. A symbol of drones delivering pre-emptive (pre-offense) punishment with impunity. Or a symbol of NSA freely eavesdropping our conversation in the name of “security”. In TWS, the land of the free is ready to exchange its freedom with extreme security measures. Captain America didn’t buy into all these. He chose to stick with his naivety. And this time he did not fight foreign Nazi. This time he fought his fellow countrymen.
(Of course, just to prevent TWS being accused of supporting home-grown terrorists, Marvel Studios smoothly inserted “Hydra” as an evil organization. The US government couldn’t be evil. They were just “infiltrated” by evil elements. Good job scriptwriters! :))
TWS may be a superhero movie, but its true message is not a kid’s material. How far are we willing to trade our freedom with security? Until what point?
And if you think this question only applies to the US, think again. The people of Indonesia are about to choose their leader this year. Some candidates may offer you a secure and strong state on the menu, and God knows I want to taste it more than anything else. But before you place your oder, do check the price. It may spell “freedom”.